Interviewed and translated by Rose Cunningham
With the Olympics still on people’s minds and the success of the Australian teams, we were lucky enough to have Ellen Roberts, from the class of 2009, competing in the Olympic softball. I had the incredible opportunity to interview Ellen about the Olympics, School, Sports and more.
Q: What house were you in at Loreto?
A: When I was there I Kendal house, we gave it out all but, if we want anything, it was always the spirit awards, which is cool knowing that our softball national team is called the spirits.
Q: What was your favourite subject when you were.
A: My favourite subject I mean Pe for me was always fun and the practical sides of it, I always enjoyed Pe. One thing that excited me about the school was the fact that it had a swimming pool, I think, when I was 10 years old, that really roped me in initially. But I enjoyed all parts of school at Loreto. I did enjoy maths and I wasn't necessarily the best at it, but I enjoyed it I had some good teachers in years 11 and 12. I loved my English teacher Miss Harper. I enjoyed English with her, and I enjoyed everything really, but I think probably Maths and Pe, were my favourites also loved all the artsy stuff like textiles and we did woodwork or that sort of stuff.
Since I finished school, I did some university overseas, and after university, I’ve been playing professionally All around the world, and I ended up playing in Italy for a couple of seasons and when I was there, I was remembering little bits and pieces of my Italian classes, that I took and that. I messaged my Italian teacher that I had in school, and it was like “hi I’m not sure if you remember me but I took your Italian class for like three years and it's actually come in handy now Thank you so much,” and it’s funny because they weren't necessarily classes, I dedicated myself to but it came around and came in handy and I’m very thankful for the languages, I would take at school.
Q: So, you grew up with the Thornleigh softball club, so was there influence from Loreto Normanhurst, In the way that you play your sports and when you went off to do large competitions, whether it's National competitions, international competitions, the Olympics.
A: I think coming through school, I always felt like Loreto has a fantastic sporting community and I always felt very well supported and encouraged to do my best and I was always so proud to represent Loreto at the school carnivals and then going on to IGGSA and CIS, I always felt so proud to be able to represent Loreto at those times. Then after finishing school. I have felt like the sense of connections still with Loreto and performing on the international stage, especially recently at the Olympics. I could really feel the people back home in the Loreto Community behind me and the softball team and the whole Australia Olympic team, I felt the support that Loreto has given me throughout my entire life has been very, very special and I’m so grateful for that and I hope that one day, one way or another, I can give back to the school at least a small part of what the school has given me.
Q: Do you have any special memories from school or from sport or anything like that?
A: Outside of school I think I guess the big turning point for me in my career was the opportunity I got to go to university in America. I got help from the careers staff at Loreto to get connected with someone to help me find a sporting scholarship to attend university in the US and thankfully, that ended up happening and I went to a division one university in America for four years and was there on a sports scholarship also to get a degree at university and that was a blessing for me to be able to get a degree and study something and come out of the school years in the US with a bachelor's degree.
But for my softball side, it was a turning point being immersed in that atmosphere in the US, where softball is such a big sport and went back home in Australia stuff was quite a small sport we don't have the same facility so I was training and playing every day, and we had like intense gym workout things, but in the US with these girls who have been doing it their whole lives, it only encouraged me to be better and to improve my skills and I think that was a turning point for me in my career. When I went to America, I had to learn and figure out how to survive and figure out how to improve and that really set me up for my career off to university.
Q: In relation to the big stage of the sport, when do you think you realize that you wanted to play softball in a professional League and when was your first moment of realization that that could occur and that could be a path that you could take?
A: I think, from a very young age, I always enjoyed softball and I enjoyed all sports I did a few different sports growing up as a kid and I think that's important to be well rounded in enjoy different communities of friends and things and, as I got older, I sort of stopped some sports and continued with softball, because that was the thing, I was most passionate about and the best out of the sports I was doing. I always had a dream since I was eight. When I was eight, the Olympics were in Sydney in 2000, I was playing T-ball at the time and I went to the opening ceremony with my mom. I remember thinking oh my gosh this is incredible just to be a part of it, I probably didn't even fully understand the concept of the Olympic Games, and what that meant on the international sporting stage, but just being amongst it, I was like this is so cool I want to do this, I remember my dad telling me that the Olympics, is the pinnacle of sports and I thought, yep that is what I want to do.
So I think, from eight I had the dream of playing for Australia and going to the Olympic games, but throughout my career, I always said yes to opportunities because I’ve always believed that the more things you say yes to, the more things you're involved with, the more games you can play the better I was going to get as an athlete so I took every opportunity, but because of my dream to go to the Olympics in play for Australia, all these other things came along, so I ended up going to all these other directions. Flying to the US like that was initially never a goal of mine, I wasn't even aware that playing college ball was an option.
But I got to do that and then from there, I played in Europe professionally, US professional league, I played in New Zealand and now I’m in Japan and Japan is the only softball League in the world where you can actually learn it live it earn a living playing a sport, so I think that because of my dream to go to the Olympics, I was always pursuing “what can I do, what where can I go that's going to better me”. So, all these opportunities opened.
