Genevieve Gregson’s 32nd birthday should have been something to celebrate. The three-time Olympic and two-time World Championship finalist was competing in the 300m steeplechase at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the event for which she held the Australian record. But coming off the final water jump, she fell when her right Achilles tendon snapped and she was unable to finish the race.
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After a long recovery, her left Achilles, which had troubled her for years, also required surgery. Instead of letting her injuries drag her down, Genevieve says that “In any situation where I face something really terrible or shocking at the time, for example, rupturing my Achilles at the Olympics, I try to turn it into something that I can gain from it.” In this case, it wasn’t making herself a better athlete, but something even more important to her – starting a family. She and her husband Ryan, who is also an Olympic runner, are expecting their first child soon.
Overcoming a series of injuries isn’t the only challenge that Genevieve has faced on her running journey. When she was offered a scholarship to compete at the University of Florida, her parents told her, “We know you’re talented; we know you love running; you should go to America and give it a try.” She “was completely against it,” but they insisted, and said that if she hated it, she could come home.
So, she says, “I thought, I’m going to show them how terrible this is and how much it’s not good for me and I hate it.” She refused to make friends or take advantage of being in a new foreign city because “in my head, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m so unlucky; I got sent away from home; I don’t want to be here; I don’t want to run.’ And yeah, I was just in a bad place for six months, almost thinking it was unfair that my brother got to be at home, living a normal life, and I had to be overseas.”
Ironically, that “wrong mindset” benefited her athletically. She focused solely on running and studying and had a successful freshman year. So successful that she became happy with her situation and “started enjoying college too much.” She neglected running during her sophomore year, but then “snapped out of it,” recognizing that “running was the thing that I was most passionate about before anything else. And I was letting it slip away and not really seeing my full potential.”
She “got back into business and started running well,” and in her senior year she was selected to represent Australia at the 2012 London Olympics. That was a triumph, but, she says, there were “lost years” after that, when she was riddled with injuries. They derailed her training and as she says, “the most important thing as a runner is consistency before anything else.”
She persevered and by 2016 she was back on form, competing in the Rio Olympics. That year showed her what she was capable of, but afterwards the injury cycle resumed. She still ran well, but, she says, “I was always just getting results that were good for the situation. If you look back at my career, you know, 10 years later, I don’t think I fulfilled my potential in any of those years.”
Even when she managed to train injury-free, she was always managing her left Achilles. She’d “gotten so good at that” that it didn’t prevent her from making the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Nor was it the left Achilles that brought her down at the final hurdle. It was her right, which finally gave out after years of compensating for her weak left tendon.
Looking back, Genevieve acknowledges that there are things that she could have done differently, but “every decision made was right for that specific moment. So you can’t have regrets when you can honestly say, ‘I wasn’t silly, I was doing everything I could then and there.’” As she says, “hindsight is one of the most amazing things in the world, but it also can confuse you, because in hindsight you’ve learned all the lessons that you needed to learn back in time.”
As she looks forward to the birth of her first child, Genevieve is planning the next stage of her career. She wants to “give road running a good go” and focus on the longer distances. She’s planning to use 2023 to try to qualify for her fourth Olympics and hopefully in 2024 will be “in a place where I can run a good marathon.”
Whenever she does retire, she says, “I have to have it on my terms; I have to do it how I want to do it. I want to one day wake up and say, ‘Okay, I’m ready now to step away. You know, what an adventure, what a career. I’m so proud of myself, but I’m ready.’”
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“Thank you” to Genevieve. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.