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EXCLUSIVE: In a deeply personal interview, Lisa Curry opens up about her daughter Jaimi’s death and how she’s continuing to live life to the fullest

The mother and businesswoman is baring her life’s losses in her new memoir Lisa in the hope it will help others.
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For Lisa Curry, it’s been a long week.

Having just released her long-awaited memoir, simply titled Lisa, she’s hit the publicity trail hard and the strain has clearly taken its toll.

Australian Story, breakfast television, podcasts, radio and more have been on her agenda.

At each media destination she has relived the worst day of her life, the day she lost her oldest daughter, Jaimi, after a long battle with mental illness, an eating disorder and alcohol addiction.

“I’m tired of crying,” she admits frankly, those famous blue eyes shadowed with bone-deep weariness.

We’ve arranged to meet at The Weekly’s office ahead of our lunch across the road at new Sydney eatery, Reign.

It’s a short walk and gives her an opportunity to meet the whole team.

We are all instantly charmed as she introduces herself, shakes hands, asks questions, takes genuine interest.

She’s exactly who you hoped she would be; the epitome of the golden-haired national champion who won hearts both in and out of the pool.

Lisa has had a hectic schedule promoting her memoir ‘Lisa’

(Photo: Alana Landsberry)

The chatter is light, the mood buoyant and despite the rain battering the city as we make our dash for the restaurant, Lisa stays upbeat and chipper.

The server takes our order (we decide to share scallop ceviche, crab fritters and a broad bean hummus with house-made flat bread. A coffee for me. A green tea for Lisa.).

And then we are alone and ready to delve deep.

As Lisa sinks back into her seat and takes a deep breath ahead of what will be close to a two hour-long conversation, it’s clear that while she’s ready to share her story, it doesn’t come easily.

But she’s determined to do so in the hope that somehow, somewhere, the trials she’s faced along with the stories of her triumphs will have an impact.

One which Jaimi would have been proud of. One which her whole family – which includes younger children Jett and Morgan, and Morgan’s children Flynn and Taj, as well as baby Kit, born just last month – will be proud of.

“We don’t know how strong we are, until strong is all we’ve got,” she says bluntly of how she faces each day.

“Jaimi wanted to write a book to help others, but it was too late. We left it too late. But I hope that, by being honest and knowing that Jaimi wanted to help others, we can help in some way, in some small way.”

Firstly, thank you for your book. I think you are incredibly brave because it goes into so many parts of your life which have, until now, been kept very private. When did you start writing?

I actually started it when I was 50.

The woman I was working with at the time was diagnosed with cancer sadly, and so I put it aside. After we lost Jaimi, HarperCollins asked if I wanted to revisit the book. Turning 60, it seemed the right time. I’ve had 30 years of swimming, 30 years of business and advocacy work, and now let’s see what happens with the next 30 years.

What led you to start it originally?

I had just done [TV genealogy series] Who Do You Think You Are?.

I’d travelled to Ireland and learnt about my dad and his dad, as well as my mum’s relatives coming over from Germany and I didn’t know a lot of that. But at least if I wrote this book my children and my grandchildren would have my story – or a part of it. If I did my whole story it would have to be a series of books!

There are a lot of things that didn’t make the cut. But at least the kids will never have to wonder who Granny was. It’s nice to have it all on paper and to have it sit on your shelf.

If you want to read it you can and if you don’t, you don’t.

Lisa first started writing her memoir at 50.

(Photo: Alana Landsberry)

Has anyone in the family read the book yet?

Not yet. I don’t know Jett’s ever read a book!

I know that Morgan will read it and that her husband will read it.

I don’t know if Grant [Kenny, Lisa’s ex-husband and father of her children] will read it. I know there are parts he can’t read because I sent those chapters [about Jaimi] to him to read and he couldn’t even look at them.

So I gave them to his sister, just to check that it was okay that I was being so open.

Well, you’re not doing justice to Jaimi’s story if you’re not baring all …

People need to understand that if they have an eating disorder or addiction of some sort, it doesn’t kill you straight away. It kills you over time.

It slowly kills you. And it might take you by surprise when you finally reach the end. But if you keep doing that to yourself, there is only one inevitable ending.

You had dealt with 18 years of Jaimi’s illness, the roller-coaster of it all. How did you keep going?

It’s exhausting.

There are times when you just have to find the strength, find the patience, to get through the day. It’s sad, it’s tiring, it’s exhausting.

But you still have to live your life. You have to get up, dress up and show up. That’s hard to do but Grant and I had no choice. We just had to do it.

Plus, you had two other children to care for.

You can’t just live your life for one child. You have three children and they are all the world to you and that’s why I have to be really conscious of my self-care, so that I can be there for them and the grandchildren.

But bloody hell it’s hard. Morgan and Jett are really understanding.

I mean, Jaimi was too but Morgan and Jett are very understanding about how I feel. How their dad feels. They are good kids. Morgan knows that when I am feeling down, I might just need to see the kids for an hour. You snap out of your mood. But you can very easily go back into it.

Your story must be so relatable to other parents battling the same demons.

I get people contacting me all the time saying, ‘What you wrote today has made me feel stronger. Just for today’. That is heart-wrenching to know that they are just getting through day by day.

For some people it is hour by hour. And what a horrific way to live when there is this big, beautiful world out there.

Has the way your family operates shifted since losing Jaimi?

I think everyone is that little bit tighter because in the end it’s all you’ve got – family is all you have.

For me, I want to try and set up my life so that the grandkids love going to the farm, to Granny’s place, because it’s a fun place to go. Having the kids and grandkids around me is always a dream of mine. To be sitting in the rocking chair when I’m 90, telling all the kids all the stories.

