WATER has been the great equaliser for Jacqueline Freney. The 20-year-old was born with cerebral palsy diplegia. She has never been able to jump or run, but in the pool, she can fly.
Freney has become the star of the swimming pool at the London Paralympic Games. She has won seven gold medals from seven races and was expected to race in the 4 x 100 medley this morning.
Yesterday she broke Siobhan Paton’s record for the most gold medals won by an Australian at a Paralympics. Paton, who coincidentally was coached by Freney’s grandfather Peter, won six gold medals in 2000.
Freney’s father Michael manages the local pool at Skennars Head on the north coast of New South Wales and swimming there has proven to be therapeutic for Freney. A specialist once told her parents that she would need a wheelchair through her life – she hasn’t had to yet.
It was a story Peter Freney had not known. ”I’ve heard a few things this week that I didn’t know about, but I’m glad he [Michael Freney] kept her away from a wheelchair and made her get up and walk and get in the pool and swim and [everything] else she can do,” Peter said. ”She’s been around swimming pools since the day she was born virtually, so it was a natural thing to go into swimming. It was one thing she could do, in some cases, better than her school friends.
”Jacqui has never jumped off the floor under her own power in her life, she can’t do it. She’s never run a step in her life, she can’t do it. But she takes to swimming, and once she gets off the blocks she’s OK.”
Jacqui says when she is in the water she has a freedom her restricted body is not allowed on land. ”On land I’m not really that fast, so it’s great to get in the water and not have any limitations at all on my body and try and be faster than the other people,” she says.
At these Games, Jacqui has proved faster than everybody. She has had dominant wins in all seven of her races.
With a beaming smile, she announced after her seventh gold that she was in ”seventh heaven”.
”I knew I had a good chance in some events, but never seven gold, that’s just unbelievable,” she said. ”I can’t even comprehend what I’ve just achieved. It’s beyond words.”
Peter agreed that the scale of her success in London had ”been a complete surprise”.
”We thought that she would probably win the 400 freestyle,” he said. ”She’s probably only swum two or three 100 backstrokes in her life in competition and she came out and won that one. And the medley was a complete surprise because I think she’s only done two of those before this because she couldn’t do breaststroke. Her breaststroke was pretty woeful until we got working on it a little bit. It’s a pleasant surprise.”
The basis of her success has been simple. ”Hard work, that’s the secret, that’s been the secret with my coaching and with Michael’s coaching,” Peter said. ”We’ve probably worked them harder than any other coaches work their kids.
”Siobhan was on the same sort of program. They train nine to 10 sessions a week, covering something around 40,000 metres a week and a lot of that is hard endurance work. It pays off.
”She does a lot of gym work and she does things in the gym that are quite unbelievable as far as I’m concerned. On the rowing machine she’ll do 5000 metres of fast rowing, not buggerising around, but getting into it, so that gives her the endurance – she’s a pretty strong girl.”
It has helped that her main rival, American Mallory Weggemann, was reclassified just before the start of the Games into the S8 grouping for athletes with less severe disabilities. Jacqui was reclassified from an S8 to an S7 late last year.”I really didn’t expect to go so well in this meet because I had Mallory Weggemann in my classification and she was classified up to a S8 unfortunately,” Jacqui said. ”I was really looking forward to racing her in the 400 free. It’s all kind of gone my way and everything’s fallen in place.”
Jacqui said she would swim on to Rio and had set herself new goals that she would not reveal.
”Let’s just say I’ve got another goal in mind for Rio but I won’t tell you what it is,” she said.
Peter said he did not know how much more improvement Jacqui could make. ”She’s fully grown, she’s trained virtually to the limit now, we’ll just wait.”
He said Jacqui had found a welcoming place among the Australian Paralympic team.
”I must say the Australian Paralympic swimming team is the best swimming team I’ve ever had anything slightly to do with. They support one another magnificently.”
As for breaking Paton’s record, Jacqui said she had been inspired by Paton’s career.
”We’ve been keeping in contract through this whole week,” she said. ”She basically said at the start of the week that I could be as great as her. She’s been one of my main inspirations for the meet.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.