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Sunday, 26 November 2017 12:31 am

From Olympic competitor to Olympic ambassador

For a frequent flier, the double-Olympian Melissa Ingram really doesn’t travel very well.

The former 200m backstroke specialist is at home in the water but, having arrived in a strong Wellington southerly, says the air is definitely not her element.

Image: Dominic Godfrey

Image: Dominic Godfrey

“I just had to put my magazine down and look out the window so I didn’t feel too sick.”

Her eyes are still glazed and wide as if alert to danger.

Ingram is dressed in official sporting black with the New Zealand Olympic Ambassador logo monogrammed over her heart.

She’s been visiting schools around the country for the last few years promoting the Olympic values of sport, and is in the capital for the Wellington Regional Sportsfest, a multi-sport competition between local primary schools.

Ingram has retired from competition.

With the 2012 London Olympics behind her, and a career highlight in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay (11th), it was time to look at the future.

So in March 2013, aged 27, she decided she didn’t have another Olympics in her.

“Rio 2016, competing at 31 would be pretty old, and not only that, I was first in the national team at 16, it had already been over 10 years.”

Melissa’s first Olympic Games was Beijing in 2008.

“You put your life on hold, swimming’s all consuming and at 27 I had to consider how much more I had to give and whether there was an avenue I hadn’t exhausted.

“I felt that I’d done everything I could.”

She brightens as she talks about her role now.

“I do some coaching at Ponsonby Swim Club and really enjoy my role as Olympic ambassador.

“I love coaching people that love swimming, and a couple of times a week, I’m just Melissa at the end of the pool.”

She laughs easily and dazzles with a smile.

Ingram lives in Auckland where she also holds down a full-time job in communications at the New Zealand Tertiary College.

During her 10 year swimming career she would often spend up to 30 hours a week in training.

The former Olympian does not miss having wet hair all the time and she doesn’t miss the early mornings in the pool.

“I don’t get up early any more.”

An official asks when Ingram will be free to take some photos with an excited bunch of badminton players.

“Five more minutes,” the sports ambassador confirms and warns at the same time.

Her eyes are alive again as she talks about her mission.

“I’ve been very lucky being able to get around the country and visit schools, encouraging children to pursue their dreams whether it’s in sport or arts or music. Whatever it happens to be.”

She was inspired herself by another New Zealand Olympic swimmer.

“I remember when I was young, Trent Bray came to my school and signed a t-shirt and from that moment on that was my lucky t-shirt and I wore it to every swim competition.

“The hope is that maybe I might have that impression on another child.”

Ingram is then whisked away to a waiting crowd of impressionable school children who she’ll be giving sporting prizes to after talking about the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect.

“The prize I’m most excited about is the one for Fair Play which goes to the player who was the best sport.”

Career Highlights

2012 London Olympic Games: 4 x 200m freestyle relay (Eleventh)

2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games: 200m backstroke (Seventh). Broke the Commonwealth Record.

2008 FINA World Cup Circuit (9 x Gold)

2008 Beijing Olympic Games: 200m backstroke (Eleventh)

2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games: 4 x 200m freestyle relay (Bronze)

2005 Montreal World Championships: 4 x 200m freestyle relay (Finalist)

2004 Indiana World Short-Course Championships: 200m backstroke (Bronze)

Image: Fairfax

Image: Fairfax

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