Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Body Lengths - Leisel Jones || Book Review

Title: Body Lengths
Author: Leisel Jones (with Felicity McLean)
Release Date: October 2015
Publisher: Nero
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Purchase: Book Depository

'From the moment I am born, I am like no one else around me. I am a fish out of water. Even in the pool.'

Leisel Jones is rightly regarded as one of the greatest breaststrokers ever. At just fifteen, she won two silver medals at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000; she went on to win gold at Athens and Beijing, and at London 2012 became the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympics.

For the first time, Leisel candidly describes what it's like to be thrust into the limelight so young. She reveals the constant pressure she was under - from coaches, from the media and from herself - to be perfect. Despite the highs of her swimming stardom, she suffered depression, and at one time planned to take her own life. In London, criticised in the media for her weight, and appalled by the bullying and dysfunction in the Australian swim team, Leisel nevertheless handled herself with great composure. She emerged with maturity and good humour, having finally learnt how to be herself and live with confidence.

Body Lengths is the inspiring story of and Australian sporting hero, told with humour, optimism and style.

Growing up, Leisel Jones was my biggest hero. She, along with the swimmers of the noughties, were my idols. I adored them, and so when the super lovely people at Nero Publishing sent me Leisel Jones' Body Lengths for review I read it in two days flat.

Despite my initial excitement, I was also slightly hesitant about reading a book written by a sportsperson. For as long as I can remember, listening to athletes speak has never been high on my list of favourite things to do. And authors write books for a reason, but Leisel really knows how to tell her story with gusto. I walked away from Body Lengths feeling like I wouldn't mind reading something else of hers either. I obviously don't know how much input Felicity McLean had as ghost-writer, but as athlete autobiographies go, this was definitely one of the best written.

The way I approach reading an autobiography is very different to reading fiction; especially with a protagonist as high profile as Leisel Jones. Generally, I knew what was going to happen and even the opening scene of Leisel's suicide attempt wasn't surrounded by the same suspense. However, my heart really ached for her the whole way through this book. Knowing who someone is through the media is one thing, but to know that persons' own perspective and feelings is something else entirely.

It is no secret that Leisel has, in more recent years, been torn apart by the media - for her weight and attitude towards swimming - but Body Lengths isn't a pity party. It's ultimately the triumph of succeeding despite great opposition. 

If you love swimming, or even if you just want an inside look into the life of one of Australia's most decorated swimming stars, then I would definitely recommend picking up Body Lengths. I really can't think of book that has shown such courage and grit as this. Seriously. Read it.