Luckiest day of the year

Happy mid autumn day from Beijing, China. Today is a very special day in Chinese culture, The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the two most important holidays in the Chinese calendar (the other being the Chinese Lunar New Year). Farmers celebrate the end of the summer harvesting season on this date. Traditionally, on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon,talk about life and eat mooncakes together.

It is also meant to be one of the luckiest days this year- and I have to agree!
After 12 years on the swimming team I have won my first paralympic silver medal on the day after my 27th birthdayl!

A Paralympic birthday

I was totally spoilt for my birthday. Not only did I get to spend the day in the paralypic village but the mayor of the village and the Beijing organising committee sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I ended up filling the garbage bin with water and wrapping it in pink paper to hold the flowers as I didn’t have a vase. I also got a lovely bunch of pink roses from my roomie esther, which are sitting in an empty powerade bottle.

I had the day off from training to rest up for my race, so i decided to pamper myself. First I had a nice sleep in followed by a relaxing long shower (I then spent an hour mopping as the whole bathroom floods!)before heading to the hairdresser to get my hair washed and styled. We all headed for the pool at about 3.30 where I caught up with mum before getting a massage. Mum gave me some beautiful presents, including a string of origami birds made my the chinese volunteers in her hotel.

The massage was just what i needed as unfortunately I have had a headache and been really sore for the past 6 days after I did a race practice session in training- which isn’t exactly what I wanted a week out fro the biggest race of my life!

The countdown begins…..

Whenever I go to a big competition there is an inevitable countdown that starts as much as a year ahead. From the moment I made the team for Beijing I knew we had 63 days to prepare.

One day before my race I found out my race would be swum at 5.43 Chinese time.

The countdown really began for me the night before my race, when I walked out of the watercube and realised next time I come here will be for my race!
Then there was the ‘last supper ‘ where I TRIED to eat very healthy to fuel my big race the following evening. I couldn’t help but think that this time tomorrow night I could be a medallist………. and that I would be free to eat anything I want! Already most of the swimmers on the team have finished up and are eating the ritual free McDonalds in the dinning hall which symbolises that racing is over.

Sometimes I find it hard to sleep the night before a big race . But I have come to the realisation that this is quite counterproductive and decided that the best way to stay relaxed and get some sleep was to try to keep things normal as possible. So i climbed in bed and read my book- Brooke Hansons ‘when silver is gold’ until i swiched out the light and was ready ready for sleep.
As the sun peeked through the curtains on race day I put my head under the covers and tried to go back to sleep. With everyone (including my roommate esther) coming home from the pool at different times during the night it was almost midnight by the time I got to sleep, and I didn’t want to be too tired. After laying bed and reading a bit, I got up and had corn flakes for breakfast.I had brought them over in a plastic cup with some milk the night before to avoid a long walk to the dinning hall in the morning. I also wanted to avoid thinking about swimming so I didn’t get excited too soon and burn nervous energy, which meant staying away from all my team mates in the dinning hall at lunch- sorry guys!

The remainder of the day was spent in our unit at the village, trying to do as little walking about as possible to conserve energy. I painted my fingernails green and yellow ( a prerace ritual) and had a late lunch at about 2 pm, then headed back to my room to pack my bag for my race. As I did it I couldn’t stop thinking I cant believe I am actually packing my bag to race the paralympic final- finally!

Then i lay on my bed and rested till it was time to go. The last thing I did before leaving my room was to write a sticky note to myself that said WELL DONE! YOU did it! It would be a nice reminder after the race, whatever the outcome may be, to be proud because I have worked hard.

This was a little tradition I started at these games, sticking a note on the door of swimmers in my unit who had done a great race. It caught on and soon everyone was writing post it notes- though I think i’m the only one who wrote to myself!

Headed out the door towards the bus I thought, next time I’m this room I could be a medallist!
The first bus to the pool was full, so luckily I was early. Once we pulled up at ‘the cube’ I went to look at the crowd to see where my mum and all the aussies were sitting. I saw a huge 3m banner that says GO MARAYKE which has come to all my paralympic races.

Then I headed inside to the warmup pool where the aussi section looked AMAZING.There wererows of green and gold balloons and a kangaroo with tattoos. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to hand up the Australian flag and an official asked that it be taken down.
The atmosphere was great, with everyone wishing me luck.

