It’s funny how time flies in the blink of an eye.

It really does seem like only yesterday that I was the 13-year-old girl competing at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, with absolutely no care in the world other than competing for the love of diving.

Oh how my life in the sport has changed so much.

The 2006 Commonwealth Games was where it all started for me; there wasn’t a moment I did not enjoy.

As one of the youngest competitors in the Games’ history, it was just so much fun and the support I had behind me was truly special. Everyone made such a big deal of my qualification, and it was probably because at 13 there wasn’t a great deal of height to me!

To this day, I often find myself drawing on my first major world experience from the 06’ Commonwealth Games; it was the only time in my professional athletic career where I went into a competition without any pressure at all.

Of course, that all changed the moment I won a silver medal in the 10m synchro event alongside Alexandra Croak, and came close to winning another medal in the individual 10m platform event.

As a child, there was plenty of publicity leading into the Games, but nothing compared to the media attention that followed after I actually stepped down from the Commonwealth Games podium with that silver medal. 

That whole experience marked one of the best moments in my life. I was just so focused on the performance side of things that nothing else seemed to matter.

As I have grown older though, I’ve learned that the expectations to perform become greater and greater, and as such, that becomes harder to deal with.

When you’re young, you feel like nothing can stop you.

You are just chasing the rest of the world; but when you finally make it, the pressure to maintain your place as one of the world’s best is immense.

melissa wu exclusive insight

When you’re young you have nothing to lose, and no real injuries to overcome.

Mentally, you’re fresher than everyone else, and I think that is why I often look back on my earlier experiences in the sport and do my best to regain the same mindset as my 13-year-old self.

Now at 25, having competed for nearly 15 years, the pressure to perform has become greater; but I’ve been lucky to have great coaches throughout my career to help me prepare and deal with all stages of performance, including pre, during and post competition.

When I was younger, my coach Xiangning Chen developed me as an athlete and coached me to first my Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. He was also by my side when I headed to my first Olympics in Beijing 2008, where I became Australia’s youngest ever Olympic medallist in diving.

I owe Xiangning a great deal for the values and confidence he instilled within me, especially throughout my first Commonwealth Games when I was that tiny teenager with big dreams.

And while there is never anything quite like your first major Games, the opportunity to head to the Gold Coast to compete in my fourth Commonwealth Games and second on home soil will be amazing.

I can’t put into words how incredibly excited I am, especially when there was so much uncertainty around my qualification after missing the trials in December due to injury concerns.

Unfortunately, I had four disc protrusions in my neck, which were pressing on a nerve, as well as an ongoing knee injury, which I could no longer keep pushing through.

The timing couldn’t have been worse, but injuries wait for no one in sport.

melissa wu exclusive insight

During that period, I barely dived and had to limit my training load as there wasn’t much I could do that wouldn’t aggravate my neck or knee.

But I worked super hard with my physios and strength coach on my rehab – I did my neck and knee exercises every day and strengthened every other part of my body so that I could stay fit and prevent further injuries from occurring when I returned to full training.

My strength coach and physios didn’t miss much, and in hindsight that six-week period could prove to be the difference come April.

I’ve finally been able to start getting on top of these injuries, which is something I have always struggled with given our increasingly tight diving schedule.

I’ve been able to get back to where I need to be a lot quicker than we’d planned, and once I started getting back into training, I didn’t feel like I’d lost too much in terms of strength and skill.

Sometimes when you actually take the time to rest injuries, you become better off instead of pushing through them and ending up in a worse situation.

Given that I’m older now and have more years under my belt, I know my limits in terms and what my body can and can’t handle.

I have learned to better manage my training load, and which areas of my conditioning I can tweak to continue to improve.

Luckily, I haven’t had an injury severe enough to put me out of the sport, and have only ever taken a single season off competition since I first came onto the scene, so I am incredibly grateful in that regard.

I have also worked really hard on my mental state throughout my career. I used to struggle a lot with self-doubt, which really impacted my ability to perform to the best of my ability.

So for me, my mental preparation is just as important, if not more important, than my physical training.

I believe that just because you win a medal at a major competition, doesn’t mean you stop training, and the same can be said about mental preparation. For me it is a constant work in progress but I’ve definitely come a long way from where I was, and it is something I continue to work on and address.

As an athlete, being mentally tough can mean the difference between a good or bad performance. 

It is certainly something I hope I can pass on to my younger teammates in the Australian squad when they’re seeking advice or going through the same feelings of self-doubt that I used to.

I’m really enjoying being a leader for the girls coming through in the sport; I feel like we’re really building a supportive culture within our team. 

Early in my career I forged closer relationships with many of my international competitors, rather than with those on my own team.

But with many of the girls a lot closer in age to me than when I was coming through, I still feel funny when the media refers to me as a “veteran” – simply because I don’t feel that old yet!

But now that I’m one of the more experienced athletes on the team, I’ve really embraced the opportunity to share what I know with my teammates.

But I am committed to acting more as a leader, and giving back to the sport, because I feel like I can really bring us together as a team. 

And that’s exactly what I plan to do leading up to the Commonwealth Games, to ensure the whole team is in the best possible position to strive for the highest results.

Let the hard work continue!

Melissa Wu

Melissa Wu is an Australian diver and olympic silver medallist.

At 13 years old, Melissa competed at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, winning a silver medal in the 10m synchro event alongside Alexandra Croak.

She won gold in the same event at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.