I’ve thought long and hard, as to how I wanted this story to start, but ultimately it’s best I just get everything off my chest.

For those who know me well, will know that the past couple of years have been a nightmare for my family and I.

Three years ago my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, and with the help of my Dad, sisters and I, we were able to help Mum through the most difficult period in her life.

During her treatment and recovery, sadly Dad was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He was a builder, so he had asbestos-related cancer.

Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

Mum’s health was a lot more manageable through early detection, which we were incredibly blessed by. With Dad’s illness, there was a lot of unknowns.

My sisters and I, and respectively my parents too, we’ve all done our best to put on a brave face every morning as we’ve all battled and supported each other through what has been just the worst two years of our lives.

Of course, my family are still based over in New Zealand, while two years ago I made the transition to come to Australia to help advance my athletics career and my bid for olympic selection in 2020.

In early September Mum and Dad had planned to come visit me in Australia; to be honest, since I moved over here, they’ve tried to come every six weeks to see me and stay for a mini-holiday each time because they too have simply fallen in love with the country.

Olivia Eaton exclusive insight

They had booked their tickets to come see me, at a time when Dad’s treatment was at its heaviest.

They were literally 24 hours into the trip over here, and then Mum and I realised at 4:30am that Dad was pretty unwell and they needed to fly back.

So they flew back and Dad was admitted to hospital, but then Mum called me a two days later, telling me I had to come home.

I wanted to ask questions, but at the same time I knew I didn’t. I boarded the first flight I could.

I barely had enough time to pack my suitcase as all I wanted to do was head to the airport so I could be closer with my family.

When I finally arrived to my home some 10 hours later, I knew the worst was to come. I’m forever grateful that I managed to spend time with Dad before he passed away… needless to say, it’s been a horrible eight weeks since for my family and I.

I wish I still had my Dad here with me.

Olivia Eaton exclusive insight

It’s been a pretty terrible experience, and to be truthful, I really didn’t want to come back to Australia and have to train for competition season.

Getting back on a plane, and leaving my family behind to mourn, was honestly the last thing I wanted to do, but they encouraged me to go back… and the more I kept thinking about it, the more I knew what Dad would want for me if he was still here.

Dad was the one that got me into athletics, and loved that I was over here pursuing what was a shared dream of ours. Living the lifestyle of an athlete and doing what I’m doing.

Olivia Eaton exclusive insight

My family and I grew up in a town called New Plymouth in New Zealand, and we just have a community athletics track in the middle of nowhere.

It’s like a 30-minute drive out on country roads… and yeah, Dad used to take me there every week.

We had club night every Tuesday night and Dad and I would just drive out together from when I was twelve, from when I signed up to the club, to my last year of high school, when I was still doing club night on a Tuesday.

We’d just drive out together and we’d just sit in the stands – there’d be no one there, like 30 people at club night … and he’d sit in the stands during training… just smiling back at me after each run.

Mum and Dad would go to all my competitions, but Dad would always do the driving or he’d come away with me.

So, the amount of miles we covered across the country and … and then when I started coming over here, it’s just ridiculous.

The amount of times he would’ve just been sitting down for hours, waiting… I race for 11 seconds and that’s it, or 23 seconds in the 200, or a 90m beach sprint, and then the rest of it’s just hours sitting around.

So yeah, lots of my memories are related to my sport and sharing that with Dad.

I know what Dad would be telling me if he was still here. “Come on Libs, you’ve got to pull together and get through this, like we’ve always done.”

It’s so interesting, ’cause a lot of people have said to me over the past six weeks… “Dad never worried about you at all, He knows you will be a success because you work so hard.”

He was definitely jealous of my lifestyle and being an athlete.

Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

He himself was a rugby player for quite a long time, so he got to kind of dabble in the athlete lifestyle, but obviously it was different back then.

In New Plymouth, once you turn eighteen and finish school, you leave if you’re serious about wanting to be a professional athlete.

I knew what the setup was like over here in Australia, so I was super, super keen on that and it did take a little bit of convincing for Mum and Dad, but it didn’t take them long to realise I was doing something that I loved, I was getting results from it, and I get to live the most amazing lifestyle.

I guess that’s why they’ve come over so much and enjoy it with me as well.

They just knew I was so set up here and I’m just doing what I enjoy.

I will forever cherish those moments we had together, and the fact that he understood how safe the environment under Viking Athletics is over here for me in Australia.

Olivia Eaton exclusive insight

Ever since Dad passed away, I keep going back to the day we all found out he was diagnosed.

Even though it’s such shit time at the moment, and it’s not all obviously sunshine and rainbows … I kind of feel like I just have to turn it into a positive in some way and go, “Oh my God, we were given this massive wake up call, that time with… anyone, especially the people who are special to you is so, so precious”.

To be able to have such a good bond with Dad through my sport is something I will hold with me for the rest of my life.

Again, he was the one who got me into it and kept me motivated and all that sort of stuff, and was always my number one fan on the sidelines.

It’s just made, honestly, the last two and a half years now, so much more special, because when I race, and then I got to celebrate it with Dad, or share it, and he got to be there to watch or he got to come over here on holiday… That just made those moments that we already shared that were special that much more special because it was … so precious.

You don’t imagine how such a sad and tragic time can result in so much extra motivation.

Olivia Eaton exclusive insight

I never understood when someone would go through something, and then say they gained motivation from it. I always just thought, that as an athlete, you should already be motivated enough to want to succeed in your sport.

But I’ve come to realise that is what tragedy can do for some people.

And honestly, it’s been the biggest wake up call. I knew even beforehand when we knew Dad’s diagnosis and whatnot, it was important to make the most of my opportunities.

But now it’s like… “Okay. I have to do this for Dad. I love what I do and I’ll do it for as long as I can, but I’m not just doing this for me anymore.”

So yeah, I fully get the 100% thing, because it’s honestly just put a whole new sort of perspective on my approach to things, kind of like a bigger picture.

You don’t need to sweat the small stuff anymore. I’m not complaining if I’ve got a couple of niggles anymore, it just makes the bigger picture so much more important.

Way more important. There is no way I think that I myself would have got on the plane to come back here and try and get back into a normal routine.

That was literally the support of my Mum and my sisters and our friends and family back home.

Obviously forcing me to do it, but just reminding me, this is exactly what Dad wants you to do. Like our friends shared with me over the past eight weeks, he never worried about me because he knew how driven I was.

I just know that when I look towards the stands during competition meets this summer, in one of those empty seats will be my Dad, looking back at me with his usual warm smile.