by Grace Knight
Two-time Olympian and Bond University alumni Daniel Kowalski returned to his old stomping ground last week in his capacity as Head of Olympian Services for the Australian Olympic Committee.
Kowalski’s role sees him run workshops designed to support athletes as they transition away from elite competition and contemplate life and a career beyond their Olympic dream.
“Many sports do have their own programs with similar goals, but what we’re seeing is that transition for young athletes into the real world is still proving to be quite difficult, so ensuring that support is available to them at every stage throughout their life is what we really aim to do,” he said.
“We’ve worked with the AIS and their mental health referral network to provide ongoing, lifelong wellbeing and mental health support for the Olympians for any stage of their life.”
The desire to feel supported by the significance of a shared Olympic experience is a recurrent theme, he says.
“The whole ‘once an Olympian, always an Olympian’ ethos is important because, like anyone in life, you go through a lot of different transitions and through various stages,” he said.
“We’re hearing a lot about the importance of connection, storytelling and celebrating success across multiple generations of Olympians, and for us that’s going to be really important as we start programming and putting things together post-Paris and then into Brisbane.
“Previously, there hasn’t really been an opportunity for Olympians to connect like this on different levels, but now we are trying to work and provide support across three pillars of career, wellbeing, and connection.”
Kowalski specialised in mid to long distance freestyle during his time at the top. He won silver in the 1500m and bronze medals in the 400m and 200m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Four years later, as a member of the 4x200m relay in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Kowalski realised his dream of becoming an Olympic gold medallist.
He started his degree in Health Science at Bond in 1993 and studied on and off throughout his time in elite swimming, graduating in 2003.
“Completing my degree at Bond was one of my greatest achievements,” he said. “I honestly never thought I’d finish it.”
He says his dual experience juggling study with the demands of his sport has set him up well to help guide and advocate for other athletes.
“Even though I was in some of my final years of study, I could have easily dropped out and just stayed in the job that I was doing, but I realised I didn’t have any real-life experience,” he said. “I am so glad I followed through on what I started back in 1993.”