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The Irish-born athlete lighting up Australia

Hollie-Kate Melia from Kildare was recently named Aerobic Gymnast of the Year.

Hollie-Kate Melia from Kildare has just been named Australian Aerobic Gymnast of the Year.
Hollie-Kate Melia from Kildare has just been named Australian Aerobic Gymnast of the Year.
Image: Cavan Flynn BOND UNI

Updated Jun 9th 2020, 8:00 AM

BEFORE THE PANDEMIC hit, Hollie-Kate Melia’s life was busy, to put it mildly.

The Kildare-born athlete is currently in her second year of a Business and Law degree at Bond University. At some colleges in Australia, this subject takes six and a half years to complete, though the fact she is on what is known as an ‘accelerated degree’ allows her to finish it in four.

Melia has been living on the Gold Coast and until recently, was travelling to Brisbane — a car drive that takes an hour and a half each way — four times a week to do three-to-four hours of training in aerobic gymnastics.

Of course, all that has changed of late. Compared with much of the planet, Australia has not suffered unduly from the coronavirus. At the time of writing, there have been 102 deaths and are currently 455 active cases.

Nonetheless, the country did have a couple of weeks of lockdown, even if the restrictions have begun to ease at present.

As a result, Melia is appreciative of the fact she can now leave the house and travel anywhere within Queensland.

“I live by the beach, so you have the opportunity to go to the beach and there are lots of things to do,” Melia tells The42. “I guess the things that have changed are that you can’t train. But lots of things are starting to go back to normal, cafes and the restaurants are opening. 

“But from speaking to family in Ireland, we’re very grateful here for the fact that we still have quite a lot of freedom and it wasn’t too restricted.”

Yet as someone who is used to being on the go constantly, for Melia, the last few weeks have been a big change.

At my peak, I was training 20-23 hours a week. That was taking up a lot of time and I’m also a full-time university student. So when this all happened, I actually went on university holidays as the restrictions occurred. 

“My schedule went from being absolutely packed to nothing. So I was like: ‘What am I doing?’ I don’t think I’ve ever had this amount of time to do absolutely nothing. I’ve been doing training at home. It’s not the same and obviously, gymnastics is the kind of sport where you kind of need to be in the gym in order to do the right sort of stuff. So I did what I could to keep fit, but you can’t really do everything that you want to do.

“It did give me that time to reflect and when you have time away from something, it makes you that much more excited to go back and work hard in it.

“I also am quite injury prone, so coming into a period of time where I didn’t have training actually gave me that time to heal and to take the time I’ve always been told that I needed to take, but I’ve never had the time to take. Just letting my body not have all that impact and stress has made a big difference.

“So I’m excited to get back into the gym. I think it’ll be maybe next week or the week after when I’ll go back to training again.”

hk1 Hollie-Kate Melia pictured competing.

One moment that lifted the lockdown gloom was an email Melia received around the end of May, informing her that she had been named Australian Aerobic Gymnast of the Year.

“To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting it,” she says. “They do it on a state-by-state basis. I wasn’t the recipient of the Queensland award, so I thought that put me out of the running for the Australian award. However, when I got given notice before the award was announced and when I got through the email, I was fairly shocked. I was really honoured and quite grateful to have the opportunity to be receiving that sort of award.”

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The last 12 months have seen the 20-year-old excel on a consistent basis. In April last year, she won the Queensland State Championships, and the following month, she triumphed at the Australian National Championships, where she was also named a Queensland State Team Champion.

In addition, in 2018, she won an award for her contribution to coaching in the sport.

These achievements are particularly impressive when you consider their scope. The Queensland State Championship, for instance, featured around 1500 competitors, including 40 people in Melia’s division.

Melia was supposed to be competing at the National Championships in Melbourne this month, while she had also expected to feature at the World Cup in America, though Covid-19 restrictions have put paid to those plans.

But the award represents years of hard work for the Irish-born athlete, whose love of sport was cultivated by her parents — her father played soccer growing up, while her mother did horse riding and her younger brother is currently a competitive mountain biker. 

Her school also helped inspire the success — it was a centre of excellence for gymnastics, with several Olympians and high-level coaches part of the set-up there.

The dual citizen’s achievements have meant she is now competing at international level. She did consider representing Ireland, before opting to go with Australia ultimately.

Given that I live in Australia, it’s easier to qualify for the teams here,” she explains. “We’ve looked into it and qualifying to represent Ireland is a little bit of a complicated process. The area that I was competing in, [Ireland] didn’t have any teams going. My coach is the Australian team coach. And so if I had the opportunity I would, but for logistical reasons, it’s much easier for me to represent Australia.”

The ages of 17-21 are considered to be the peak for most gymnasts, so as strange as it sounds, it won’t be long before Melia is considered ‘old’ for her sport.

She adds: “I definitely want to continue competing [after college] and see where I can get, but I have to keep in mind that once you get to a certain age, there’s only so much more than you can put your body through, because it’s a physically demanding sport.”

Melia may have left Ireland behind some time ago, but she still retains an affinity for the country of her birth. Both her parents are Irish, and the family previously lived in Milltown, Kildare, though the accomplished athlete was so young leaving that she can barely remember it.

Her father, Ken, had a job working for Mars chocolate and then another role with a milk company also led to extensive travelling. The family moved to Dubai and then Saudi Arabia, where her brother was born, before settling in Australia when Melia was five.

She still gets back to visit family in Ireland regularly though, including three times in the past two years.

“Australia is a warmer country, it’s not as green. I love going out to the farms in Ireland and seeing all the horses,” she says.

“Dublin is so unique in terms of the buildings. It’s like an older city, but the atmosphere in it is so young, it’s so vibrant. Because Australia is such a young country, it doesn’t have that sort of character to it.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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