Episode 6 - Gold Medal Resilience: A conversation with 5 x Olympian Natalie Cook

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In our latest podcast episode, we are thrilled to bring you an exclusive conversation with an extraordinary athlete, 5 time Olympian Nat Cook. Known for her remarkable journey in the world of sports, Nat shares invaluable insights that transcend the boundaries of the volleyball court, offering lessons in resilience, determination, and the power of a winning mindset.

Nat Cook's story is not just about athletic prowess; it’s a narrative of relentless perseverance. From her early days watching the Commonwealth Games to conquering the sands of beach volleyball arenas, Nat’s journey is a compelling testament to what the human spirit can achieve. In this episode, she opens up about her inspirations, challenges, and the moments that shaped her into a gold medallist.

Resilience: More Than Just a Buzzword

For Nat, resilience is not just a concept; it's a lived experience. She delves into how resilience powered her through rigorous training, competitive pressures, and the highs and lows of an elite sporting career. Her stories provide a blueprint for anyone looking to foster resilience in their own lives, whether in sports, business, or personal challenges.

What does it take to think like a champion? Nat Cook breaks down the 'Olympic mindset' — a unique blend of focus, discipline, and positivity that can be applied far beyond the Olympics. She shares strategies for maintaining this mindset, overcoming setbacks, and setting the stage for success in any endeavour.

Building Bridges with Community and Legacy Nat’s commitment to her sport extends beyond her personal achievements. She discusses her initiatives like Athletes Australia view at Green and Gold Athletes, aimed at supporting young athletes facing barriers. This part of the conversation highlights the importance of giving back, mentorship, and creating pathways for the next generation of champions.

Inspirational Takeaways for Everyday Champions Whether you’re an aspiring athlete, a professional facing career hurdles, or simply someone looking for a dose of motivation, this podcast episode with Nat Cook is a treasure trove of wisdom. Her story is a reminder that with the right mindset, resilience, and support, achieving your dreams is within reach.

As Nat puts it, the journey to gold is about much more than medals; it's about the lessons learned, the lives touched, and the legacy left behind. Tune in to our latest episode and let yourself be inspired by one of the most resilient champions of our time.

Olympian and WORKFit champion shares blueprint to success.

Navigating through life, especially for those seeking employment, can be a challenge. This led IMPACT Community Services to create the unique WORKFit program, aimed at enhancing the employability of job seekers by, among other things, honing their resilience skills.

Natalie Cook, a five-time Olympian and celebrated beach volleyball player, is a firm believer that the WORKFit program provides jobseekers with the skills they need to thrive in the workplace. Her extraordinary achievements are underpinned by resilience and a determination to achieve her goals. Nat’s journey from victory at the Sydney 2000 Olympics to her various pursuits beyond the court is an inspiring tale.

Nat will be in Bundaberg later this month where she will be guest speaker at IMPACT’s Annual Celebration on Monday, October 23 at The Waves Sports Club. In this Q&A session, Nat offers her valuable insights on how everyone can seek to apply a resilient mindset.

Tell us a bit about you and the moments that shaped your life?

I was born in Townsville in 1975 into a sporting family—mum was an infant swim teacher and dad played semi-professional football for Crystal Palace—and was encouraged by my grandparents and my parents to play lots of sport, and I did. From taekwondo, skateboarding, BMX, and basketball, to cricket, football, and swimming—you name it, I was playing and that's really what shaped me as a person.

I had a strong desire to win at everything I did, and what I've realised is that winning is a mindset or an attitude, not a score. So that is really what I built over my life as a young athlete. After moving to Brisbane for Dad’s job at the beginning of high school, I came across a notice on the school noticeboard that said volleyball trip to Canada and America, and the rest is history.

What are you most proud of and why?

Representing Australia at five Olympic Games. Walking into my first Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in Atlanta in 1996 was one of the highlights of my life. And winning a gold medal on Bondi Beach in 2000 was pretty special as a reward to everyone that supported the journey and believed in me, or not. Maybe they didn't, but they supported my dream anyway because I believed in it. So, I had lots of people around me supporting that dream.

Life is full of ups and downs, and you’ve certainly achieved some remarkable highs. What advice would you give to people about building resilience and staying committed to changing their lives despite the challenges they may face?

The only thing certain in life is change. Life is uncertain and things will often change.