Lisa with The Weekly’s Deputy Editor, Tiffany Dunk

(Photo: Alana Landsberry)

At 90 you may very well be a great-grandmother!

Well, my mum and Grant’s mum were both great-grandmas. But that was a conscious decision with Grant and I too – to get married young, to have children young, so that we could be young parents and grandparents.

While your marriage with Grant didn’t last the distance, you two have continued to co-parent so well. Were you always aligned on parenting?

Grant’s parents were always really supportive.

My dad rarely saw me compete. I didn’t think about it too much until later on, but Grant and I decided that we would never be like that, that we would watch our kids in everything they did.

Often, we were the only mother and father at sports day. We wanted the kids to know we were always there.

Even now, when there’s something exciting on, we both still try to get there, as busy as we both are, because our kids do amazing things and we want them to know we’re really proud of all of them.

Another topic you bare all about in your memoir is that your mother was the victim of domestic violence at the hands of your father. Given you’d pushed your own memories of that down, was it hard to ask your mum about it for the book?

It was. It was the first week Mum was in aged care and the editors asked me to ask a couple of questions. It was so hard, it was awful. I taped it so it was her words.

She remembered everything. And she has relived those moments.

She was still seeing a psychologist at her age. [Lisa’s mother, Pat, passed away just a month before our conversation, at the age of 86].

When did your mum start therapy?

At least five or 10 years ago. As people get older, if they are on their own, they have a long time to think and things start to replay in their mind.

It’s like you are opening all these old videotapes in your head and reliving those moments and your emotions – the sight and the fear – all at once.

And she probably hung on to that for her whole life. And it was sad.

I struggled terribly between the tug of love for my father and the horror of what he did to my mum.

Given your father, Roy, passed away some time before your mother, are there conversations you wish you could have with him now?

I rarely asked my dad anything.

We just talked about what we were doing at the time, and the kids and how they were doing. I never asked about his business. I never asked how he felt when he and Mum split up. I didn’t ask him any of those questions.

Men of his generation weren’t taught to be open about expressing their feelings, which probably didn’t help.

True. I think, and I hope, that Grant talks with his mates.

But if I try to get things out of him, it’s hard. We’ve obviously had lots of deep conversations but it gets to a point … I mean, I’m used to talking but for him it just gets too hard.

WATCH: Lisa Curry shares video tribute one year after daughter Jaimi’s death. Article continues after video

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Have you sought out therapy?

People keep telling me to see a psychologist. But from my experience with Jaimi and psychologists and psychiatrists, I don’t want to go and see one.

I know how they operate. I did a tiny bit of psychology at uni and I’m not stupid.

I’m fairly certain I can work it out myself. But you have to be ready.

You mentioned practicing self-care earlier. What has been most helpful?

The first thing is that I have to start eating better because I am an emotional eater. I’m drinking too much coffee. I’m not moving. My body feels stagnant. Today I’m having a green tea instead of a coffee which is a step.

And I think … finding passion in your life. Because I don’t have … I don’t know, I feel really stuck. I’m stuck.

I feel like I want to find an answer for you …

It will come. I want to get in a van and take off.

That’s what I want to do. With [my husband] Mark. And the dog.

There’s an Elvis exhibition down in Bendigo at the moment. Given Mark’s work as an Elvis impersonator, maybe that’s where you could go?

We might do a little road trip down there.

Mark has met Priscilla, Lisa Marie, had meals with Joe Esposito [Elvis’ road manager] and all of the gang.

He rang one of Elvis’ best friends the other day because he wanted to ask a question. I was like, “What do you mean? Why do you have his number?” He’s like, “I’ve got all of their numbers.” I filmed him and they were having a good old chat.

So he’s met music royalty. But in the peak of your swimming career, you met actual royalty.

I know! But the difference back then is that when we met famous people, we didn’t have mobile phones so we didn’t do selfies.

When I was doing the book I said, surely there’s a photo of me having lunch with the Queen? Surely someone took a photo of me with Princess Diana? I met Nelson Mandela at the pool in Barcelona.

He came into the stands and all the athletes were saying hello and crowding all around, but nobody had a camera.

I’m sure your mum must have scrapbooked everything.

Even to the day she died. We cleaned out her place and I found bags of press articles that she had kept.

An article on Jett or Morgan, or on mental health or domestic violence, she’d cut it out and put it into a bag. I’m yet to go through all of those.

You must have plenty of your own memorabilia as well.

Because Grant and I have done [so much] as athletes, the amount of stuff we have!

My poor kids. I know they don’t want it; they have no space for it. But what do we do with it? Do you throw them out?

No! They’re precious. Memories can’t be valued like a diamond ring but they are precious.

But a diamond ring doesn’t take up as much space.

I hear Mark is a great handyman. Maybe he can build you some more storage space?

Well, if it’s in storage, why have it? But yes, Mark’s great on the hammer.

If I find something on Pinterest and say, ‘This looks cool’, he’ll go away and build it. Today he’s building a bed for Taj. With Grant!

That’s lovely that both the men in your life get on so well. Were you originally nervous to introduce them?

No. I asked Grant if he wanted to meet Mark and he was all for it.

How great a support has Mark been to you in these recent years?

In my bad days, I have Mark.

And I get super anxious when he’s not around. I’ve got Mark to fall back on.

Grant doesn’t have that closeness of someone he can fall back on. I mean he’s got best mates and he’s got me, but it’s not the same. Grant’s a bit of a closed book emotionally and I worry about him. But he knows we’re there for him.

You can read this story and many others in the July issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly – on sale now

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