AS A child growing up on a farm near Warracknabeal Lauren Hewitt thinks it was only natural that sport was part of her life.
She said she played basketball, netball and tennis because sport was the focus of the rural community just as it still is in many others.
It was at school athletics carnivals where she could really showcase her talent though and from there she started training each weekend.
“An old triple-jump champion named Fred Halpin used to take a few kids on a Sunday,” she said.
“Dad used to call it the flip-flap; he’d take me in for an hour on a Sunday and I’d run round to do some long jump and triple jump then we’d get a milkshake on the way home. It all started from there.”
Her primary interest in athletics continued to be the long jump and triple jump before her dad, Quentin, saw an ad for a Debbie Flintoff-King training camp when she was in year six.
"There was something that happened at that camp that made me just start to believe I could be good"Lauren Hewitt
“I spent two days at a training camp with heaps of kids and there was something that happened at that camp that made me just start to believe I could be good,” Hewitt said.
“Debbie was my role model – I’d watched her win gold at the 1988 Olympics.
“I was 10 at that stage and there is a video of me saying I want to run in the Olympics games in the 200 metres.”
She said all of those factors somehow combined to help drive her.
“When Debbie saw me she saw some potential,” she said.
“Within a few days I was running in school championships and it was the first time I’d won the 100 and 200 metres.
“I beat Tamsyn Lewis and that was the start of our junior rivalry which made us both better athletes.”
I beat Tamsyn Lewis and that was the start of our junior rivalry which made us both better athletes.Lauren Hewiit
In year nine Lewis moved to from the family’s Bangerang farm to Melbourne to go to boarding school at St Catherine’s. Within a year she was training with Flintoff-King.
“Debbie took me under her wing and basically showed me that she was a normal person who was prepared to train and work really hard,” she said.
“To see that at a young age let me know that I could do that.”
Flintoff-King’s coach and husband Phil King set out clear training programs for the young Hewitt to follow. When the pair decided to have more children they suggested Peter Fortune as Hewitt’s next coach.
“He was coaching Cathy Freeman at the time,” she said.
“I stepped from learning under one Olympic gold medallist to working with someone we thought had the potential to be another.
“I went into a training camp that was full of elite athletes which meant that training was never a chore – there was always enjoyment because I loved training and I loved competing even more.”
She said that being able to train alongside Freeman was a privilege early in her career.
“She was just so fluent when she ran,” she said.
“Everything was always so balanced and it was like that when you trained with her.
“You would just roll around without even realising how fast you were going – that was my introduction to training with Peter and Cathy.”
In 1996 she was selected to Australia’s Olympic team at the age of just 17 while still in year 12.
She said the whole experience was exciting.
“We took trolleys everywhere within the village and we’d get to the dining hall and there was so many option available,” she said.
“I had to learn to stick to what I actually knew instead of introducing new foods that my body was not used to digesting – so even though it was exciting I had to take it in my stride which was hard as a 17 year old.
I also remember seeing Dolph Lundgren from the Rocky movies and I was awestruck by him and he wasn’t even an athlete.”
She ran in the final of the 4x100 metre relay along with Sharon Cripps, Kylie Hanigan and Jodi Lambert. She said it was a moment that made her want to ensure she would be able to come back again.
“On the bus from the warm-up track to the main stadium opposite me was Gail Devers who had just won the 100 metres and Merlene Ottey who had just won silver in the 200 metres,” she said.
“There was others as well but just seeing those two there was enough to make me think how it was only the year before that I was sitting at home watching these athletes win world championships.
“There I was as well, sitting opposite them and getting ready to compete against them – that was a moment where I decided I deserved to be there.
“I was determined at the point to run as hard as I could in order to show everyone else I deserved to be there.”
She said being at an Olympics just to compete in the relay allowed the team to create a bond in order to reach the final and place seventh.
“That allowed us to execute our changes really well,” she said.
“When I was competing in more individual events I just didn’t have the time to focus on the relay exchanges as much.”
Less than a month later Hewitt had returned to Australia where she won would win a 200-metre silver medal at the world junior athletics championships in Sydney.
She was part of the Australian team for over a decade and went on to compete at the 2000 Olympic Games at Sydney and the 2004 games at Athens.
She also was also part of three Commonwealth Games Australian teams and captured two gold medals and three bronze medals.
He just said to me: ‘I’m so proud of you Lauza,’ and all I could think was how did he get in there.Lauren Hewitt
One of the memories that still sticks with her was after she had won bronze at the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games in the 200 metres.
“I can remember being so proud of myself at that moment and wanted to keep that feeling for as long as I could,” she said.
“I went back to the warm-down track and it was dark and late.
“Usually there would be a heap of security there so people couldn’t get into the track but then all of a sudden my dad strides across the oval to give me a big hug.
He just said to me: ‘I’m so proud of you Lauza,’ and all I could think was how did he get in there.”
She said it was one of her best father-daughter moments.
“There are lots of them because I would have never got to where I have without the support of mum and dad,” she said.
“Being a country kid you have to have someone around you who is prepared to drive four hours in order to compete consistently.
“Even when I was down at boarding school they would come down all the time.”
In 1996 her mother, Marilyn, moved to Melbourne to look after Lauren and her two younger sisters, Erin and Linley.
“We didn’t board that year because mum would look after us during the week in Melbourne then travel back to take care of dad at the weekend,” she said.
“It’s only now that I’m a bit older that I realise the commitment from them was huge as well.
“To be able to have daughter continue to compete at that high level for 12 years.”
We didn’t board that year because mum would look after us during the week in Melbourne then travel back to take care of dad at the weekend.Lauren Hewitt
Hewitt has utilised some of the knowledge she gained during hew career to establish her own nutrition business.
After taking time off to raise her and husband Richard’s six-year-old daughter Isabella she has started to work more with the business again.
“It was a privilege to enjoy being a stay-at-home mum over the last few years but now that Isabella is at school I’m looking to relaunch Lauren Hewitt Nutrition again,” she said.
She has created two programs designed to help people understand nutrition and what happens when they eat to fuel their bodies.
The first of the programs was initially aimed at school-aged children but she said she’s found that parents and adults have taken just as much out of it.
The second is an online healthy portions program which can be tailored to individuals.
“When I was an athlete I had a fantastic team around me,” she said.
“As an everyday person you don’t have all of that and sometimes you need someone that can support you as well.
“As an athlete I had a dietitian that set out what I was having and that’s what I have based that on.”