There’s always going to be challenges, and things may not go to plan. Serious injuries definitely posed a challenge. It's very difficult to go back to basics and do rehab and strengthening when you've been so strong and powerful.

Bouncing back and overcoming obstacles is really about focusing on something else. I have a strong vision of always focusing on what's next. A guiding question I use is “how do I make it better?”

You need goals. For me, I talk about gold medal goals. So often they're big goals, but they could be little ones.

And you need a plan. It's best to write the plan when you're in a good headspace so that when something does go wrong, you can just enact the plan. And put the right people around you to make sure you can deliver the plan one step at a time.

Often you can go two steps forward, and five steps back, so you’ll need to be flexible. Understand that it might change. Have backup plans. I call it a plan A and then I call it another plan A. So not plan B or C or D, but once Plan A doesn't quite work, then bring out the second plan A, which absolutely talks to commitment and determination to follow through on the plan.

Were there times when you doubted your abilities or questioned whether you could achieve your goals? How did you deal with self-doubt and maintain a resilient mindset?

You never get rid of fear, and you never get rid of doubt, you do it in spite of those fears and doubts. But it becomes more familiar. The first time I jumped out of an airplane, I was, excuse the French, scared shitless, very fearful. The second time I was still afraid, but I knew what was coming. So, I think it's the fear of the unknown more so, and that's where the doubts creep in.

When this happens, it's about replacing it with a positive thought, flipping it the other way. So ironically, on the day we won our Olympic gold medal, the night before I was rehearsing my winning speech, which, you know, that partly gets a lot of doubt out because you're actually going, well, when I win this thing, this is what I'm going to do.

And it just sort of propels your mind forward and pulls your body into the state of I am going to win this thing. And like I said before, winning is not a score, it's a mindset. So, you're in that winning mindset all the time and have little tricks to stay in that.

How do you continue to apply the lessons of resilience you learned as an athlete to new challenges and endeavours in your life?

We have a mantra, “once an Olympian, always an Olympian.” I am always an Olympian, always have an Olympic mindset, an Olympic mode. And when I need to go to a high performance or to the highest level, I just click into Olympic mode, which really means a focus, a commitment, a determination, a resilience.

Any final words of wisdom you would like to share?

Life is meant to be a wild ride. Let's live our best life. We are the author of our own story. Sometimes we can't control what happens, but we can control our response. So, get ready to write your own book, to create your own story, to paint your own painting. And if it doesn't quite go to plan, rip the page out of the book and write a new story.

I wish you all the best in making your story the most exciting, action packed, adventurous, humorous, or fun story possible, whatever genre you choose. But as you can probably tell, mine's action, adventure, excitement, and passion.

If you are, or someone you know is, a jobseeker looking for extra support, please reach out to the WORKFit team on 07 4153 4233 in Bundaberg or 0428 793 261 in Hervey Bay or go to WORKFit - Impact Community Services.

Bundaberg woman Sharen Roberts has found the ability to believe in herself again thanks to IMPACT Community Services’ WORKFit program.

After experiencing some near misses while working as a coal train driver, Sharen was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and given an ultimatum from her employer – quit or we’ll fire you. Sharen was fired and left to deal with the aftermath of the experiences she had gone through.

“I was in a really bad mindset once I’d finished the WorkCover,” Sharen said.

I had no confidence and I was very resistant in going to work with anyone where I thought there was any possibility of my life being in jeopardy.”

Sharen’s doctor gave her a letter stating that she did not need to work due to her mental health, but despite this she felt the need to return to the workforce.

“I really wanted to get myself back on track,” she said.

“I didn’t want to feel like a victim and a bludger, all those things that my generation say – you don’t go on Centrelink, you don’t ask for charity. And that’s what I felt I was, and that was also affecting my self-respect and the image I had of myself.”

Sharen enrolled in JobActive, now Workforce Australia, through IMPACT Community Services, and was a few sessions in when she was offered the opportunity to join a new voluntary program called WORKFit. Keen to do whatever she could to make a change, Sharen eagerly put her hand up to take part.

WORKFit is a flexible four stage program designed to provide participants with the tools needed to develop skills and improve their employability. It provides one-on-one support to access a range of external support for resilience, online learning and resume creation to give participants the confidence to progress in their job-seeking journey.

Sharen started working through the WORKFit program, undertaking resilience coaching with Adaptable Mentor Jonathan Bailey and working on her resume with WORKFit coach Jeanette Perry.

