She was a competitive swimmer for over 11 year, broke world records, and has 2 Olympics, 3 World Championships and 3 Commonwealth Games under her belt! But now, Giaan has now taken on a new kind of challenge that we all might relate to a bit better! She is now a proud mumma to her gorgeous little boy, Zander! Giaan was kind enough to have a chat to us about the challenges and joys of parenthood she has experienced so fa, as well as introduce us to her fabulous new range of active-ware at Target!
You are a world record-breaking Olympic gold medalist, in-demand television personality and now mum to adorable Zander, who just turned one in March! Could you give us some insight into your incredible journey and how motherhood changed your life?
I have been really fortunate that my life so far has been full of travel, life lessons, ‘money can’t buy’ experiences and Love in all its forms. And so far, I have been able to stick to my Life Motto and ‘have no regrets’.
I swam competitively for 11 years, making my first Australian Swim Team at the age of 15 and retiring at 23, and in that time I competed at 2 Olympics, 3 World Championships and 3 Commonwealth Games. I had the time of my life, and nothing can quite compare to loudly singing the national anthem from the top step of the medal dias as the Australian Flag is raised, it is the most natural ‘high’ on earth and sustained me through the rigorous training regime of 6 hrs a day, 6 days a week for 50 weeks of the year! Becoming an elite athlete is one of the most selfish ventures out there, it is pretty much all about you, but I find it much easier being a Wife and a Mum as I think I am quite a ‘nurturer’ at heart. Everyone tells you that having children completely changes your life, I don’t think I REALLY understood that until I had Zander! He has been my greatest challenge but also my greatest joy, and I am so proud to be his Mumma.
You returned to work part-time when Zander was twelve weeks! How did you make that adjustment and do you have any advise for mum’s looking to return to the workforce?
Returning to work when Zander was 12 weeks old was both a blessing and a curse. I was fortunate enough that Channel 7 had offered me the option of working 2 days a week and as it was for the Weekend Weather, my Husband, Sam was home for ‘Daddy Daycare’ and I was only away for 5 hours each day. On the plus side, it was really nice to have the chance to miss my little boy, I couldn’t wait to get home to him and would grill Sam on every little moment I missed, but the downside was the fact that Zander wasn’t sleeping more than 40 mins at a time, both day and night, so I was completely exhausted…… I spent most of my time at work begging my brain to connect to my mouth for 2 mins of live television! My brain was mush!
In a recent article with the Herald Sun, you mentioned you took Zander to sleep school! How did you find sleep school and did it work for you?
A week at Sleep School saved our lives. Zander was 5 and a half months old, still unable to link his sleep cycles past 40 mins, and I was losing my mind. I was putting on a brave face to the outside world but at home I was hitting rock bottom. I am, and always have been, a sleeper. You know that saying ‘could sleep on a barbed wire fence in broad daylight’? Yep, that was me. I could even have a nap at the pool a couple of hours before my race! Sleep had always come so easily to me and it had been one of my greatest strengths, but I also needed at least 8 hrs a night to function on all cylinders……. So, over 5 months without sleep had made me an anxious, overwhelmed, emotional train wreck and as much as I could honestly say I loved Zander, the reality was I didn’t like him all that often. I really needed to swallow my pride when it came to enrolling in sleep school, I felt like I had done some pretty cool things in my life but I was failing at something that should be so natural, motherhood. I also had 2 ‘lightbulb’ moments, the first one was that I really wanted to give Zander the gift of sleep, it had been such a gift in my life and I wanted him to have that too. The other moment was much more confronting….. I was driving the car with Zander in the back, went through a set of traffic lights and honestly could not have told you what colour they were. No idea. If I didn’t get help, I was going to kill us both.
At sleep school I found the most wonderful, understanding and caring Nurses you could ever wish for and a program that covered every aspect of our ‘sleep problem’. Zander certainly wasn’t ‘cured’ by the end of the week but within a few weeks of following every rule to the letter, he sleeps 12 hours a night, every night. Yes, it gave us back our sleep and our sanity but the best thing sleep school gave us was the ability to enjoy Zander, I am a better Mum because of it.
I am so thrilled and humbled to work with Spalding and Target on my active wear, ‘Giaan by Spalding’ as it something I have always had in my head (plenty of hours in a pool lets your imagination run wild!) but never thought the opportunity would arise. I put my ‘athlete’ hat on when I test the fabrics and functionality and my ‘busy Mum’ hat on when thinking about design and quality. I hope the ranges really reflect the modern Woman’s take on activewear; that it has to do what it says it does, while looking good enough to not only motivate you to exercise but easily go from the gym to coffee with the girls! A small ‘capsule’ range is hitting stores now with a brand new range due in September!
What would be your advise to other mum’s wanting to get out there, be active & exercise, but perhaps don’t know where to start?
I had no idea how hard it was to fit exercise into your life when it isn’t your job! And, funnily enough I never swim, nor will I probably ever go to a gym, that was my old life and feels too much like ‘work’ so I really had to find exercise that didn’t feel like exercise, still made me feel confident in my own skin and was of benefit to my long term health, which is the real reason I exercise these days…. I want to be here for as long as possible!
I started back very slowly after Zander’s birth, just walking with the pram to my comfort zone before building up to a 5 km power walk every second day. I tried to do this with my friends who are Mum’s as we seemed to go for longer when we were talking non stop! After 6 months, I got back into Pilates. I love that it makes me feel strong, helps my flexibility and I walk out of the class with jelly legs! A sign of a good workout! So, find a friend who likes the same exercise as you and start talking!
As well as your commitments as a mum and television presenter, you are involved in a variety of incredible causes including the CPR challenge, The Nappy Collective and The Breast Cancer Network Australia. What inspires you to partake in so many worthy causes?
I am a big believer in ‘giving back’ and I have been so well supported throughout my life that I really enjoy helping out where I can. I am an ambassador for Lort Smith Animal Hospital (my 3 legged rescue dog, Lester is my first born!), The Nelune Foundation, (a charity that allows patients to ‘fight Cancer with dignity’) and The Nappy Collective (which supports women affected my family violence by collecting unused, disposable Nappies and distributing them to Women’s shelters and refuges) as well as sponsoring a child for 12 years and doing bits and pieces where I can for the Breast Cancer Network, Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne City Mission and the CPR challenge. It is so easy for people in my position to raise awareness of great charities and causes these days, in an ideal world we wouldn’t need any of them…….
I think every parent wants to raise a healthy, happy child who has the courage to chase their dreams. I would also like for Zander to be really comfortable in his own skin as I think insecurities are one of the most damaging human traits out there. That doesn’t mean you need to be arrogant, just confident you are being the best person you can be. A good work ethic helps as well!
And I have to ask the clique question! If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I would love to have dinner with the Dalai Lama, Audrey Hepburn and Bono from U2! What a great dinner party that would be!