Eyes on the prize: How to tackle setbacks like an Olympian

An unexpected injury turned Australian Olympic diver Anabelle Smith’s life upside down. Here’s how she stays positive on the long road to recovery.

Australian Olympic diver Anabelle Smith was on the trip of a lifetime in Africa when the unthinkable happened.

The Olympic bronze medallist ruptured her Achilles tendon – a devastating injury for any athlete – after an accident in the Serengeti last year.

Anabelle had surgery to reattach the tendon just before Christmas.

The 30-year-old has since faced 10 months of intense rehabilitation, including learning to walk properly again and weight training in a walking boot.

“I think I’m almost there, there’s nothing I can’t do anymore, which is great,” Anabelle says.

“Looking back now, the trajectory of my rehab has been amazing and quicker than I anticipated.”

Though her experience has been incredibly challenging, Anabelle has maintained her positive outlook, and is now back on track for her Paris Olympics campaign.


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A post shared by Anabelle Smith (@anabellesmith)

Olympian Anabelle Smith’s tips for staying positive through adversity

Facing a tough challenge? Here Anabelle shares her top tips on how to stay positive during a setback, no matter what life throws at you.

1. Be patient

Anabelle recommends “trusting the process”.

For her, this meant being patient and being confident that the end result would be worth the struggle.

“At the start of this, with all those unknowns, I just wanted to rush and get back to doing things as quickly as I could,” Anabelle says.

But her rehab team warned recovery wasn’t always going to be smooth sailing, and they advised her to go slow.

“So when those hiccups came along, instead of getting sad or frustrated that something may have taken a backward step, I just kept going and kept showing up every day,” the Commonwealth Games gold medallist says.


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2. Check your attitude

When she was injured, Anabelle made a conscious decision to keep a positive attitude.

“There were so many unknowns and that was really scary for me as an athlete who’s never been through a long-term injury before,” Anabelle says.

“I wasn’t really sure what the next nine to 12 months were going to look like, but I needed to make a decision – this is my reality, this has happened, so how am I going to best survive this experience?

“I think every time you get over something, you just feel a little bit more resilient.”


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3. Embrace self-care

Anabelle says she’s always been interested in wellness and looking after herself.

“Prioritising my wellbeing, without feeling guilty for doing so, allows me to be my best self,” Anabelle says.

She came up with the idea of “Wellness Wednesdays” after her gruelling training regimen became too much.

Long walks, a massage, Pilates and yoga are a few of Anabelle’s favourite mid-week activities.


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4. Challenge your thinking

Changing your perspective can also help, Anabelle says.

“As hard as it (rehab) has been, it has kind of been an enjoyable process just seeing how incredibly resilient the body is – you can go from snapping something in half and having surgery to building it back up,” she explains.

“I’m proud of myself; I’ve done so much work.”

Anabelle also reminds herself that things could always be worse.

“So I’m going to make the best of whatever situation I’m in, and I’ve always been pretty driven and wanting to get the best out of myself.”


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5. Get support

Anabelle says surrounding yourself with the right people is crucial.

“I’m very lucky to have a great group of professionals who have guided my rehabilitation,” she says.

Anabelle has also created a supportive community by connecting with other athletes with Achilles injuries.

“There are always people going through something that you’re going through,” Anabelle says, adding that they share stories and experiences and, most importantly, encourage each other.


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Written by Bianca Carmona.