Q: Were there any major setbacks and if so like how did you learn from them?
A: I have had many setbacks in Korea from when I was a kid right up until now I think I have always had to work hard to prove myself and my position in the national team and end with other teams that I’ve played for I’ve never been a shoo-in and so I’ve missed out on selections I’ve been in teams and I’ve missed out and I’ve been in the team again and I’ve missed out again but I think for me I’ve never lost sight of what I wanted to achieve and I’ve always kept my goals at the forefront of my mind.
When I have missed out and I guess the biggest heartbreak is missing out on the national team, when you so badly want to play and represent Australia I’ve always gone to the selectors and the coaches and respectfully asked what can I do to be better what did I do to not get the selection, what are the things that I need to work on specifically to be good at to make this team for the next time selection and I’ve asked the question and then I’ve gone away, and I remember there's been times I’ve been at the local park with my phone out YouTube APP and searching different plays different international players and looking at how did they do this or how do you throw this kind of pitch and then maybe getting out my bat and taking all swings and always studying the game and trying to figure out what more I can do to be better.
I’ve always tried to take advantage of every day being an opportunity to be better and to improve because I want to feel at the end of each day that I’ve done something to better myself.
Q: What was training and the lead up to Tokyo like?
A: It was intense! I think over the years I have trained hard, but now that I’m getting older, I’m 29 this year I’ve finally started to figure out that I’ve got to work smarter. I would do my skills every second day and then alternating days we've got within our gym sessions and working out having one session of a week, so I always have Sunday off.
Monday gym Tuesday skills Wednesday game versus skills, etc, so um and I, I guess, I always try to focus each session on what I wanted to do to get better and focusing it exactly like when I was doing my gym sessions.
Q: What was it like realizing that you were at the Olympics like you've gotten to your childhood dream?
A: As an incredible experience and somewhat surreal, at times it didn't feel like I was there at the Olympics. I think to like there was a moment where I sort of sat back and was taking it all in and the atmosphere of being around thousands of international athletes, like the best athletes in the world and playing on the in the stadiums where there should have been thousands, but still the Olympic softball field was incredible but then to I knew that we had a job to do, I had a job to do, and we had a goal as a team so I would make sure that I switched on when I had to and just played the game, because I had a coach years ago, who always used to say “don't play the event play the game.”
I was like that is so good, I remember that from for many tournaments, but so I always like when I will get like the sort of like oh my gosh, I’m at the Olympics I’m like okay switch on here we go, got a job to do it softball and I guess felt really fulfilled. It was a Very fulfilling experience like not just the fact that I was there and made it, but just to be a part of it all, I felt very honoured.
Q: Are there any important quote sayings mottos, etc, that you live or play by or that have just stuck with you?
A: Yes, there's a couple of my one of my coaches has always told me, and he used to say that “you can never do too much to help yourself”, and with that meaning to help myself and the team so that was something I always thought about when I was training and things got hard, I always think I can ever do too much help myself, so what can I do to help myself to improve and get better, not only for me, but for the team, and that was another quote, that my dad found, he would be out on job sometimes and found like trash on the side of road or something, and he found this poster when I was a kid and he put it up in the garage and it has a man walking up a giant mountain and the quite underneath we driving out of the garage, every day, and he said, many people dream of worthy accomplishments while others stay awake and do them and that is something that stuck in my mind and just is significant to me.
Q: Do you have any favourite memories from Tokyo and the Olympics?
A: I think my most favourite thing about being at the Olympics and something that I guess I’d somewhat dreamt about but hadn't really imagined what it would be like was being in the Australian Olympic building was incredible like each country has its own building and some countries share like the majority of our building was Australia and then some of the top floors were other OCEANA countries like these small countries like Fiji.
The atmosphere in our building was incredible because he had all of Australia’s best athletes in one place. Our Olympic Committee who set up the building for us did an outstanding job we had. Like all different fridges and areas filled his food and drinks from back home, so all the food and drink and after being in Tokyo for four weeks prior, you know, eating Japanese stuff all the time and it was great to coming back and having all the food and drink was amazing.
They had also I guess kids from around Australia had been asked to create posters for the Olympic team, so there was like kid’s artworks throughout the entire building, like all in the common areas and then in each one of our bedrooms there was a poster always.
I think the back of mine had like someone named lily and she had joined the Olympic rings and a question and diving and all these things I was so special, and they also have photos of all the skylines and features and forest and things. My favourite part about all of that was outside of the building when you walk out the front, they had a barista so everyone could get the coffee and then they set up two giant TVs with all this seating around Aussie style seating and The Olympic Games were being screened all day, while the Games were being played, whatever sport was on at that time was on the TV. So, when we were at the village, we could all go out and see it and cheer on our other fellow Aussie's and the atmosphere in that was just incredible like everyone's cheering each other on and yeah it was an amazing experience.
Q:Do you have any favourite or important merchandise collectibles items from The Olympics?
