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The former Olympic swimmer and SAS Australia star, Stephanie Rice reveals her next chapter

''I'm not the same woman!''
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Towards the end of 2008, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the name Stephanie Rice.

The then-20-year-old had just won three Olympic Gold medals in Beijing, set world records – including becoming the first woman to swim under 4.30 minutes in the 400m individual medley – and had just signed a TV contract rumoured to be worth $800,000 with Seven.

However, only six years later, Steph’s professional life would drastically change course.

Propelled by a shoulder injury and a now-infamous tweet that saw her lose sponsorship deals and issue a public apology in 2010, Steph retired from swimming at just 25.

Her latest role sees her take on daunting challenges in SAS Australia.

(Credit: Phillip Castleton)

And while she may have “made peace with those experiences” a long time ago, the star hopes her appearance on SAS Australia – Seven’s bold reality series that sees 14 celebrities take on a brutal military training program – will introduce fans to Steph 2.0: a mature woman who is not only a fierce competitor but a savvy businesswoman.

“I was 20 then and 35 now. I’m a very different person to the version I was when I was an athlete,” she tells Woman’s Day.

“You just don’t know where you stand [when you’re at that age]. But I’m in a really good place right now.”

“I’m really proud of what I’m committed to in a work capacity, and I’m proud of my personal growth,” she adds.

Being a self-labelled “obstacle course girl” and an avid watcher of previous seasons, Steph said she was surprised, and yet unsurprised, by the show’s inherent brutality.

Stephanie says she’s finally found her passion outside of the pool.

(Credit: Phillip Castleton)

“I’ve watched every single episode of the Australian series and abroad, so I knew what I was getting myself into, and the inner-athlete in me just loves to prep – so I just trained with everything I could,” she says.

And being aided by the “comfort” of having other athletes such as Peter Bol (“he’s such a lovely guy”), Boyd Cordner, Abbey Holmes and Matthew Mitcham also helped her along.

“It was such a good group of I guess ‘my people’ that had similar mindset to me.”

A different lane

Almost 10 years on since she stepped out of the pool for good, Steph has been slowly but surely chipping away at the next stage of her career, which she admits at times has felt like swimming upstream.

Stephanie Rice won three Olympic gold medals in 2008.

(Credit: Getty)

“I felt really lost for a long time. I didn’t know where I was going or what I wanted to do,” she says of the transition to retired athlete.

“Just trying to find that passion, and the lack of support – it was a really hard time. But I’m so glad that I got through it and I feel very privileged to be able to talk about it, because I think a lot of people struggle with that transition.” Steph now reveals that she is “in a really good space” studying her MBA (Masters of Business Administration) while working as a consultant in India with its high-performance swimming teams.

And yet it’s her hint at a potential return to the Olympics that has her most excited – it’s just not what you think.

“I’ve been working as a consultant for the Brisbane Olympics for over a year now and my vision over the next eight years is to land a leadership role in the lead-up to the 2032 Games,” she reveals, adding that the opportunity would be a “beautiful full-circle moment” for her.

Stephanie Rice isn’t done with the Olympics just yet.

(Credit: Phillip Castleton)

“Being a young girl watching Susie O’Neill compete and then dreaming of going [to the Olympics] and then having my own athletic experience, and then 10 years later being involved in a home Olympic preparation – it’d be beautiful.”

When asked whether she’d ever return to swimming, it’s a swift “no way”.

“In order to fully move on from a chapter in life, you have to fully let go. I knew when I retired that I would never make a comeback,” she tells.

“It’s just not a thing that excites me any more and not who I want to be. I couldn’t think of anything worse.”

“I’m obviously looking at having a family” Stephanie reveals her next focus.

(Credit: Phillip Castleton)

Looking for love

While she certainly has enough on her plate, Steph has some time to think about dating, however admits she’s currently “single and loving life”.

“I love being in a relationship, but I think the quality of the relationship, I’ve learned over the years, is what’s most important.

“I’m not looking for someone to date for six months, I’m looking at having a family and supporting each other until we’re grandparents, and finding something like that, you can’t just decide when that’ll happen,” she acknowledges.

“I’d love to see myself in a relationship that’s really fulfilling, but for now I’m just enjoying nurturing and supporting myself and I’ll see what happens.”

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