BACK IN THE SWIM

By Martin Lang

HER Wikipedia profile runs to just five sentences and a factbox citing '96 Olympics and '97 worlds bronze. Beyond the entry's meagre lines, freestyle swimming ace Lise Mackie has lived a life of academic and administrative success, and endured major personal upheaval along the way.
Now 34 and residing in Tauranga, Mackie was catapulted into Olympic competition while at secondary school, drafted into the 1992 Australian women's freestyle relay team for Barcelona.
In the intervening years a sports scholarship, post-grad studies and personal circumstance have taken her from Australia to Nevada and Geneva, before family ties brought her full-circle to New Zealand.
Born in Te Kuiti but with grandparents at Waihi Beach, Mackie credits her maternal grandmother for fostering early water confidence. "There's an anecdote from when I was about 5, at the Waihi Beach pool. A teacher said 'Lise, can you dive in?' I dived in at the end and swam a lap."
By this stage the youngster and her family had already been on the move, living in Papua New Guinea for several years. In 1981 they shifted to Clermont, central Queensland. "It was blazing hot, I swam every day. I found a $20 note in the gutter and (bought) my first swim cap and coaching," Mackie recalls.
With the family moving to the city, she made a quantum leap at Brisbane State High School. In four months during 1991, Mackie bolted from third placing at the state age-group titles to fifth at national open level, earning  a slot at the Pan Pacifics at Edmonton, Canada, where she made the 100m freestyle final.
As the 1992 Barcelona Olympics beckoned, however, she struck a major obstacle. "Swimming's really tough.

You train so hard for so long, then taper off before a competition
 ... I was notorious for how low I'd go while tapering, posting the times of a 12-year-old."
Eventually hauling herself out of the slump, Mackie claimed a spot in the women's 4x100m freestyle relay team. "Barcelona was mind-blowing. I was 16 and it was my first time in Europe."
While her relay team finished ninth, life in the Olympic village was a huge eye-opener. Armed security, meeting swim heroes Michael Gross (triple Olympic champion of Germany) and eventual eight-time Olympic gold medallist Jenny Thompson (US), plus a marriage proposal from a Nigerian wrestler are just some of Mackie's more vivid memories.
Tapering off was difficult in more than just a physical sense, however. "It really was the post-Olympic blues. I went back for my last year at school wanting nothing but to be a teenager again."
It took a swimming scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, in late 1993 and another to the University of Nevada the next year to kickstart her ambition. Graduating with high distinction in her dual degree in international affairs and political science, Mackie thrived on the blend of academic and sporting commitment Stateside. As the Atlanta Olympics loomed in 1996, she returned to Australia and regained her
slot in the women's freestyle relay team. As it turned out, her second Olympic tilt was to prove a touch bittersweet.
"As second swimmer in the [4x200m relay] heat, I did everything I'd been told to. If we were not in the lead I was to get us there and hold it, which I did.
"As our coach Don Talbot announced the team for the final, he kept looking at the floor. My name wasn't amongst the four. You could have knocked me down with a feather.
"My mother, and an uncle and aunt were there to watch ... I was devastated."
Mackie never received an explanation why backstroke specialist  Nicole Stevenson replaced her for the finals team, which went on to take bronze behind the US and Germany. In hindsight, she could only guess Talbot opted for Stevenson's faster 200m time, posted prior to '96.
While omission  was a heavy blow, there was consolation in Olympic village life. Medal winners enjoyed entry to elite areas  and a meeting with supreme boxing legend Muhammad Ali was a lifetime highlight for Mackie.
Taking bronze with the 4x200m women's team at the world short course champs in Sweden the next year, Mackie completed her degree before working at the US National Judicial College in Reno in 2001-02. She had also found love in Nevada, and married Reno ski instructor Sol Rogowski in a ceremony in Auckland.
Preparing to launch into a Masters degree in Geneva, she suffered a major loss in the news younger brother Malcom  had drowned in Australia. She pressed  on
 but after graduation in Switzerland in 2005 shelved plans of working for the UN and  returned to Australia to be closer to remaining brother Warrick.
 In Melbourne she reconnected with the world of international swimming competition, taking the high-pressure position of co-ordinator for the 2007 world championships. While the exhilaration of the role was huge, the post-event comedown was equally dramatic and Mackie candidly confesses to hitting rock bottom. Her marriage was also over by this stage. With father Brian having retired in Tauranga, his boyhood hometown, Mackie
made the restorative move to the Bay.

Having worked at Tauranga firm Craigs Investment Partners, most recently as service desk co-ordinator, she's now looking forward to a new role as operations manager for Tauranga YMCA.
Inducted into the University of Nevada Athletics Hall of Fame in October, Mackie's 1997 100m freestyle time of 1:47.45 remains the state record and she holds Australian masters 30-34yrs records for the 50m, 100m and 200m free.
Mackie now gets her main aquatic thrills as a  yachtie. "It's something I've always longed to do but couldn't while I was swimming  - I couldn't risk getting injured."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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