Success in a competitive sporting environment never happens without struggle and resilience. Brooke Hanson’s diverse approach to injury prevention and success is incredible. We had the opportunity to interview her. Here is Brooke's story of how she turned the physical and mental challenges around injury and an allergy to chlorine into drive and hunger to reach the summit of world swimming.
Injury prevention and rehabilitation in athletes is often perceived as a one size fits all approach, countless hours in a gym, lots of ice baths and massage. While this may be true for some, Brooke strongly believes in the idea of diversity in training, lifestyle and rehabilitation approaches to ensure she lives a balanced and healthy life. This not only helped her become an Olympic Champion but has assisted her in everyday life.
While you must work hard in training to be successful and complete thorough rehab and rehab programs to assist with injury prevention, Brooke advocates for the use of other forms of exercise such as yoga, pilates and surfing as a form of injury prevention to keep her body moving and mind focused. Rather than only be focused in the rehab centre, injury prevention and rehabilitation methods should be catered to each individual especially in professional sporting environments.
Brooke also believes this diversity gave her, and continues to give her, a balance in her exercise choices that now helps her in everyday life as she continues to maintain a healthy lifestyle with her young family.
Whether you’re an aspiring athlete trying to tackle the world of professional sport or simply looking to use sport and exercise to keep your mind and body healthy, Brooke Hanson will provide you with a fascinating insight that you can take and apply to your life.
You have had many career highlights, Can you tell us what stands out the most for you?
Representing Australia and wearing the green and gold was always a highlight. Competing in three Commonwealth Games in 1994, 2002 and 2006 were all memorable. Winning gold and silver medals at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 was a major career highlight as after missing 2 Olympic teams I finally achieved a lifelong dream after 22 years of striving for Olympic glory. But my favourite moment and a huge stand out for me was the 2004 World Short Course Championships. I had the swim meet of my life winning 6 gold medals, 1 world record, 3 World Championship meet records, 2 Commonwealth records, 3 Australian records and was named Female swimmer of the World Short Course Championships. It was the most incredible week of racing for me with personal best times in every event and a fantastic feeling to be the world's best. It’s nice to sit back and reflect on everything I achieved and the one thing I’m most happy about was I never gave up through the tough times when it may have been the easier option. By persevering and never giving up I achieved my hopes, goals and dreams and that’s what truly makes me feel great.
Have you ever had any injuries that have sidelined you from the pool? If yes, what was your recovery period and what did it involve?
I had many injuries, illnesses and setbacks during my swimming career, probably too many to name. The toughest was when I was told I was allergic to chlorine and needed to have a sinus operation and full nose reconstruction. I was out of the pool for 3months and it was so difficult on me physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
The extended period out of the pool helped me deal with the injuries I’d have over the following 10 years of my swimming career. It made me realise the importance of taking care of myself particularly mentally and physically. I had tendonitis in my shoulders, tore my groin muscle several times, had a bursa on my shoulder, strained my calf muscles, bicep, jarred fingers and continued to have more sinus operations from my allergies to chlorine.
Sitting on the sideline is never fun but I made sure I put as much as I could into recovering and always knew it was important that I didn’t push to come back from injury too soon. The majority of the time the injury would not sideline me completely, it would just mean that training would require a “work around” until the injury subsided.
When you were injured, what was the preventative advice given to you and did you follow it?
As an athlete I took the advice from my support team to help me achieve my goals and dreams. Collectively we all worked so closely to strive daily for excellence. We learnt, grew and discovered together on how I could reach and maintain peak performance.
The biggest preventative advice I was given was to always stay in shape during my breaks. My off-season breaks were broken into two. I would usually have 3 weeks off in April and 2 weeks in October.
We would taper and race major competitions leading into those breaks meaning my workload has decreased for the 4 weeks leading into a week of racing. It was therefore imperative that I kept in touch during my break and remained active every day. This didn’t mean swimming laps of the pool and doing gym, instead I’d use the breaks to enjoy sports I didn’t have a chance to do as much during my seasons such as surfing and bike riding.
The preventative actions would be included in my daily routines to give me the best opportunity to stay injury free. Pre-hab (injury prevention) consisted of stretching and strengthening exercises for specific areas of the body prone to injury. Gym sessions, yoga, pilates, stretching, rolling, hot and cold recovery and self massage all worked together to keep my body flexible yet strong.
What’s the number one thing you would recommend from your experience to maintain a strong/healthy body and prevent possibility of injuries?
