Blake Cochrane knows what it takes to achieve his goals.
The three-times Paralympian, and three-times Commonwealth Games’ para-athlete has amassed nine medals in his chosen sport of swimming at the elite level.
At the same time, the 27-year-old is almost finished his university course to help realise his dream of being an exercise physiologist.
Caitlin Kerby, 23, shares Blake’s passions for swimming and fitness.
The Blue Care customer has represented Australia twice at the Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships in Italy and Mexico, and will again this year in Toronto.
“I go to Canada in July, to compete in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly,” Caitlin says. “My favourite is butterfly and I aim to swim fast and kick hard.”
Caitlin had a chance to meet Blake when the two got together at the Caboolture Regional Aquatic Centre ahead of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April.
The two swimmers had much to discuss – Blake was making final preparations for the Games, and Caitlin was preparing to make the transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, from July 1.
Better known as the NDIS, the scheme aims to support people with a disability and help them achieve their goals, whether that involves education, employment, independence or care.
NDIS participants need to undertake a series of steps, the most important of which involves setting goals, and communicating those goals clearly.
Caitlin’s short-term goals include performing to her best in Toronto, and discovering a new place and new cuisine when she and her parents visit New York City following the championships.
In the medium to longer term, Caitlin hopes to explore other employment opportunities, get married and ultimately buy a home with her partner.
She already holds down several jobs – working as a cleaner at KFC, and helping out at a childcare centre and tuckshop at the local primary school.
Her jobs are important to her longer-term goal of home ownership, and she makes an effort to save as much of her income as possible.
Outside of swimming, Caitlin is a regular at the gym, does tap and jazz dancing and likes to sing country music in her bedroom.
The gym and dancing are important to her fitness, and the singing is something that gives Caitlin enjoyment and fulfilment.
Blake’s preparations for the Games involved goal-setting and breaking bigger goals down into smaller ideas.
“I think there’s lots of different way to achieve goals, and how you go about it is very important to the outcome,” he says.
“When I think about what I want to accomplish as an athlete, I have to look at things like getting a good rest at night, eating the right food, getting to training on time and setting a plan with my coach.”
At their pre-Games meeting, Blake asks Caitlin what she needs to achieve her goals.
Focus hard on what I want to achieve, and learn from others,” she says.
“(For example) watch other people’s races.”
Blake agrees that having role models and being inspired by other athletes is critical for becoming the best swimmer he can be.
“When I’m struggling I always look for help from those people who’ve been there before me,” he says.
“It’s great to listen to the advice of others and take what you like and leave behind what you don’t like – become the person that you want to be.
“I think there’s lots of opportunities out there for us. It’s just about getting out there and finding something you love and chasing it all the way to the finishing line, just like we will be chasing that finishing line to be world champions.”
He tells Caitlin what he loves about being a para-athlete both at a Commonwealth and Olympic level.
“One of the best things is we have so many different abilities out there and so many different body shapes in the Paralympic Games,” Blake says.
“Every athlete is so uniquely different, and that’s what makes the Paralympics for me one of the most exciting sporting competitions in the world.”
On April 8, Caitlin and her mum Amanda saw Blake compete ahead of the SM8 200m individual medley, where he took the silver medal behind his friend Jesse Aungles.
The night before, Blake had picked up the bronze medal in the SB8 100m breaststroke.
After the Games, Caitlin meets up with Blake and wonders what he was thinking about at the time.
“I think when I’m in the water, I’m just making sure I’m doing all those bits and pieces right, making sure my turns are nice and fast so I can get as much power off the wall,” Blake says.
She reveals that when she’s swimming, she focuses on strength and patience and thinks about her fellow team members.
“As much as I would’ve loved a gold medal, I think coming away with a silver medal and knowing I gave the race everything I possibly could, I was very, very happy with the result,” said Blake.
“It’s not every day you get to swim in front of 12,000 swimming fans, one of those being yourself.”
To Caitlin’s delight, Blake has brought along his medals which he proudly displays in the boxes designed exclusively for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
“My Dad’s into woodwork and he thought the boxes were better than the medals,” Blake laughs. “I don’t agree.”
Nor does Caitlin, who declares the intricately engraved silver and bronze medals “magnificent”. “You’re an amazing swimmer,” she says.
Now the ball’s in Caitlin’s court, as she counts down the days to the Down Syndrome World Swimming Championship in July.
“I’m sure there’ll be a few medals there for you to win,” Blake says.
“Hopefully you can do better than a bronze and a silver – maybe you can show me up?”
He asks about her plans to own a home, and she assures him she’s working hard and saving for a deposit.
“For me it was a bit of a challenge to buy a house,” Blake tells Caitlin.
“It was pretty scary, to be honest, because it was the first time my fiancée and I had lived together. It’s been pretty tough but it’s good to come home to a place you can call your own.”
Drawing on the determination Caitlin has shown in so many other areas of her life, Blake encourages his new friend to channel her boundless energy into making her dream of home ownership a reality.
It’s advice Caitlin willingly takes on board.
“I’m the biggest dreamer on a star on this planet,” she smiles.