As the clock ticked into the final hour I headed to the change room with Sandra, our team nurse, who volunteered for the task of getting me into my fastskin racing suit. This generally takes half an hour so we knew we had to start early! So that I wouldn’t have to lay on the cold floor while we pulled it on, we took one of the massage tables into the change room.

My warm up went exactly to plan. I Jumped in the warm up pool to do 200
m easy swimming, then a few 12 ½m sprints before I got out to head to marshalling for my race.I made I sure I dried myself thoroughly and put a jacket on so I would not get cold and stiff, then I walked down the tunnel to the marshalling area took my place beside my competitors.The officials collected our accreditation and put us in our race order. I was in lucky lane 3.

In the marshalling area I was seated beside Karina Lauridsen, from Denmark. I tried to make friendly conversation by saying that I liked her toenails which had the Danish flag painted on them. She later told me that she had lost a bet with the rowing team about how many medals they would win, and had to do her nails. But for the time being all was silent in the marshalling area as all 7 competitors focussed on the race ahead. I was left staring at a poster of 2 judo players which said one world, one dream. Meanwhile my ONE BIG DREAM drew ever closer.
Shortly before we walked out to race, Karina told me she “ I’m going to swim under 3 minutes for this race.”Perhaps it was an attempt at intimidation, or she was just feeling confident. Either way I smiled and said- truthfully- that I thought that was an amazing time and wished her luck.
The thing was that I was completely in my comfort zone. Not nervous, just ready to race.
A few weeks ago the coaches asked us to write a piece of advice or a quote to the team. After my experience at 2 paralympic games , just 9 words sprung to mind.

“This is your moment. You know what to do.”

Now these were the words I repeated to myself in the marshalling area.

“This is your moment. You know what to do.”

I reminded myself how hard I had worked and said ‘ I deserve this’.

Just before the race started our helpers came into the room. Our head coach Brendan Keogh was there to push my wheelchair to the other end of the pool for me. I realised there was a steep ramp out the the start, so I asked him to push me up it to save my arms for the race.
1 minute to go!………………………..

As BK pushed my on pooldeck the whole aussi team began cheering and it was an amazing feeling. I waved and waved at them and all the aussi flags in the stands. Then I waved again as my name was announced, in land 3 representing Australia Marayke Jonkers.

YAY!!!!! This really was my moment. I adjusted my goggles and swim cap then climbed out of my wheelchair onto the floor to await the whistle directing us to enter the pool. On the whistle I dived deep into the cool water enjoying a brief moment of peace before surfacing and getting in the start position.

I closed my eyes, heard the first whistle…..
Take your marks……… THIS IS IT!!!!
Then nothing. No gun, no go! What on earth is going on?

A swimmer can be disqualified for moving anytime between take your marks and the start gun, so i didn’t want to risk moving to look around. Eventually the announcer said “relax swimmers”. I guessed that either there was a problem with the starters gun or that someone had ‘broken’ and been disqualified. But I didn’t wan to be distracted looking around. It is also hard for me to relax at the start as seing as I cannot kick the only way to stop sinking is either swim or hang onto the backstroke bar. I kept hanging on and by the time the race restared my arms were burning from holding my body weight for so long.

I kept my eyes closed: Take your marks, set GO!!!!!

We were off.

The rest, as they say, is history. Karina lead from the start and I was a clear second for most of the race. The backstroke felt easy…infact the whole race I was ‘in the zone’ and didn’t feel any physical sensations like pain or fatigue. I just followed my race plan and did what i had to do. But coming in to the flags, 10m from the wall I decided to break the rules. Most coaches will say swim your own race and don t look at the opposition. Well I decided to take a sneak peak and THANK GOODNESS I DID! Two swimmers were right alongside me! I held my breath and sprinted for the wall.My moment was finished.I had no idea what place I had come, but I was so happy it was over. The Aussies in the crowd were on their feet cheering. When I looked at the scoreboard the first thing I saw was Karina lauridsen 2.47 WR.A world record! I leaned over the lane rope,hugged her and said congratulations….that is an amazing time! You broke the world record!

