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Interview with Olympian Lisa Skinner

Was there anything unique about your upbringing?

lisa-skinner2I don’t know that there was anything unique about my particular upbringing. I have two sisters and one brother, and for some reason or another all of us seemed to be quite sport oriented – just because we all really loved sport. My mother was rather a good athlete herself, representing Queensland in both netball and softball – and even in her later years managed to win a silver medal in the World Masters Games for softball. My father is a professor who participated in a variety of sports when young, and though didn’t pursue anything professionally, was quite talented in whatever he seemed to have a go at.

We are a very close family, and still get together regularly to exercise.

As far as nutrition is concerned when we were all growing up, there was no prescribed diet or anything, and nothing was off limits. Dad is an excellent cook and always made sure we ate very well, but always with very balanced array of food. We were always allowed dessert – provided we ate all our vegetables.

Why did you choose gymnastics?

I started gymnastics at the local gym club when I was six. I had done ballet for a year before that but didn’t particularly enjoy it. Gymnastics on the other hand was an instant love. So many things to climb, bounce, and play on – I took to it like a duck to water. I think my parents had actually intended to give me a go at a whole variety of sports, just to see what I liked, and so in the following years I participated in swimming, tennis, and softball, just to name a few. However, gymnastics kept taking over.

I think the sport is fantastic for all young kids actually – there are so many benefits. Gymnastics is challenging, helps improve coordination, confidence, and focus – just to name a few.

Things obviously started getting much more intense in later years when I started in the elite training regime. We had to drive 4 hours per day in addition to 6 – 61/2 hours of training in the gym, and school work on top of that. But I stuck with the strict routine, as somewhere deep down I had a feeling I could go far.

You competed at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic games. Can you talk about the qualifying process and what it meant to be an Olympian.

lisa-skinner-olympicsI didn’t start out planning to complete at three Olympic games – or even one for that matter. I think an athlete has to genuinely enjoy the training and all that goes with it for a start, other wise there’s really no point to the whole endeavour. I’ve always taken things one-step at a time and never looked too far ahead – maybe a year or two at most. I find many people can be wildly disappointed if they hope for specific things way too far in advance.

I’ve always set legitimately achievable goals – ones that were directly in sight, and with a plan of action that fit best to be able to succeed.

I’m proud of my achievements, but it really all comes down to hard work and perseverance.

As far as competing in the Olympic games, actually being there, in the most prestigious sporting event in the world, it can only be described as absolutely the most nerve-racking experience ever! Although afterwards, it’s definitely one of the best feelings one could possibly imagine.

Do you have any memorable accomplishments during your gymnastics career?

I qualified for the All Around finals and the Floor finals in the Sydney Olympics (2000). I achieved 7th place in both.

I also happened to score a couple of Gold medals in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur which was pretty cool.

Your competitive career was extensive lasting more than 15 years. What inspired you and motivated you through this period?

As I said earlier, I don’t think an elite athlete can last for too long if they don’t legitimately like the daily grind.

I have to admit – I actually don’t enjoy competing at all. I relish the euphoric feeling afterwards when things have gone well, but the whole process is a little too stressful for me.

I do happen to know a lot of people that truly love the thrill of performing under pressure in an event. But that was never my motivation. I think I just love a good challenge and being able to execute things that I know I can excel at on a consistent and daily basis.

One has to set goals for themselves though and competitions are just a part of the deal when it comes to sport.

Was it difficult to retire from Gymnastics?

It was actually. I was relieved in some ways, but after so long doing the exact same thing every day, stopping was very strange. (You also might have to rethink that chocolate you just had, as there is nothing now to burn that off!)

But mostly it’s the free time. I had no idea what everyone did with that many hours of the day. You eventually get used to it, but that amount of free time is definitely a shock!

How did you get involved with Circus De Soleil?

lisa-skinner1They actually asked me a few times if I was interested in joining. They have scouts that always attend international competitions, but the first time they asked I didn’t really know much about the company. I hadn’t seen any shows and assumed that it would be kind of ‘elephants’ and ‘caravans’ and all that jazz, so I politely said no. The second time I was approached I had managed to see a couple of their productions and was completely blown away. I gave it serious consideration at this time but ended up staying in gymnastics for a little while longer. Finally, when I finished competing in 2004, I was ready to see what kind of life Cirque De Soleil would offer.

What was your motivation or what inspired you to get involved in Cirques De Soleil?

I was offered a position to train for one of their shows, and actually just thought – oh why not. Let’s perhaps see if I can make a living for a little while utilizing the specific skill sets I had been perfecting my whole life thus far. And I definitely thought it could be a pretty cool experience! So I packed up my bags and headed to Montreal not really knowing what to expect.

Joining the Cirques turned out to be one of the best times I’d ever had.

What does it mean to be apart of Cirque du Soleil, an organization that has completely re-shaped an industry and redefined the world of entertainment?

I love performing every night. My energy and excitement is fuelled every day just by the feedback of the crowd. It’s the most rewarding job in the world. There’s instant satisfaction daily just seeing a smile or a sense of awe on somebody’s face.

I think Cirque is brilliant and definitely at the forefront of productions worldwide in it’s quality and managing to provide a sense of wonder, fantasy and escape to so many people across the globe – and also managing to showcase what the human body is capable of. I have to say that I feel proud when I tell someone I work for them.

Tell us something about yourself and Cirque du Soleil that we are unlikely to know. Are there things behind the scenes that the vast majority of people wouldn’t know about?

lisa-skinner3Not really. We have a few people come and watch the show backstage daily and they’re always just so surprised at how casual it all is.

For us, we essentially do almost the same thing every night, just like most other people in their jobs I suppose. And so we get very comfortable backstage and we are truly ready when we have to run onto the stage. Whether it’s your main act, or just a cue, there’s no particular rush, stress or anxiousness about heading out there. You do your thing, and then come back. (There is a lot of high-fiving though!)

The funniest thing for us though, is probably the misinterpretations, translations, or attempts at each other’s acts! – Particularly when it comes to so many people from different cultures, skills and languages from across the globe.

Just a lot of fun and smiles!

Have you thought about your own personal “Why” in life? Your purpose, your cause, your passion?

Not sure actually. I don’t think life particularly has a specific purpose. You just try to do the best with what you’ve been given. I suppose I just try to challenge myself in as many ways as I can. Whether that is during training, studying, working or performing. There’s a lovely feeling of accomplishment when one feels they have achieved their highest standard – and perhaps impressed a few others as well. It’s the little goals you set for yourself that keep you going I think.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m headed to Los Angeles very soon, and onto a new life. I’m going to see if I can try my hand at stunt work actually.

Fingers crossed!

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