Balance is the key to a successful sporting life
by Sandi Miller
5th February 2024
THE “GREAT WALL of Warrandyte”, Rachael Lynch OAM was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2024 Australia Day Honours for her services to hockey.
Rachael was awarded for her distinguished career on the hockey pitch, alongside her significant work off the pitch as a mental health ambassador, and as a nurse.
Australia’s “most capped goalkeeper ever”, the two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Rachael was also a dual Olympian, a World Cup silver medallist, and played 233 games for Australia across her international career.
Off the pitch, she is a nurse at Austin Hospital, a hockey coach, a Performance Lifestyle Advisor with the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS), and a passionate advocate for mental health, serving as an ambassador for RUOK? Day.
Rachael told Warrandyte Diary she has followed the different honours and awards given to Australians over the years and some of the incredible things that they do.
“It is something that is very special and highly regarded, so I am absolutely privileged and honoured to receive one,” she said.
She said she has always tried to keep a life balance, which she is trying to instil in the athletes she supports at the VIS.
“I have four different sports I am looking after at the VIS, none of them being hockey, so I get to share some of my experiences around — like the importance of having a bit of life balance as an athlete.
“I was working as a nurse throughout my whole career, and it was something I was incredibly passionate about, because having those other areas and those other identities allow you to become a better person and a better athlete as well,” she said.
She said while the gender pay gap was a reality, having employment away from elite sport was grounding.
“It was something that gave me perspective, and health is good for that, but I think every athlete is going to go through those ups and downs in their career, and it just allows you to keep you grounded.
“Having something else that you are good at as well, if things aren’t going well in your sport, you have also got those other areas and those things that you are passionate about.
“If I ever met someone for the first time and they asked what I did, I always said that I was a nurse — I didn’t say I was an athlete — I am equally proud of my sporting career, but nursing is something I think is a bit more relatable to people.
“As much as we want the pay gap to close and we want female athletes to have some equality, it would not matter what someone was getting paid; I would always suggest or encourage them to have those other areas outside of their sport.”
Rachael said while she has many highlights on the pitch, it is her legacy of life balance she instilled in the Hockeyroos during her time on the squad she feels most proud of.
“Normally, in an Olympic year, you don’t work or study, just because of the increased load, but I pushed hard to be able to work in that year because it was really important to me and gave me the perspective and balance throughout the year helps me play better.
“At the time, there were only three of us who were working, but then, for the leadup to the 2020 Olympics, nearly everyone in the team was working or studying, and that was a bit of a legacy for me, and I wanted to encourage and educate the importance of that.”
Her hockey career has not always been smooth sailing. In the leadup to Tokyo, players’ lack of confidence in the off-field leadership of Hockey Australia was brought to a head by a decision by selectors to drop Lynch and fellow Hockeyroo Georgie Morgan from the team, only to have the decision reversed on appeal, and the selection panel resign.
“I did six months in the lead into the Tokyo Olympics training by myself because I wasn’t in the team; I had to go through a legal battle to get my spot back, which I did.
“There was a lot that needed to change in the sport, which is what happened, and it was just great to see the group so happy and able to be themselves.
“It was unfortunate how it all played out, but I was happy to be a part of it,” she said. She said the challenges leading up to the Tokyo Olympics made the event even more sweet.
“To be able to get there and go away with a group of girls who felt we were doing something really special, and I guess that was what allowed me to retire feeling pretty content because the sport was in a much better place by that point.”
Rachael has been an ambassador for RUOK? Day, Lifeline, Live to Give, Donor Mate, and also coaches and mentors rising athletes.
“I like to keep myself busy and do several different things, and certainly, in my coaching, I have been fortunate.
“I have got so much out of hockey over the years and to have the opportunity to give back, whether through different mental health activations or my coaching — looking after up-and-coming goalies.
“I am always trying to grab opportunities to share some of the special things that I got from the sport with other young athletes or even older athletes; I really enjoy that,” she said.
Rachael took the opportunity to give a special thank you to her mum, dad, and brother.
“Because they have been there for every step of the journey with me, and I know there were a lot of sacrifices very early on for them to allow me to travel and compete, and so I am also very grateful for that.”
Rachael’s mother, Anne Lynch, spoke to the Diary and said she was very proud of her daughter.
“She is just a beautiful person, she works very hard, and does a lot of community work — she deserves it.
“We are just so excited for her, and based on the messages I have received, the rest of the community are too,” Anne said.
Rachel still gets out on the pitch, playing in local and national competitions.
“I play for Camberwell in the Melbourne competition, and then I also play in the Melbourne team in the national league, so nothing international, but I still love the sport.”
She said she doesn’t think the honour will change things too much for her. “I try to have a positive influence in any environment that I am in, whether it is work or coaching sport.
“The thing I value the most is having balance, perspective, and just being kind to people.”
Rachael joins a number of athletes who were recognised for their services to sport in the 2024 honours.
Commonwealth Games Australia President Ben Houston noted their recognition and congratulated all on their service to sport and their community in Australia.
“Commonwealth sport is at the heart of Australia’s story, and we welcome the continued acknowledgement of those that have contributed to the green and gold at the Games,” said Mr Houston.
“Our congratulations to those who were elevated to and received a Member of the Order of Australia, as well as the recipients recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia.”
The Governor-General congratulated the 1,042 Australians who received honours this Australia Day.
“Recipients have made a difference and had an impact at the local, national, and international level.
“Individually, they are inspiring, and collectively, they speak to the strength of our communities.
“Recipients come from all parts of the country. “They have served and had an impact in just about every field you can imagine; their stories and backgrounds are diverse.
“We value their service, thank them for their hard work and selflessness and celebrate them.
“To each recipient: know that you have the thanks and respect of your nation. “In my experience, most are humble and often try to deflect attention or praise — please enjoy the moment because your country has decided that you deserve recognition,” the Governor-General said.