Life Begins At » Dawn Fraser & her philosophy on positive active ageing
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Dawn Fraser & her philosophy on positive active ageing

1. Dawn_Hero Shot - Cover Image“…I have always fought for something I believed in…”

The Aussie icon Dawn Fraser is a firm believer that retiring from work is not about retiring from life, but rather an opportunity to actively participate in life. Recently she has taken up the position of Ambassador for Live Life Villages – to actively promote the positive philosophy of Positive Active Ageing, and edged out athletics great Betty Cuthbert and surfer Layne Beachley to be named Australia’s Greatest Female Athlete.

Dawn Fraser is known to Australians, and indeed the world over, as Australia’s most successful and highly respected Olympian. In addition, she is well respected for her active community participation and her ‘positive outlook on life’.

Fraser’s latest victory is being named Australia’s Greatest Female Athlete, an honour bestowed at a ball in Canberra where the top 100 female athletes of all time were unveiled. The list was decided by a public vote, input from athletes and research by advocacy group Sports for Women. She said she was “extremely proud” to have been named the No.1 athlete.

London Olympic gold medallist Melanie Schlanger praised Dawn for her lasting legacy, saying she draws inspiration from her achievements. “It was pretty inspirational just to meet her,” she said. “Just being in her presence. It’s pretty inspirational her history and the mark that she’s left on swimming.”

Schlanger, part of the 4x100m freestyle gold medal winning team in London, met Fraser at the 2012 Games. She said the 75-year-old, who watched her anchor the relay team to gold, gave her words of encouragement. Like Schlanger, Fraser was a freestyle sprint specialist – the 100m was her pet event.

Fraser won four gold and three silver Olympic medals between 1956 and 1964, the first of only three swimmers in Olympic history to win individual gold medals for the same event at three successive Games, winning the 100m  freestyle each time.

Spotted by swimming coach Harry Gallagher when she was just fourteen years old, Gallagher later recalled that Fraser had “stacks of power and [was] completely uncontrollable.” Fraser won her first national title in 1955 and won two gold medals at the Melbourne Olympics the following year.

She proceeded to become one of the greatest freestyle swimmers ever to compete. She swam a remarkable 27 individual world records and was the first woman to break the one-minute barrier for the 100 metres freestyle.

As well as her swimming exploits, Fraser is also remembered for her rebellious streak – she was arrested at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for stealing an Olympic flag and defying orders not to march in the opening ceremony. Fraser resisted rules and regulations and often clashed with swimming officials.

When accepting her Australian of the Year award back in 1964, she observed; “I have always been involved in a lot of controversy with officialdom, but I have always fought for something I believed in – myself as an individual.”

These days her life is a lot calmer but apparently just as busy. Working as a Live Life Villages Ambassador, Dawn is involved in a range of activities and events that promote positive and active ageing within the community as well as being a spokesperson for Live Life Villages on the subject of healthy active ageing.

Feature Interview Dawn Fraser

2. Dawn in Melbourne in 1963, courtesy of NLA

3. Dawn Fraser at Mascot Airport on her way to Rome for the 1960 Olympics4. 1964 Children at a learn-to-swim campaign lesson receive advice from Dawn

Photo courtesy of the National Library of Australia

“Always try your best and never be disappointed when you have given 100%”

Dawn, who is now located on the Sunshine Coast in a home she shares with daughter Dawn- Lorraine, 43, and Jackson, six, is still as busy as ever promoting support for others through participation in charity events and being a spokesperson for respecting and recognising the continuing contribution made by retirement village residents to the community at forums, conferences, media engagements and attending meetings with key government officials on positive ageing issues.

It is no wonder that she is now internationally recognised for promoting the principles of positive active ageing.

Which is impressive considering the horror illness she experienced at the end of last year. At the time she opened up to New Idea about the traumatic experience which left her bedridden, struggling for breath, and drenched with sweat.

The triple Olympic gold medalist defied doctors’ orders and refused to go to hospital, determined to beat her mystery illness at home even though she feared she might not make it.

“It was very serious,” admits the feisty 75-year-old. Misdiagnosed as dengue fever, blood tests eventually revealed that she had an exceptionally severe case of flu, coupled with pneumonia.

While losing a lot of weight due to the illness, she has bounced back in to her active life just thankful that it is over. Since retiring from competition, Dawn has continued to be a champion of the sport she so loved and to give back to the community through her numerous roles.

She maintains an active role in the sporting and wider community as Patron of the Cerebral Palsy Sports Association, the Wheelchair Sports Association of Victoria and of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She is a Founding Member of the Laureus Sports Academy, a member of the Sport for Good Foundation and Vice President of the World Association of Olympic Winners to name but a few.

And what is her advice to others who are in leadership positions or in positions in which they have an opportunity to be a role model to others? “Being the role  model for the majority of people is to set a good example and to be honest”, she says, “Always try your best and never be disappointed when you have given 100%.”

Sydney-born Fraser’s tough talk was tested back in 2009 when 10 teenagers tried to break into her Sunshine Coast home, incredibly she didn’t hesitate when she caught the boys after going outside to investigate a disturbance.

“Suddenly this guy came out of the gate and grabbed me, so I kicked him. I got really annoyed,” she says. “I got him with the replacement knee. It was a bit sore afterwards, but it’s titanium so it must have hurt him.”

There is no doubting that Fraser is one tough lady who is living out her philosophy of actively ageing with a strong and positive  outlook. Still  considered one of Australia’s best-loved identities, Fraser was voted the person who best symbolises Australia and has been included as one of  Australia’s National Living Treasures.


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