A: I have so many things, everything that we got given I’ve kept, like every little bit like even packaging with The Olympic logo. I’ve kept it all because I just think it's so cool, but I guess I’m very proud to wear the Olympic Australian gear and just everything that we got given.
I feel very, very privileged to wear that so that's very special to me and I also was able to keep one Olympic softball. It had the Olympic logo on it, like the actual game ball and as a softballer that is very, very special to me, so I got one of those too, so I think that's cool.
Q: You pitch right? And you wore number 6 at the Olympics.
A: Yes, that's right. I wear 26 here in Japan, so my professional team and, at the Olympics, I wear number six.
Q: What does a typical day look like, for you?
A: It depends, where I am because here in Japan out our schedule is full-on and I, like our job here is to play softball and a part of that is to also go to company so right now my typical day is: I wake up at 6:15 and I get ready for the day, I ride my bike for about 20 minutes and stop for a coffee on the way to the company to office. My company is a transportation company and I go in and I’m in the international department and I spend four hours that the desk helping my workmates with mostly English things because what I'm good at is a little bit of translating and then, I study Japanese as well at my desk and then, once work finishes at 12:00, I bike ride home have lunch get dressed and ready and leave at one to go to team training. And team training officially starts at 1:30 and we go through to about six or 6:30 and then from there we have free practice.
Japanese girls do free practice, and then I have the option to do more free practice or to go home and have dinner and go to bed and do it all over again, so how our days are full-on and then we play. Our league starts up this weekend and my team first game is next weekend, and we play Saturdays and Sundays, so we train all week and then games a weekend.
Q: Do you have any advice or tricks for aspiring athletes?
A: The most important thing for Athletes growing up, is that you enjoy what you do it's too hard if you don't enjoy what you do every day and I guess over the years I’ve learned to find the things in this in your sport that you love so like when you're having those days that are hard to get motivated or go do something, I’ve always tried to figure out “Okay, what do I want to do today?” like I don't necessarily want to go out and throw 200 pitches so okay why don't I go and do this instead I’ll throw 50 of this pitch and I’m going to make sure that it's perfect.
So, finding something with each day that you have a purpose with and enjoy what you're doing, and then you know that each day is different, so you might get up the next day you're excited and you can go out and do that session that you wanted to do the other day, but didn't.
Something so that you are enjoying what you do each day and spotting the parts of the sport at your you want to get better and having a focus and purpose with everything you do.
Q: Do you have any advice for balancing studies, sports, careers ect?
A: Yes, I learned this the hard way as a kid. I was always very conscious about performing well as a softball player that I used to think about softball all the time when I was at school, and when I was with my friends, I was always thinking about softball and by the time it got to me being at softball, I’d worked myself up so much, there are times I was nervous I didn't perform well because I was always focused on it, so I think as simple as it sounds just being focused on one thing at once. I figured that out probably later in maybe even university that “when I’m at softball I think about softball and when I’m at school, I think about school and when I’m with my friends, I think about my friends, and when I started to do that, everything else became so much easier.
I performed better at softball, I performed better at school and I had more fun, when I was with my friends and I think that is so important, just each opportunity you have with each thing you're doing just to focus on that because while you're at school, you can't do anything about sports, while you're at the sport you can't do anything about your friends, you know so whatever you're doing to stay in the moment.
Q: Do you have any pregame rituals or superstitions.
A: I do have routines that I do like to do, I make sure every day that I get ready, and I have my hair and makeup done, I think that's a big part of my routine in the morning and I usually listen to music, while I’m doing that. I sort of hype myself up for the day and then, once I arrived at the field, I’m all focused. No music- I’m like game on here we go, so I think that's probably the most like if I didn't even call it a superstition a routine for me that gets me into the right mindset to compete.
Q: I know in baseball we have a tradition where we don’t step on the infield until it’s time for the throwing warmup as the game is starting. Is that a tradition in softball too?
A: In softball, we don't use the infield until you must so nobody stepped over the line of the infield until you take infield practice leading into the game, so all your warmup and stuffs done off the field, or in the outfield on the grass and then, once infield warm-up begins, then you can step on the infield.
Q: Something that I’m sure that everyone has been wondering is what were the cardboard beds like, and did yours break?
A: Haha. No, it was like a real bed. I didn't even realize until like I got in my room and we had to sort of making our bed, and I didn't realize till I was making the bed that was made of cardboard, but it was like any other regular Japanese bed, it was very firm by didn't break at all. I saw a video online with I don't know what country, it was, one male athlete got on the bed and jumped in it, and it was fine and then two and three, and they got something like seven guys there something on that one bed, so I think the beds were good they.
Q: Were you lucky enough to attend the opening ceremony?
A: No, unfortunately, we didn't attend the opening ceremony at the stadium because we had a game the next day, but the Australian Olympic team sort of did our Opening Ceremony in the village, and we all got all dressed up and everything then we all walked down the middle of the village through the main road and went all the way up to the Olympic rings and back in. As a full Olympic team, we were singing and hearing all the songs and things that was cool so we had our Opening Ceremony.