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Sporting Schools School Yard to Sports Star: Melissa Cracroft-Wilson

Melissa Howard

Image: Professional surf lifesaver Melissa Cracroft-Wilson 

Melissa Cracroft-Wilson is a professional surf lifesaver who has won 10x Australian Open Flags Champion, 5x World Interclubs Open Flags Champion, 1x World National Teams Open Flags Champion, 1x World Interclubs Sprint Champion and 1x World National Sprint Champion.

She has also represented Australia in Japan, New Zealand, Bondi, Adelaide, France and the Netherlands. Sporting Schools spoke to Melissa to learn about her journey from the school yard to becoming a sports star.

What are your memories of playing sport at school? Did you play any other sports? 

I loved all sports growing up. I was involved in all the sports and activities my school offered, it really was a huge outlet for me. I wasn't very academic and struggled reading, but my hand-eye coordination was excellent. From athletics to swimming, touch football, cricket and cross country; whether it was in a team or individual event I just loved it all. I remember competing at school athletics carnivals and racing in all events (excluding one, the 1500m). I was so exhausted but still managed to either win or be runner-up in every event.

How did you get started with Surf Life Saving?

I feel like I was born into Surf Life Saving. I started just before I turned two; following my older brother into the sand groper program that was run at my local club. All I wanted to do was beat my brother, but I never really had the chance to race him as he was in older age groups!

Do you remember your first goal, score or win? How did it feel?

In Surf Life Saving, you start to compete at age 8. I remember my first big competition was the NSW Country Titles in Foster. I was in the Under 8's group, and it was down to the last two competitors in the Beach Flags event. The girl that I was up against was the favourite to win – she was a lot bigger than me, however I had one thing in my favour, and that was my determination. I won that day, and it was the start of a tremendous career.

How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional sports person?

I made up my mind when I was about 13 or 14 years old that it was something that I'd like to put all of my focus on. I had already been competing since I was 8 years old, but in that time I had only been beaten once or twice and I was about to enter cadets, and then senior racing. By this stage, my determination and focus was really strong; I was able to compete against everyone I looked up to in the sport, and one-by-one I would beat them in various events. I won my first Australian Open Beach Flags Title in 2004 when I was in the U16's and from then I knew I wanted to make an impact in our sport. My goal was to go on and win 10 titles, which I achieved just recently!

What are your top three tips to children about playing sport?

  1. The most important thing is to just go out and have fun. Sport is a good distraction to our daily lives, so it is a good excuse to turn your focus away from other issues and just immerse yourself in the moment. If you are having fun then you are more likely to carry on and stay involved in the sport for years to come which is great because there are so many benefits from involvement in sport.

  2. Get involved and play as many sports as possible. You really don't know what sport you will enjoy the most or what sport you will be better at until you actually give them a go. You might find some hidden talents that allow you to excel in a particular sport but unless you are willing to try, you may never realise that you could be a potential world champion. Leave all your preconceptions behind and don’t worry if the sport that you enjoy is not a top-tier sport, I have been able to travel the world to countries such as Egypt, Germany and Japan through being involved in Surf Life Saving!

  3. Set goals. Start with goals that are attainable like mastering a particular skill or beating a particular time, then once you start progressing you can set goals that may take slightly longer to achieve, but will provide greater enjoyment and happiness when reached. Goal setting gives you a purpose and creates an inner drive to master it. Remember, practice makes perfect!