During this time, a job as a Specimen Collector for QML was advertised – a role she had previously considered but lacked the confidence to apply for. One of the barriers Sharen had to overcome was that she had only ever done one job interview before, and it had been a negative experience despite getting the job.

“My WORKFit coaches had done some mock interviews with me, and it made me feel more relaxed and a bit more confident,” she said.

Sharen, who previously spent 27 years as a registered nurse before changing careers, applied online to QML and was quickly invited in for an interview, where she was offered the job on the spot.

That was in July 2021, and she has been working for QML since.

Initially, Sharen worried about patients wanting her to move faster, but she went back to the techniques she learned in the WORKFit Program to help her face this new challenge.

“Jonathan and Jeanie gave me the confidence to assert myself without being aggressive, I am generally quite passive, but I have learnt it’s okay to stand my ground,” Sharen said.

“If I’ve got two people in the waiting room and they’re getting grumpy then so be it. Once I got over that and went back to what Jonathan was teaching us in the sessions – I’ve got this job, they believe in me that I can do it, and I should stop trying to please all these people that were bossing me around, I managed better.”

“I had to say I’m the boss in here, I’ve got to make sure I do the job right, you don’t want to have to come back because I’ve made a mistake. You don’t know what’s going on in this little room. You’re in the waiting room, so take your time, sit down and wait until I come out. Once I’d got my mindset to that I could do that, I was okay.”

Adaptable Mentor Jonathan Bailey said Sharen took part in WORKFit’s resilience workshops and embraced the process from the start.

“One of the greatest pleasures was seeing Sharen grow in her own confidence and self-belief,” he said.

“I personally believe that sometimes it was just knowing that she had a supportive team around her and knowing if she had a question or was seeking some advice then the WORKFit team were only a phone call or email away.”

Jonathan said getting to know WORKFit participants and their past experiences was essential to the success of the program and ability to improve participants’ lives.

“Building up a relationship, creating that rapport, is important because within that comes trust. Once the trust is there we can continue to work together, making steps forward, tackling those personal barriers.”

Sharen believes she wouldn’t have been able to return to work when she did if it wasn’t for IMPACT’s WORKFit program.

“If I hadn’t have done this course and been given the ability to believe in myself and understand what resilience is, I wouldn’t be working now,” she said, adding that you need to be understand what your challenges are before you can overcome them, something WORKFit helped her with.

Sharen firmly believes that anyone can change their life, but you have to put the work in to make that change happen.

“You’ve got to want to do it,” she said.

“If you don’t want to do it, then nothing will change. If you don’t want to be there and you don’t want to get anything out of it, then it’s not going to do anything for you.”

At IMPACT Community Services we understand that for some people the process searching and securing a job can be a daunting task, but you don’t have to do it alone – the WORKFit team is here to help.

WORKFit’s ultimate goal is to provide you with the tools to independently develop your skills and improve your employability. This flexible program enables you to enter at any of the four stages, depending on your needs.

One of the stages is called JOBHelp. Mentor Andy Keen said the JOBHelp team could help with personal administration matters, including obtaining a tax file number, explaining superannuation, and advise you of any additional documentation which may be required.

He said WORKFit was designed to help people who may be long-term unemployed, recently left school or undecided about a career path, have transport issues, are pre-pension age, or experiencing mental or physical impairment which can make job searching and security challenging.

For Andy, it is not only important to try to line up interviews for clients which are available, but also those of interest to them. The focus is not essentially about getting ‘any’ job.

He said WORKFit also helped explain to people realistic expectations about the workplace and interview process, with specific coaching around the employer of choice.

Andy said this enabled people to be better informed and prepared when making decisions about potential job opportunities.

He said the WORKFit team wanted to see people succeed and aligning people with jobs in suitable industries was part of this process. The other was continuing to support clients once they’ve gained employment.

He said supporting clients in the workplace could include explaining workplace paperwork, policies, and procedures, communicating with your employer (with your permission), mentoring and coaching.

JOBHelp mentors can be a point of contact for clients in times of conflict, anxiety or being overwhelmed.

The WORKFit program has a holistic approach to helping someone become job-ready, which includes the resilience and wellbeing course ADAPTABLE.

The JOBGym aspect of this program is dedicated to identifying and learning skills with specific emphasis on teaching you “soft skills” such as customer service, conflict resolution, presentation and communication.

