Emma Chelius is the latest name on the long and illustrious list of elite South African swimmers who have made their name on the global stage.
As the South African 50m freestyle record holder, Emma reached the pinnacle of the sport by qualifying for the 50m semi-final at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, competing against arguably some of the best female sprinters of all time.
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Her first love
“Swimming was definitely my first love,” explains Emma. “I’ve always really enjoyed being in the pool. While I tried other sports like hockey and netball, I definitely wasn’t as good or as talented as I was in swimming.”
Emma also played a lot of water polo until matric but there are only so many hours in the day and Emma eventually had to decide which path to follow. “My heart naturally gravitated towards swimming.”
While Emma says the team dynamic was a major factor in her decision to pursue swimming, it remains a largely individual sport.
“You need a solid foundation and a really good support system around you to get through those long, lonely hours. But from the get-go, I always had amazing people around me and I’ve met some incredible people throughout my career who have become lifelong friends.”
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Growing as an athlete
Emma hit her stride with her sporting development when she attended the University of Stellenbosch and joined the Maties swimming team.
“I met an incredible coach in Karen Hugo. She guided me through the transition from an age group swimmer into a top national athlete. Karen has a PhD in Sports Science, so she helps me in the pool and in the gym.”
During this phase in her career, Emma says she found that trying to balance her studies and swimming was her biggest challenge.
“That’s when I had to make the big decision about whether this was something I wanted to do full-time and put my heart and soul into it. I invested a lot of time and effort into my swimming and thankfully, it paid off.”
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Gunning for the Games
Emma’s development has steadily built up towards reaching the pinnacle in any sportsperson’s career – the Olympic Games.
“It is still very surreal to think about my Tokyo experience. It’s definitely a dream come true. To have that reward after investing so much hard work and sacrifice into a sport that I’m really passionate about and enjoy was very special.”
The achievement was that much more significant given the pandemic and its impact on the Games.
“Going through all the disruptions helped to develop a resilience in me that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
The experience has also broadened Emma’s mind to the potential for greater success at the Commonwealth Games and the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
“Going to the Olympics again is definitely a motivation. I must be honest, Tokyo seemed like a distant reality with only a slight possibility that I would make it. And I never imagined that Paris was an option.
“But now that I’ve been to the Olympics and got a taste for that incredible competition and the amazing celebration of sport that it is, it is definitely a huge motivation for me to push even harder and reach the heights that I believe I’m capable of. It’s very exciting.”
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The dream swim team
Emma is also part of a dynamic swimming duo as her husband is a two-time Olympian. Troy has competed in the pool and in the open water discipline, and has multiple All-Africa Games gold medals in his collection.
“Troy has been a huge support for me. He obviously understands the level of commitment and sacrifice that it takes to get to the Olympics, and has been incredibly supportive throughout my journey.”
Troy’s ‘inside knowledge’ and experience also proved invaluable to Emma’s ultimate success.
“He knows about supplements, how to train in the pool and how important recovery is to an athlete’s ultimate performance. He also knows how to balance social commitments and swimming. It’s all so important and to have a partner who understands all of that is hugely beneficial.”
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Ticking the nutrition box
Meeting her nutritional needs to aid Emma’s recovery and support those training adaptations is a vital element for an Olympic swimmer given the volume and intensity of their training.
“I’ve used trial and error to gain experience around my nutrition and supplementation. I’ve also taken the best of what I’ve learnt from others and implemented it into my routine.”
Through this process, Emma has learnt what works best for her body and acknowledges the vital role nutrition and sports supplements play in her recovery and ultimate sporting performance.
“I now realise how critical it is to keep your body fuelled through those tough training sessions, which I do with 32Gi Endure, and how to recover optimally between training sessions so that you’re ready for the next time you’re in the pool or in the gym.”
Emma uses plant-based 32Gi Protein to support her recovery after training.
Beyond the training environment, Emma also highlights the important role nutrition plays in competition.
“Fine-tuning your approach to find what works best for your body really gives you that edge when it comes to crunch time.
“It also takes a huge mental load off knowing that you’ve got a tried-and-tested strategy in place.”
An important element in this strategy is belief in the supplements an athlete uses, both from an efficacy perspective and knowing that the products do not contain any banned substances.
“With those boxes ticked, all you have to do is focus on racing because everything else is taken care of. It’s been a game-changer.”
Primed for action
Emma recently started using 32Gi’s latest product innovation – 32Gi BOOM high performance pre-workout. While typically associated with gym sessions, athletes are increasingly incorporating pre-workouts into their supplement regimens to prime their body and mind for the pending effort.
“Pre-workout supplements are somewhat of a taboo subject in sports. Many athletes are wary about them. I was one of those people but I can honestly say that as a high-intensity swimmer who focuses on sprints, a pre-workout is hugely beneficial. It helps me get into that racing mindset and prepares my body for action.”
Following some testing to find how best to incorporate the BOOM into her routine, Emma says she is really happy with 32Gi’s latest product innovation.
“BOOM is fantastic. It’s very versatile and offers benefits across different sporting codes. I really enjoy using the product and recently raced on it for the first time. It definitely lived up to my expectations!”
Emma explains that she goes into her race warm-up without using the pre-workout. “I’ll usually have some coffee in the morning. I’ll do my race warmup and then I’ll start sipping on my BOOM pre-workout about 25 minutes before my race.”
Emma doesn’t have more than 200-250ml to ensure she doesn’t feel too heavy in the pool but will adjust the serving size based on how much of a kick she needs.
“It takes a lot of trial and error to find what works best for you but once you find that sweet spot, you really have confidence going into your race.”
A bright future
Having developed and settled on a comprehensive strategy that works, Emma is excited about her future.
“I really never thought that I would get here and I don’t take any of it for granted. It’s a dream come true to have people come up and ask me to sign swimming caps and take photos.
“It’s a huge privilege and honour and a great responsibility as people look up to me. I hope I can have a small part to play in guiding up and coming swimmers, especially females, by setting a good example and encouraging them to never give up on their dreams.”