Meet The Locals: Olympian Grant Nel
You honestly never know who you’ll meet on the Surf Coast.
As a real estate agent, one of the joys of my job is getting to know such a wide variety of people. And some have extraordinarily interesting stories, like Grant Nel.
Grant has an amazing number of achievements under his belt: Olympian, Commonwealth Games medal winner, Geelong Cats flexibility coach but it’s his family life that he is most proud of.
I first met Grant and Amanda Nel, two years ago when they bought a lovely house with a sprawling garden in Jan Juc. The delightful couple had just moved over from Adelaide and it turns out that Grant is an Olympian, who competed in diving at the Rio Olympics! The only way you’d know is if you catch a sneaky glimpse of his tattoo of the Olympic rings.
Grant and Amanda met when Amanda was working at the Victorian Institute of Sport seven years ago and married in 2016.
I spoke with Grant about his illustrious career and how he and Amanda are finding life on the Surf Coast.
Grant, it’s great to speak with you again. Can you tell my readers just how you came to call the Surf Coast home?
I was part of the Australian Institute of Sport training platform in Adelaide when I was training for the Olympics. I retired from competitive diving and Amanda and I decided the Surf Coast would be an ideal place to raise a family. My wife’s mother Lynne Main lives here and runs Torquay Books. Amanda’s family have a beach house and my parents and I used to come down for holidays from Melbourne. So, we knew it was a beautiful place to live. We loved the lifestyle and the incredible sense of community. It’s great being so close to Lynn and having that support, especially now we have our nine-month-old daughter.
You’ve had an illustrious sporting career. How did you choose diving as a sport?
My mum competed at World Championship level as a gymnast for South Africa. My brother and sister also did gymnastics. My school in South Africa started a diving program and I won the South African Nationals when I was nine years old. We moved over to Australia in 2000. After I became a naturalised citizen I represented Australia. Australia has given me so many opportunities and I now call myself an Aussie.
Tell us about your Olympic career?
Walking out representing Australia wearing the green and gold at the Olympics was something I’d always dreamed about. I competed in Rio in 2016 as a springboard diver. My events are synchronised 3-metre springboard, 3-metre springboard and 1-metre springboard. I’ve also competed at two Commonwealth Games. I won a Bronze medal at Delhi in 2010 and came home from Glasgow with a Bronze and a Silver medal in 2014.
Was it hard to retire?
Absolutely! I had to have three shoulder reconstructions. My last reconstruction was just before the Brisbane Commonwealth Games and, unfortunately, I had to retire before that. I had dived for 22 years and 15 of those were diving for Australia. I was lucky to travel all over the world.
Just researching the market?
I heard a rumour that the International Olympic Committee wanted you to work for them and you turned them down?
Yes. I was offered a job in Switzerland but I turned it down as my life and my family are on the Surf Coast now. I work for Jeff Sykes and Associates, Australia’s largest manufacturer of rowing boats.
We have a lot of Geelong Cats fans on the Surf Coast and you’ve managed to secure a dream job by working for them, as well. How did that come about?
In July 2019, I was fitting some gym equipment in their training facility when the head strength coach noticed my Olympic tattoo. They asked me to get on board to help with flexibility, mobility and agility. It’s a great job working with the boys. They’re a great club.
You’ve also joined the Torquay Tigers Cricket team. Has cricket always been a passion?
I’m a sporting fan. To be honest, I love all sports. Coming from South Africa I like my rugby but I couldn’t play it growing up as it’s a contact sport and it could have affected my diving. I played cricket and soccer as a kid. My folks made sure that I played team sports, as well as an individual sport, to teach me to be a team player. I play cricket for the Torquay Tigers, who are a great team and a fun community group with a good bunch of guys and girls. We’ve got two women’s cricket teams and we’re bringing on a junior girls’ team this year as well.
I remember that when you bought your house you were sold on the garden. How’s that going?
As you know, Robyn, we bought it from an older Greek couple, who had planted the most amazing garden. I grew up on a farm, so I love my gardening, especially growing veggies. Amanda is into it as well. We’ve got a lot of really nice fruit and citrus trees and eight olive trees.
You’re on a TV Sportsbet commercial competing in Elite Average TV Games in the Men’s Synchronised Dive Bombing. I don’t think Silly Salmon into a Horsey were events at the Olympics?
No, but it was great fun. To be honest, I was a little bit out of shape as I’d taken a few years off diving. The other diver on the ad, Tommy, is a friend of mine, so it ended up working out well. It also gave people a belly laugh, so that was awesome.
As a two-year Surf Coast resident, what’s a highlight of being down here?
I would say the community. It’s nice to be able to walk down the road and bump into someone you know, which happens regularly. There’s everything you need down here to live a happy contented life.
Glad to have you and your family amongst us, Grant.
Photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grant_Nel