Finally I looked back to see where I had placed but the scoreboard hadn’t rearranged yet into finishing order so I was confused. The whistle blew to exit the pool so I swam over to the side, looking as I popped up under each lane rope. Marayke Jonkers (3). “did I come third, no I was in lane 3. At the side of the pool I asked Bk what I had come. Second he said, look at the score board.I turned around and at that moment it flashed up 1.Karina.2 Marayke. I had no idea who got third, but I HAD A SILVER MEDAL!!!! This was amazing and far surpassed anything I could have hoped for.

When I started the race I was officially ranked 7th in the world.

And By the time I walked out to the blocks at the start of the race I had already achieved the main goal I set myself for these Games: to stand behind the blocks knowing I had done everything in my power to prepare myself for the race. That way no matter what happens I could be satisfied, and anyway-fully prepared athletes usually succeed!

My second goal was to win a medal, and my third was to swim a personal best time. I had the medal, but was initially disappointed to miss doing a PB. But Brendan Keogh pointed out it was the second fastest swim I’d ever done, and a silver medal after all. “you little beauty’ he said.
Out of the pool I turned to face the crowd and spotted my mum, who was madly taking photos. We headed down a tunnel to do media and then I met Sandra who had helped get my suit on who greeted me with a big hug.

The official escorting me said 20minutes to medal ceremony! So we madly raced in the direction of a changeroom, walking past all the aussies in the warm up area on the way who cheered and whooped and said well done.

Sandra did 2 PBS that night, putting my suit on and getting it off again FAST! Infact, they should make speed dressing a new paralympic sport and we might go for gold! After madly drying my wheelchair (soaking from wet togs) and pulling on my medal tracksuit I was ready to go. There was a brief moment of panick as we realised that we couldn’t find my accreditation. Thankfully the escort turned out to be standing out side the door holding it and said
“seven minute to medal” …….. a new countdown had begun!

We rushed to the presentation area and I greeted the other medallists who were already there. I was so happy to see patricia Valle from mexico got third. She is actually in a lower classification (more disabled than us) but raced us because her event was cancelled. It was a phenomenal effort, breaking the world record for her own classification in the process of winning bronze.
I quickly put on my earings and tried to apply make up, but chinese people kept asking for photos.At one stage I thought I may have to walk out with one eye made up and the other not as I jsut couldn’t get a moment to finish my make up!

Then we were marching out and again Australia cheered, I waved and enjoyed my moment .
Afterwards I headed upstairs to see my mum and my sponsor Dean and Warren from Thinking ERgonomix, who had flown all the way to China just to watch my race!

We were mobbed by spectators taking photos who didn’t seem to understand that this is a private moment for family and friends. 10, 000 photos later my smile was frozen, my cheeks hurt and I could imagine what it must be like to be famous!

My night at the cube ended cheering for my friend Kat lewis as she won bronze. Then it was on to the dinning hall for the ‘unhealthy meal to celebrate. I was far too tired to walk to McDonalds, so i ended up with vege pizza and 800ml of orange juice. Believe it or not that was a huge luxury, as I have been on such a stict diet that I had to ration oj to 200ml a day MAX!

By midnighht, rather than sitting on the roof gazing at the moon and talking about life like the chinese volunteers enjoying mid autumn day I was sitting at my laptop reading dozens of emails, text and facebook messages from friends and family throughout the world. Technology is amazing! Within minutes of my race i had congratulatory texts from family in Holland and my sister in the cayman Islands as well as everyone at home!

I really wanted to call my coach mike and say thankyou for everything, but I didn’t really think I should ring at 2 am aus time when I got in from the pool, or today while he was at work. Maybe soon!

Tomorrow we all head to the great wall of China, so our Beijing adventure continues!
Thismorning at the pool a few of the female swimmers took white pebbles from the water feature that surrounds the watercube as a momento of the games, and my silver night last night.
A day later I have to admit life doesn’t feel much different as a silver medallist. I stayed up way too late chatting with some of my other housemates and then we had to be on the 8.30am bus to the pool to watch our team mates compete. So now I am feeling rather sleep deprived, but I have a lovely silver medal in the drawer of my nightstand! I love d my silver moment on mid autumn day!

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