Leisel Jones is riding the wave

Published 5:00am 19 September 2023

Leisel Jones is riding the wave
Words by Kylie Knight

Since retiring from swimming more than a decade ago, Leisel Jones has had the chance to discover who she is away from the pool.

It’s been a trickier journey than most would expect but Leisel, who grew up in the national spotlight, says she’s making progress.

Leisel burst onto the swimming scene as a 13-year-old after moving from Wamuran to join coach Ken Wood’s squad at Southern Cross Catholic College on the Redcliffe Peninsula.

She was named in the Australian Swim Team for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, as a 14-year-old, turning 15 while she was in camp and earning two silver medals (100m breaststroke and 4x100 medley relay).

It was the first of four Olympics which would yield three gold medals, five silver and one bronze; plus Commonwealth Games appearances producing 10 gold medals, and one silver.

The swimmer, dubbed Lethal Leisel by the media, also took out seven world championship titles, 12 individual world records and 23 national titles before her retirement in 2012.

It was a period of remarkable success and a time Leisel remembers fondly, but it came at a personal cost she has worked hard to overcome. She likens it to a “child actor-style childhood”.

“For me it was a very challenging time in my life and I did mature very quickly and I felt like I missed out on a lot of teenager (experiences) – being free to do whatever I wanted and to make mistakes. My mistakes were very public, everyone saw them and I felt like I wasn’t able to make them,” she recalls.

“I had to pretend, a lot of the time, that I was much more mature than I was and not scared. It’s not something that many people actually experience.”

Those years, from the ages of 13-18, were also the years she lived on the Redcliffe Peninsula.

“I spent a considerable amount of my teenage years here, very much my formative teenage years. I absolutely loved it. It was a great place to grow up. I loved Southern Cross Catholic College. I loved going to school there and the vibe was really laid back and it still is, but a lot of it has changed now,” Leisel tells me as we enjoy the view of the Redcliffe Jetty on a warm winter’s day.

|“I just remember how it felt being here. It was such a homely place and it was so relaxed and it was chilled. Everyone was really welcoming and friendly. |

“I built my first house here in Redcliffe when I was 16. I worked very hard for that. It was right opposite the Dolphins’ training ground at Kippa-Ring. I could walk there, so I really wish I still had it.”

There’s no doubt the Dolphins are her NRL team.

“I want to be the No.1 ticket holder. That’s my goal in life. I’ve asked Wayne Bennett, I’ve asked everyone,” Leisel says, laughing.

“It’s apparently between me and Keith Urban but Keith Urban’s never lived here. I don’t think he can claim. I feel like I deserve it.”

Leisel Jones is riding the wave

Caption: Leisel Jones with her gold medal in Beijing, 2008. Picture: Courtesy Swimming Australia

Lasting legacy

Leisel, who calls Samford home at present, does have a street named in her honour at Rothwell. Formerly known as Leisel Drive, Moreton Bay Regional Council has recently changed it to Leisel Jones Drive.

It followed a campaign by radio station Triple M, for whom Leisel now works as a presenter on its afternoon program The Rush Hour, to make the name more specific.

“We thought that there was nothing named after me … I didn’t know. Mum knew about Leisel Drive but I had either forgotten about it or didn’t know about it,” Leisel explains.

“A listener called in and said there’s Leisel Drive, is that yours? We did some investigation and it was. We thought why don’t we change it to Leisel Jones Drive … it could be any Leisel … Bee Gees Way, it’s not the Bees Way is it?

“It was nice to have it changed and Moreton Bay Council were so lovely and supportive.”

Leisel has forged a career in the media and as a public speaker in recent years, while studying psychology at university.

She’s hoping to have the opportunity to work on coverage of the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games next year after commentating at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

Leisel Jones is riding the wave

New challenges

Joining the Triple M team about 18 months ago was revelation.

“I’m absolutely loving that. We talk about rock, sport and comedy which is so easy and fun. You just get to have a joke with your friends every day,” Leisel says.

“I hope people have learnt that I like to have a joke and I like to share stories. I feel very safe and supported in the group that I’m in … that’s the only way that that can happen. If I didn’t have Liam and Dobbo, like I do, I don’t think I could have had that experience. They’ve just allowed me to be who I truly am.

|“In terms of stepping away from sport, you’ve got to figure out who you are and what you like doing. It’s really difficult.”|

So, who is Leisel Jones away from the pool and what does she like to do?

“I’m still figuring that out funnily enough over 11 years later. It’s experiencing new things. I just went on a holiday by myself to Bali … it was great to get out there and really experience everything,” she says.

“I love yoga. I love nature and I love horse riding. I’m just trying to get back to those things that I loved so much as a kid.

“Funnily enough I’m not big into sport. I was just really good at it and I did it because it was social and I loved it so much. I’m not one of those people who travels around the globe to watch sporting events. When you’ve been to four Olympic Games, you’ve sort of seen the pinnacle.

“I do love some sports. I love watching the Dolphins play. I’m still heavily invested emotionally in that.”

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