What do you know about Siberia? If you are to take a quick look on a map, it’s the vast region to the right of the Ural Mountains in Russia. Unbelievably, it’s almost twice the size of Australia, and most of Russia is just Siberia. Bet you didn’t know that!

But what has any of this got to do with water polo? Stay tuned, because I’ll cover that soon.

I’ve been playing water polo since I was twelve years of age.

I attended Wenona School, North Sydney, and learned early on that if I was going to succeed at sport, I would need to balance the pool with academic pursuits. It wasn’t as hard as you might think.

Yes, there were the usual nervous nights before exams wondering if I had put in enough study. But I worked hard. I wanted to achieve an overall grade that would help me in my aspirations of tertiary education beyond the school gates. I found a way to manage.

What helped me in my teenage years is that most of my friendships developed through my love of playing a sport. And social media wasn’t as pervasive as it is today.

That last point is crucial. I think so many teenagers view the world through the prism of Instagram and Facebook, not understanding that the manicured images that bombard them do not represent reality. There is likely a cohort of talented young athletes that have become too distracted to pursue their chosen sport, and I think that is tragic in so many ways.

I mentioned friendships because some of my most cherished and enduring acquaintances are from water polo.

Talk to a professional surfer, a rugby player and a cricketer, and I reckon they’d say the same thing.

It’s human nature to be around people who share common interests, and you tend to relate a lot easier.

We each recognise the sacrifices made to compete in the sport we love.

I am an advocate for kids and teens to choose a competitive sport.

You’ll create a heap of lifelong friends, get fit, and learn the value of teamwork; a vital skill that employers are increasingly emphasising.

My family played a massive role in helping me achieve my sporting goals. I had my doubts that I could be both a student and an athlete, but my parents always said that, yes, you could do it, but you’ll need to manage your time.

I am so grateful for their wisdom. I sincerely hope that other burgeoning athletes are privileged to have parents like I do; the encouragement and support are priceless.

Water polo is an amateur sport in Australia. I’ve always known I had to obtain an education to prepare me for life once I retire from elite competition. I studied at the University of Sydney doing an undergrad degree in science.

I even play on the uni’s water polo team, the mighty Lions! Overseas there are professional leagues, and many of those opportunities are in Europe, where I enjoyed a stint playing for Olympiacos Women’s Water Polo Club in Greece.

However, the chance to build a career isn’t available to most of the participants that you’ll see every four years on TV during the Summer Olympics. I know that is the case for many other sports too, but I can only talk with conviction about water polo.

Does the lack of opportunity for water polo players to compete and earn a living affect my outlook on the sport? Not really.

Allow me to explain my perspective.

There is a lot that goes into commercialising a sport to turn it into something that the man (or woman!) on the street will watch and support.

Think of the massive changes in the way we all consumed media in the past five years alone.

When was the last time you spent the majority of your ‘screen time’ facing a TV instead of your iPhone or Android device?

Rugby union is an established sport, and it faces enormous challenges in launching a domestic competition. Rugby has an audience that could be hundreds of thousands given the international standing of the Wallabies and the Super Rugby teams.

Many rugby fans would probably struggle to tell you the names of the competing clubs in the National Rugby Championship.

There isn’t a heap of athletes playing water polo. In many ways, it is a niche sport. I approach the game with passion first and foremost, and I love it.

The same obstacles face men and women in water polo, so it is a level playing field in that regard. I’m not knocking other sports when I say this; there is a unique charm to water polo that I don’t see elsewhere. The fact that the sport remains amateur is an asset.

Let’s get back to talking about Siberia. Why is it important?

Water polo has taken me there. I was part of the Australian Stingers team that earned a silver medal in the World Cup in 2015. Name another sport that had the pinnacle of its competition hosted in a destination as far-flung from Australia as Siberia?

I competed in Russia, Europe, China, North America, and many countries throughout Eastern Europe where water polo receives outstanding support from local fans.

These are some of the key reasons I tell anyone interested in playing the sport to get involved and participate.

When I put on my cossie and water cap, I switch on. It’s 12 minutes- per quarter for me and my teammates to own the pool. The lessons I’ve learned in the water, I will carry them with me for the rest of my life.