Inspired from an early age

July 19, 2017

Lee Naylor shows the best way to make a flying start at a Little Athletics coaching session in Tatura in 2003.

Lee Naylor with Year 6 Tatura Primary School studfent Erin Magnay, 12, in 1998.

Ryley Heap, Elliott Small, Jakob Cathie, Lee Naylor, Lachlan Walmsley, Riley Thompson do their best to track Lee Naylor in 2003.

Lee Naylor in 2004.

Growing up like any other kid in the 1970s and 1980s, Tatura-raised Lee Naylor enjoyed the outdoors.

‘‘I was a dairy farmer’s daughter, so was always out doing things... I played lots of sports and just love it,’’ she said.

In 1982, when Lee was in Year 6 at Tatura Primary school she recalled how her teachers wheeled a television into the library, so her class could watch the Commonwealth Games.

‘‘I remember it like it was yesterday,’’ she said.

The class was watching Raelene Boyle compete in the women’s 400 metres final and Ms Naylor watched with pride as she streaked ahead to win the gold medal.

‘‘I thought, ‘wow I might do that one day’; with the innocence of being a kid it didn’t seem that unreasonable,’’ she said.

‘‘I probably kept that quiet to myself, but thought why is that not achievable... although I had no idea what it would take.’’

Lee trained hard to compete in school athletic sports during her secondary education at Mooroopna High School and performed well.

‘‘I loved when fourth term came around, the sun was out and the tractor came onto the oval to cut the grass and paint the lines,’’ she said.

‘‘I didn’t just love the running part I loved the whole feel... the smell of the cut grass really roped me in.’’

While Lee was a talent, she limited her time in junior competition (not competing in Little Athletics), which may have helped the longevity of her career.

Following her secondary education, Lee moved to Melbourne to attend university.

‘‘I joined the Melbourne University athletics club and it was the first time I really started training,’’ she said.

‘‘I just trained because that was what they told us to do and before I knew it I was third in the world as a junior.’’

Her success at National events and Australian championships in the 400 metres running event saw her break the Australian record as an 18 year old.

‘‘Cathy Freeman broke it not long after me,’’ Ms Naylor said.

Ms Naylor’s first big break came in 1994, when she was selected to run for Australia in the Commonwealth Games in Canada, competing in the 400 metres event and the 4 x 400 metre relay.

‘‘The beauty of track and field is that it’s completely objective,’’ Ms Naylor said.

‘‘You run fast enough and you’re in the squad, it’s very black and white.’’

The Australian team ran the relay and won it, completed their lap of honour before a protest was lodged.

‘‘The host nation (Canada) said that Cathy cut off a Nigerian girl, we were disqualified and Canada moved up and got a bronze,’’ Ms Naylor said.

‘‘Our victory lasted for three-and-a-half minutes.’’

In 1996, Ms Naylor was selected for the Atlanta Olympics and was ecstatic on gaining selection as she had trained so hard to compete at the top level.

‘‘Even though I had travelled around the world for events, nothing prepares you for the anxiety of the Olympics,’’ she said.

‘‘You’re in the village and walking past people you see on television... I was eating dinner in a food hall with America’s greatest basketballers, famous swimmers and it was a huge thrill.

‘‘Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson — it was hard to believe that I was next to them when you’re a country girl.’’

While she didn’t make the final, Lee said she ran solidly and was now known as a world-class athlete.

In 1998, Ms Naylor made her first final in a Commonwealth Games in Malaysia and in the relay the girls took home the gold.

Sixteen years on her dream sparked by Raelene Boyle had been realised.

But the success and pressure would not end there as she went on to be selected at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

‘‘It was just a crazy, awesome games to have on your home soil and is a highlight for lots of reasons,’’ Ms Naylor said.

‘‘One of the strongest memories I can recall was my name being called on the blocks.

‘‘The noise was deafening, when you have 100000 people screaming your name at the highest international level, people that you’ve never met — that’s extraordinary.’’

Ms Naylor made it to the quarter finals and sat in the athletes area to watch Cathy Freeman win the gold in the women’s 400 metre final.

‘‘The minute Cathy took off her tracksuit and she was wearing the swish suit, we all knew she was going to win,’’ she said.

‘‘She is so humble, quiet and unassuming, but she does what she believes in and her demonstrating that public display of, ‘I’m here’, we knew she would win.’’

In 2000, Ms Naylor retired saying at the age of 29 she had enough.

‘‘I thought I was very old, I’d been travelling internationally for 10 years and while I am grateful for all of it, it was a long time to be away,’’ she said.

‘‘I love sport though because it brings people together... irrespective of what sport you do, I appreciate the effort required.’’

Ms Naylor can be proud that she was Greater Shepparton’s first athlete to compete in the track and field team in an Olympic Games.

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