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When Shelley goes to Rio

I’ve been channelling the boy from Oz, the late Peter Allen, in the past few months.

“When my baby, when my baby smiles at me, I go to Rio, de Janeiro …”.

I have, however, realised that the samba and la Bamba don’t have a strong following in a township of about 2000 people.

Thankfully the 2016 Olympic Games are not being held in the Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, roughly translated as St Mary's Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near a Rapid Whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the Red Cave. That would have been quite difficult to fit in four bars of music.

My sudden urge to wear a floral shirt knotted above the navel and shake some maracas was brought on by one person, my niece, Shelley Watts.

As Shelley moved through her life we knew she was a special breed, from a sporting and personal perspective.

She picked up a golf club for some fun with her dad on the course one day and hit a ball straight down the fairway without instruction or hesitation. She had never stepped foot on a tennis court until another family outing and was able to serve, volley and rally with ease. On the football field her speed, agility and tenacity saw her in the top echelons of both touch and ultimately soccer, the sport which by default led her to the boxing ring.

A knee injury and surgery landed her on the lounge and landed some kilos in places she didn’t want them. A little bit of research and Shelley came across boxing as a way to help her lose some weight and get fit again: “You only have to punch … I can do that."

Again, she showed her drive. After only a couple of boxing sessions, her first mentor Arthur Maloney told her at his Goonellabah shed that she could be quite good, but only if she worked hard.

“Only if … worked hard” was like a red rag to a bull.

An insight into the thoughts of family and friends about Shelley’s new sporting focus of boxing follows:

“She’s doing what!!!?” – grandmother.

“It’s a great combination, law and boxing. Both need bravado, confidence and the ability to confuse.” – long-time friend’s mother.

“She’s got the brains to outsmart, and I reckon boxing’s more strategy than strength. Mind you, she’s got muscles too.” – aunty.

“What’s going to happen to her pretty face?” – grandmother, again.

“Well, she’s never backed away from hard times before. One door closes and another is opened. That’s Shelley’s modus operandi!” – uncle.

“She’ll do what she has to do to achieve whatever she has planned because that’s the way she has always been.” – father.

“What about getting black eyes from being punched?” – guess who? Yes, grandmother.

And so came her first small bouts, wins and losses, then all of a sudden she was taking major titles, including Australian championships.

Then it was international. Titles, accolades and tributes were mounting.

“I’ve made the Commonwealth Games team for Glasgow” was the most mind-blowing declaration we were lucky to hear.

I think, as with every family, you offer the most support you can in circumstances like this while internally rationalising the chances of a girl from Laurieton winning a medal at a Commonwealth Games.

We should have known better, in hindsight. The rationalisation for Shelley was that she was going for gold! In her mind, she made it to the team and she was going to prove she deserved to be there.

She did!

Thankfully technology allowed us to watch the Glasgow Commonwealth Games bouts, albeit after many telco drop-outs, stalls, buffering and such. We never missed the raising of Shelley’s arm as victor.

On the night of the gold medal bout it seemed some divine intervention took place and there were zilch internet issues.

Our mother, Shelley’s grandmother, bolted out on to her balcony screaming. I sat in front of the laptop with my head in my hands. My brother, Shelley’s dad, was in somewhat of a stupor, crying and steadying himself on the breakfast bench.

One of the most amazing things was that we could hear other people along the street yelling and screaming as well. Grandmother was louder!

While a welcome home celebration was met with a deluge of rain as Shelley was being driven in a gold convertible down the main street of Laurieton, it was still incredible. Hundreds of people lined Bold Street for what was tagged as Gold on Bold. A party at the hotel was chock full of people and it was chilling to be right in the middle of it all.

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