“Make yourself an example, achieve it, but don’t hurt anyone on the way up. I don’t think I did that.”-Dawn Fraser
The above quote by one of the most distinguished sports personalities of Australia is an inspiration for millions of girls who dare to dream and achieve it. Yes, Dawn Fraser is perhaps not only the greatest athlete with eight Olympic medals but also the most outspoken and controversial swimming legend.
Dawn Fraser was born on September 4, 1937, in New South Wales, Australia. While her mother was from Balmain, her father was from Scotland who immigrated to Australia when he was quite young. Fraser was raised with her siblings in a middle-class working family and her childhood days were quite happy. She fondly remembered how once her brother chopped off her long hair so that she could look like a boy and could participate in a school football match!
Since Fraser was diagnosed with asthma, she was actively encouraged by her father to do swimming at the age of four. This was initially for the sole purpose of improving her breathing. Although it was expensive, she gradually managed to practice at the Balmain Baths for free because of its kind staff.
When Fraser was just 11 years old, one of her cousins encouraged her to participate in a local swimming competition. Within a short period, she becomes a notable face in the local swimming competitions.
At the age of 13, she lost her dearest brother Donny to leukemia. For Fraser, this was a huge personal loss. She even thought to become a doctor to save lives, but soon dismissed it to pursue her passion-swimming.
Dawn Fraser received her elementary education from the Birchgrove Primary along with her siblings. She then decided to quit her school to take care of household responsibilities. She, later on, get enrolled in the Leichardt Home Science School. However, she was not very much interested in her studies as by then, it was clear that swimming is her real passion.
At 14, Fraser as an amateur swimmer beat a renowned swimmer Lorraine Crapp in a competition and made her way onto newspaper headlines for her extraordinary feat. As a result, her raw potential to make it big as a swimmer caught the attention of Harry Gallagher, a swimming coach who offered to train her for free!
Next year, Fraser participated in the Australian championship and aimed at getting selected in the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, but her hopes were dashed. However, Dawn Fraser was not disappointed at all and started to practice all the more. Her coach started to train her at the local pools in Adelaide, where she soon acquired the nickname “The Water Babes”.
Dawn Fraser set her focus to participate in the South Australian Championship. She broke a swimming record in the National Selection for Olympics. This success marked the beginning of a successful career as an athlete, and then there was no looking back!
In 1956, Fraser got the opportunity to participate in the Olympic games held in Melbourne. She created a record in 100m freestyle swimming and won her first-ever Olympic gold medal. She also won a gold in the 4 x 100 m freestyle relay and a silver in 400m freestyle relay.
This spectacular performance in the Melbourne Olympics gives her the limelight, and she got the permanent membership of the Australian Swimming Team. She also went to win many more Olympic medals in her illustrious career.
Dawn Fraser is one of the most decorated swimmers in Australia’s sports history, and some of the accolades that she got are as follows:
1956 Melbourne Olympics-Two gold medals and one silver medal
1958 Cardiff British Empire and Commonwealth Games-Two gold medals and one silver medal
1960 Rome Olympics-One gold medal and two silver medals
1962 Perth British Empire and Commonwealth Games-Four gold medals
1964 Tokyo Olympics-One gold and one silver medal
1964-Australian of the year
1967-Member of the British Empire (MBE).
1988-Inducted into the Hall of Fame
1999-World Athlete of the Century
Apart from the above ones, she also won more than 20 Australian individual championships. However, her career was cut short in 1964 when she suffered multiple injuries in a terrible car crash. Fraser lost her mother because of the fatal accident, and it was a major personal loss for her, but still, she participates in the Tokyo Olympics and won a gold and silver medal for her country.
Fraser’s career was not without controversy. She faces controversy during the 1960 Rome Olympics and 1964 Tokyo Olympics. During the Tokyo Olympics, she was accused by her sponsors of wrongdoings. She was even arrested for a brief period for stealing a flag from the Royal Palace of Japan. As a result, she was banned by the Australian Swimming Union from swimming for the next four years, but Fraser chose to retire in 1965.
The very same year, she got married to Gary Ware but experienced domestic violence and abuse after the birth of their child. After taking a divorce from him, Fraser becomes severed depressed and then decides to lead a happy life for her daughter.
Fraser even joined politics in 1988 and become a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly. However, she decided to leave politics in 1991.
In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Fraser was sent as the Sports Ambassador to motivate the Australian Olympic team. She even got the honor to pass the Olympic Torch to world-renowned boxer Muhammad Ali to light the Olympic Flame.
Today, Dawn Fraser use to live her life fullest with her daughter and grandson in Queensland. None of the controversies or unpleasant experiences can refute that she scripted history at a young age with eight Olympic medals, more than two dozen individual world records, and a dozen relay world records.