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Chasing the Olympic dream

It’s a sunny but fresh August morning, and the impressively large gym at the West Australian Institute of Sport is surprisingly quiet. Cruz Hogan finishes up his low-intensity circuit training, casually explaining the specific exercises through laboured breaths, exercises that look both bizarre and absurd to an everyday viewer. He disappears briefly into the community kitchen before emerging with a large bowl of yoghurt and blueberries, laughing to himself when he realises he’s left a generous amount on his top lip. This is just an average day for one of Australia’s best up-and-coming javelin throwers.

A tour of the institute would leave most in awe, but it is the humble ping-pong table in the chill-out area that makes Hogan most proud. “Yeah I was pretty stoked I was able to get that approved,” he says. His dry humour and easy-going personality make him instantly likeable but when it comes to his sport, Hogan is a force to be reckoned with.

The 22-year-old was heavily involved with team sports as a young child, but it wasn’t until he turned seven and started little athletics at the Kingsway Centre that he was first exposed to what would later be his life passion.

His mother Sharon recalls when his obsession with the Olympic dream first began, and believes it’s his determined personality that will get him there in the end.

“It was as an under-12 athlete that he took out his first state title, even after tripping and breaking his thumb on his fifth throw. He received his gold medal with his arm in a sling then we took him off to hospital. That gold medal gave him the taste for winning and he has strived for a podium finish ever since,” she says.

Most people would struggle to comprehend how an elite athlete could have time for much more than their sport, but his mother says he’s able to juggle everything surprisingly well.

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Hogan at his graduation ceremony with proud parents Sharon (left) and Herbert (right). PHOTO: Supplied.

“Cruz has managed to complete his degree with first class honours and still train six days a week. I don’t think this has been difficult for him at all as he loves training. He uses his training as a break from his studies so they compliment each other,” she says.

“I think he has the type of personality to reach the top level of his sport. Dedication, focus and drive are needed not just talent and I think he ticks all the boxes.”

But Hogan’s journey has been anything but smooth-sailing. Ongoing problems with his elbow have resulted in two separate operations; in April of 2015 a tendon graft was taken from his left wrist and earlier this year a section as taken from his right hamstring. Each required him to spend a year in rehabilitation.

A lot of athletes would consider throwing in the towel at this point, but the setbacks have only given Hogan further motivation to achieve his goals, whatever it takes. The odds may be stacked against him – and fellow young state athletes – with statistics from the West Australian Olympic Committee showing WA athletes generally comprise only 10 per cent of the Australian Olympic Team. Only a handful of those compete in athletics. However discouraging these figures may seem, it does little to deter Hogan.

“I think because I know I can get there and I’m pretty motivated to get there, I don’t want to leave the career and go, ‘oh well, I kind of half-assed it’. I would rather not make it but know I’ve absolutely wrecked myself,” he says.

“I think there’s a lot of athletes like that limping around the place. If you never get injured you never fully understand what it’s like to actually want it.”

. . . .

For energetic 24-year-old Kiara Reddingius, her rise to the elite athlete stage has been anything but traditional. The now Perth-based student is a country girl at heart, growing up in the small town of Leonora in the Goldfields where the sense of community is strong.

Being the second youngest of six siblings has given her a strong competitive streak and a moral outlook as an athlete. She fondly recalls her school teacher parents teaching her valuable life lessons through their family games.

“Everything we were always taught had something to do with work ethic and mental toughness, but in a fun way. We’d have family camping trips where everybody is divided into teams and awarded points for activities we do together. An important thing that my parents have taught me is that everything in life is a lesson. Learn from it, improve the things you can and accept the things you can’t. Show pride in yourself, and resilience through tough times,” she says.

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Reddingius’s love of animals started at a young age, pictured here with her older sister. PHOTO: Supplied.

The family farm on the outskirts of town saw Reddingius develop a strong passion for animals and caring for wildlife, and it was when she moved to Perth in 2011 to study Conservation and Wildlife Biology at Murdoch that she crossed paths with veteran coach and Olympic mentor Matt Barber, who saw her potential as a heptathlete.

Since then, the pair have built a relationship of trust and respect, though they share the odd joke. When asked what it’s been like watching Reddingius develop as an athlete, his answer is simple: “If I had hair, I’d have torn it out.”

But if one thing is obvious, it’s Barber’s belief in her ability to make the Olympics. “I definitely think she has the potential to make an Olympic top 10 finish.”

Heptathlons see competitors take part in seven different track and field events over two days. On the first day, the events include the 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200m sprint, while the second day has them compete in the long jump, the javelin and the 800m. Points are awarded for each performance and the athlete with the most points after the seven events is crowned the winner.

Many would cringe at the thought of two days of competition, but Reddingius embraces the hard work and dedication it takes to be the best. She trains six days a week, combining track and gym sessions that last anywhere up to five hours each.

Working hard and continuing to improve as an athlete is Reddingius’s main goal, and although she refuses to put all her eggs into the Olympic-qualifying basket, she says there’s no doubt it would be a life-changing opportunity.

“Obviously, making the Olympics would be unreal. Representing your country in something you love is the highest honour,” she says.

“I think the biggest thing, though, in making it would be to represent my family values and community, to show kids that growing up in a small town doesn’t limit you, it strengthens you. Wearing the green and gold would definitely be the highlight of my career.”

When asked what makes a true Olympian, Reddingius’s response is slightly unsure.

“I’m not 100% sure what makes an Olympian, I am not one (yet). But if I had to, I would say sacrifice. You have to make yourself and your athletics career your priority over all things, so you need a supportive network behind you to help you do that. Resilience. You need to keep going, keep finding ways around any setbacks. Find a good coach, appreciate and understand what they’re doing and what you’re doing. Hard work. Talent only gets you so far, the rest is from putting in the time and the effort,” she says.

Someone who is sure about what it takes is two-time Olympian Elspeth Denning, who won gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics as part of the Australian women’s hockey team.

“Athleticism, work ethic and mental toughness all play a huge role in becoming an elite athlete.

“Make sure you chase your dream with both feet on the ground.”

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