The Tokyo Games are really unlike any other we’ve seen before. Not only have the athletes had to reach the top of their field to be there, but they’re competing in the midst of a pandemic with unique challenges and pressures, and onlookers around the world are relying on them to provide a hopeful escape from the limits of our lockdown.
The expectations placed on athletes are immense, and Olympian and former competitive swimmer Elka Whalan believes it’s important to find meaning and purpose beyond your sport.
“I absolutely loved [getting in the water],” Elka told the UNDISTRACTED podcast.
“Not every early morning, but I loved what I did and from that came a sense of identity and purpose, but I was always well aware that I had to be bigger than the black line.”
Competing at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, as well as at numerous World Championships and the Commonwealth Games, Elka starting swimming with her family on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
As the middle child of a Jewish mum and Christian dad, Elka was “dragged along” to the beach by her siblings, who were all high achievers in their own rights, and the water was where she found her sweet spot.
“Every time I dived in that water, there was just total peace and a knowing that, ‘I could really do something special here’,” Elka said.
Grounded in her own Christian faith along the way, Elka said it was faith that really defines her purpose, living with an awareness that she was “a daughter of the King”.
“Purpose comes from that,” Elka said.
“From knowing who we are, and not needing public approval, but being content with private devotion.”
“From knowing who we are, and not needing public approval, but being content with private devotion,” – Olympian Elka Whalan
Her faith has also shaped what Elka and her husband, fellow Olympian Thomas Whalan, are teaching their four children about legacy and true success.
“When we say ‘legacy’ so many people think it’s the worth – the money, the will – that you have left behind, but [Thomas and I] look at it a different way,” she said.
“For us it’s the worth we leave behind in our four children’s hearts of knowing who they are [in] the Lord, knowing to be ‘a part of the world but not of the world’, encouraging other people and serving other people.”
Looking back on her swimming career, Elka said, “With God, even if I’d not [had success in the pool] He’s taught me so much through my time in it”.
“A lot of that’s really simple boring words like ‘discipline’ which creates the maximum amount of freedom. If you can learn discipline when you’re young, it’s then flow through the rest of your life.”
Elka’s advice to others seeking deeper purpose is to narrow your focus “and get back to simplicity”.
Narrow your focus “and get back to simplicity” – advice from Olympian Elka Whalan to others seeking deeper purpose
Make space to note down what’s important to you, what you want to achieve and keep it somewhere you can see it – so you actually do it.
“The biggest regret any human being will ever have is you and I being here this time next year, and I’m still the same person and you’re still the same person,” Elka said.
“There’s so many things we can change and grow in, and I think the saddest thing is when you wake up and you don’t want to grow anymore and you don’t want to learn.”
For more inspiration from Elka Whalan, visit her Queenhood website.
Listen to Elka’s full UNDISTRACTED episode with Laura Bennett in the player above.
For more on how her faith influenced her approach to sport, listen to her Sport 3:16 podcast episode.