I seriously can’t narrow it down to one thing – diversity is and always will be my key to maintaining a strong and healthy body whilst preventing injuries. Stretching, yoga, meditation, relaxation through visualisation, reading, writing, reflecting and candle nights are all part of my personal well-being plan. This allows me to be the best I can be, to live a purpose driven life and live everyday like it’s my last.
I use it every day for self-care as it’s so important for my physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. We all need to cut ourselves some slack and start prioritising ourselves every day.
If you keep putting it off to tomorrow, I guess the chances are you may never really take the time you need for self-care. I live in the moment, live for the day and find happiness every day.
The water has and always will be my happy place and you need to find yours for personal strength and prioritising health and well being.
I feel at home in the water, in the pool, ocean, river, creek dam, spa, bath or shower. To unwind and relax you’ll find me in the water, it’s when I'm at peace, I feel complete, I'm calm, I’m balanced, I'm home, I'm happy. I've learned not to ignore the signs that pull me to my happy place where I can just be me and know that I can completely switch off.
My greatest tip would be – get to know your body, respect it and stay in tune as many injuries happen from lack of rest and recovery. Always remember you are the key to maintaining a strong and healthy body and mind.
Throughout your life and career, what are some questions you’ve learnt to ask your physio and or health care professional regarding injury prevention?
Knowledge is power and I’ve been so fortunate to be treated by the best health care professionals in the world.
I used sports doctors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, nutritionists, psychologists and sports scientists. I had the utmost respect for the incredibly talented team who worked with me. They had all worked as hard on their careers as what I did to swim at an international level so I made sure I utilised their expert advice.
Reminding yourself they are the best in their field, so asking them questions can give a better understanding to processing injury prevention. No question was ever too silly as I wanted to be better and I knew that understanding my body more and implementing the right exercises as well as recovering their treatment, methods and advice only made me stronger.
As your sporting journey evolves and competition is not part of your everyday life, what are some of your daily rituals to maintain healthy living?
I have a husband who’s a shift worker (firefighter), 3 kids at school and I run my own business and my work commitments see me doing different things every day, so exercise needs to fit in and around what’s on the family schedule.
The best way to do it is to lock in my week of exercise each week, and write it on the planner on our fridge. This is terrific as it makes me accountable, it’s like locking in a hairdresser or doctor’s appointment; you’re never missing those so lock your exercise in the same way, as a one-hour appointment with your body, mind and soul.
I took up a membership at my local swimming centre which includes unlimited swimming pool access, gym and group fitness classes so I love looking at the timetable and making it work in with my week.
I would usually make 4 group sessions for the week: including HIIT, Barbell, Spin and Yoga.
I love swimming laps on my own or with my husband; I’d average 2-3 pool swims a week as well as 3 surfs on our longboards.
My other exercise comes from getting involved with the kids' sports and actively participating in their training sessions as water safety in the ocean or running warmups for their sports. We also ride bikes as much as we can, we all love the freedom of bike riding and although it’s exercise, we always have too much fun to think about it.
I love to lead by example, the kids can see that I value health, fitness and living an active life and it’s wonderful to see us enjoying being active together. The kids all do swimming lessons, surf life saving nippers, football AFL and Touch Football, basketball and dance as their formal sports. They also do a lot of recreational activities; bike riding, surfing, skateboarding, stand up paddle boarding and body surfing.
Our street is full of active families who are always heading to the beach for a surf or are outside on the street on skateboards, scooters and bikes (parents included). This reminds me of my childhood, and I love seeing families connecting through activity.
I’ve always been a morning person after years of 4am starts so mornings are my go as I find the afternoon is full of kid’s activities, dinner, helping with homework, reading books, running the bath and enjoying the kids bed routine. By the time I finish all of that it’s time to do the dishes, prepare for the day ahead and go to bed. You can never underestimate sleep and how important sleep is for recovery and most importantly energy levels so having a good nightly routine to get a great night’s sleep is very important to me.
It is often perceived that there is one particular pathway to obtaining success, a healthy body and mind or a particular lifestyle. However, as Brooke has shown us, the key to a balanced life can be through implementing diverse approaches into your everyday routine. Whether this be through the guidance of a mentor, professional or individual drive, in order to achieve your goals and maintain a healthy body it is crucial that you implement self care and a holistic mindset. Brooke not only displays this in her professional life but more importantly in a personal setting too - both going hand in hand to benefit the other.
We want to take a moment to thank Brooke for her time and for providing us with these incredible insights.