JOBScan uses digital algorithms to rate and review your resume against jobs you’re applying for, and with specialised help you can update your resume to increase your chances of gaining an interview.

By participating in JOBScan you will have 12 months access to this advanced technology as well as the personalised support by our Digital Coach to help guide you through the process.

WORKFit is a free program and available to job seekers regardless of which job network agency, support provider you are affiliated with.

The program is free and available to all job seekers regardless of which job network agency, support provider you are affiliated to.

For more information about the program or to contact the team visit WORKFit - Impact Community Services or phone  0459 860 928.

If you’re looking to improve your wellbeing and resilience ahead of entering or re-entering the workforce, the ADAPTABLE program might be just what you’re looking for.

ADAPTABLE is part of IMPACT Community Services’ free and voluntary WORKFit program, which delivers resilience training to people looking to identify and develop their inner strengths.

Jobseekers can now benefit from a resilience-building based program that will promote well-being and empower them to navigate the job search landscape and deal with the challenges of a new job.

ADAPTABLE Mentor Jonathan Bailey talks through some of the questions about the program, resilience and wellbeing below:

What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy, and there are many factors that can contribute to increasing an individual’s wellbeing. The better our wellbeing is, the better our life experiences are.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It’s the ability to grow and thrive in the face of challenges and the ability to move forward when there’s an opportunity to do so.

How do I build resilience?

Research has shown that wellbeing and resilience are closely linked. The better our wellbeing is, the higher our levels of resilience are. And the connection goes both ways whereby, the more resilient we are, the more likely we are to have better wellbeing.

Throughout the ADAPTABLE program, clients will take part in discussions and activities which help boost wellbeing and resilience. The activities are simple to do but have powerful affects. One example is the ‘three positive thoughts for every negative thought activity’. In this exercise we write down any negative thought that we may have experienced recently. Then we must write down three positive thoughts to help counter that thought or feeling.

According to research, for us to flourish, we should have at least three or more positive emotions to outweigh the experience of a negative emotion. This activity is a simple yet powerful exercise to help us succeed in this area.

Why is wellbeing and resilience important when looking for a job?

Life can throw many positive and negative challenges our way and looking for work is no exception. By looking after our wellbeing, increasing and maintaining our levels of resilience, we can ensure we’re in the best space, both physically and mentally, when searching for a job.

Can working be good for my health?

Absolutely yes! Research has found that being engaged in good and fulfilling work leads to improved self-esteem, mental health and reduces psychological distress. The right job can be great for our wellbeing.

If you have any questions about the program we haven’t answered here, give the team a call on 0459 860 928.

Understanding wellbeing and resilience is not only a key part of overcoming challenges in your personal life, but also when it comes to finding and maintaining employment.

And that’s exactly what IMPACT Community Services’ new program WORKFit is dedicated to in the ADAPTABLE stage.

WORKFIT is a free and voluntary program comprising of 4 stages, each designed to overcome barriers and help individuals achieve their goals.

ADAPTABLE Mentor Jonathan Bailey said the course was about empowering people to take control of their lives.  

He said resilience wasn’t something that people were born with, nor was it a personality trait – which meant people eager to empower themselves could learn and develop this skill.

For Jonathan, resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, to grow and thrive in the face of challenges and the ability to move forward when there is an opportunity.

Positive wellbeing is a crucial element to long-lasting resilience. He said the two went hand-in-hand to promote a healthier lifestyle aligned to your values and interests.

With a focus on wellbeing and interaction, Jonathan said over several modules, ADAPTABLE would cover the various facets of wellbeing, resilient practices to overcome roadblocks – whether they be from external or internal factors, workplace applicability – and when to put these skills into motion.

Jonathan said there could be various reasons people may be hesitant looking for a job; they may have had a difficult experience in the past, perhaps they’ve been met with rejection after rejection or maybe they’ve never had a job before and are anxious about what it would involve.

He said not only was improved wellbeing important when looking for work, but once you found a job that worked for you, it could increase your self-esteem and general mental health.

Jonathan said the program was client based to ensure each individual could be supported in the best way possible.

All our WORKFit services can be used in conjunction with other local employment providers for anyone who requires a little extra support.

These programs are available to residents in receipt of benefit. To find out more phone the WORKFit team on 0459 860 928.  

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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