If Kareena Lee did what she thought was expected of her she’d be teaching in a classroom, not preparing to win an Olympic medal.
Lee was close to tossing it in after missing selection in the 10km marathon swim at the Rio 2016, having told herself as a teenager she should be “getting on with life” after that.
But the Sunshine Coast talent defied those thoughts and doubled down, linking with coach John Rodgers in a move that rekindled her love for the sport and led to qualification for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Lee, now 25, pushed through the pain of competing with a dislocated knee last year and then secured her Games spot with seventh in a blanket finish at this year’s world championships.
“I was very close to giving up, mainly because I thought that was what was expected of me,” Lee, a qualified primary school teacher, said of her post-Rio mindset.
“I think I was 23 or 24 and thought that was quite old in the sport, I had uni and just assumed that I should be getting on with my life.
“But I still had the love for the sport, didn’t want to leave on a low, always said I’d never leave until I stopped loving it completely, so here I am.”
Rodgers was recovering in hospital after open heart surgery when Lee qualified, the swimmer emotionally recounting the moment at Wednesday’s uniform fitting with her coach by her side.
“I knew I had to do something different to make myself better to get back on the team,” she said.
“After a couple of years of deciding what to do, I ended up (with Rodgers) and haven’t looked back since then.”
The focus now switches to winning Australia’s first Olympic medal in her event, something not out of reach after she finished just 3.3 seconds behind the winner at the world titles.
“Everyone’s goal is to get on the podium at Tokyo, that would be the absolute dream especially as it’s something Australia hasn’t done yet,” she said.
“There’s been many ups and downs in my career so far but if you have that dream you do what you can to get it.”