MIA O’Leary believes a move to Bond University under new swimming head coach Chris Mooney will propel her towards her lifetime goal of representing Australia.
The 19-year-old joined Bond University on the prestigious Hancock Prospecting Swimming Excellence Scholarship – with a tour of the campus all the convincing she needed to leave St Peters Lutheran College and coach of and six-years Dean Boxall.
“It was a lightbulb moment walking through to the Bond pool. (I thought), I’m going to become an Olympian here, this is where it happens,” O’Leary said.
“Mooney has this crazy enthusiasm and drive and was excited to hear my goals and he was like, ‘Let’s go for this’.
“We toured Bond with my parents and chatted with Chris and it was a next-level sporting institute.
“I realised very quickly this is what I was looking for. And Chris has done this before, he’s done Olympic cycles before.”
O’Leary is no stranger to making life-changing decisions to follow her dreams.
She was born in Thailand and raised in Malaysia until a moment of serendipity led to her being plucked from relative obscurity.
“I was swimming at the Malaysian championships, I was 13 and I ended up winning the open championship,” she said.
“I was beating all the adults in breaststroke and freestyle. I was just having fun, it was just another meet for me, but that’s when Dean Boxall saw me.
“He convinced me I needed to move to Australia if I wanted to take swimming seriously,
“I’d only been to Australia a handful of times and I said to mum, ‘I can do this, I know I’m going to be an Olympian if I go to Australia, I can’t be an Olympian overseas, I need to move to make it happen’.
“I moved away from home as a 14-year-old, flew to Australia by myself and have been here ever since.”
O’Leary’s desire to make the Australian team for the 2022 Commonwealth Games and World Championships is palpable.
The Bachelor of Business and Social Science Student is getting ready to join the women’s 4x100 freestyle relay camp, with some of Australia’s highest profile swimmers.
“Being on a camp with all my idols – like the Campbell sisters - will be so much fun,” she said.
“I just want to learn from them and get all the experience I can from them.
“It is still surreal. It’s crazy to me that I have landed one of the best scholarships in the world for swimming.
“To be involved in the 4x100 – it is the pinnacle for relay - I’ve always told Boxall and Chris Mooney I’m going to be on that relay team, they don’t doubt that.”