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Henry’s Olympic dream is on hold but his hopes still burn bright

On the surface, Henry Smith leads two very different lives.

But you don’t have to dig too deeply to see there is a significant crossover between his life as an elite athlete and his work as a talent engagement specialist.

Juggling both careers is a mammoth task but in the two years he has been with Melbourne firm Six Degrees Executive, Henry has discovered a lifetime in athletics has equipped him with skills which are invaluable in the workplace.

Maybe surprisingly, he says his working life has also made him a better athlete – and not just because it pays the bills.

Henry joined the Six Degrees graduate program in 2018 and became a permanent, full-time staff member after 12 months.

He is now a Talent Engagement Specialist for the firm’s B2B sales team, supporting his team with unearthing talent and talent mapping across the junior, mid and senior sales market, to ensure they engage with the best candidates.

Athletics has been a huge part of Henry’s life since he took up high jumping at the age of eight, before transitioning into triple jumping and finally long jumping, representing Australia at several international junior events.

After missing out on qualifying for the 2018 Commonwealth Games long jump competition by just 4cm, he refocused his attention on making the Australian team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Although the Coronavirus pandemic has seen the Olympics postponed until next year, Henry remains philosophical and is still in full training with a home gym in place and access allowed to training tracks as long as athletes abide by social distancing laws.

“The health and wellbeing and safety of the public over-rides a sporting event,” Henry said.

“I was in the top 32 in the world and looking to maintain that, so I was sitting really well to qualify for the Australian team.

“I’d overcome a pulled hamstring and was ready for the nationals, which were to be held last week before they were cancelled, and was then heading to Asia and Europe to compete.

“The postponement of the Games means I have another six or seven months to train and get fitter and stronger and faster for the Olympics in 2021.

“So it’s full steam ahead.”

The cancellation of the Australian Track and Field Championships means Henry is still the reigning national champion after winning at the nationals last year.

His personal best jump of 8.06m places him among the best long jumpers in the world and was just 16cm below the distance needed to automatically qualify for the 2020 Olympics.

So his chances of marching into the Olympic stadium behind the Australian flag next year are still looking good.

If he does, Henry knows he will owe his success to countless hours of training and no small contribution from his employer.

“Elite athletes often struggle to pay the bills. Financial support is limited in track and field and sponsorships can be hard to come by,” Henry says.

“Only a few Australian athletes are able to make a living from the sport full-time without finding other work.

“But working full-time is also relatively rare. Most athletes either work part-time, casually, or put off the idea of working full-time for years while they dedicate as much time as possible to training, competing, and recovery.

“A lot of companies claim to support work-life balance but would baulk at the prospect of hiring an elite athlete with significant demands on their time outside of office hours.

“That’s why it was so refreshing for me to find a supportive employer in Six Degrees Executive.

“I was up-front about my expectations around flexible hours from the first moment I applied for their year-long grad program and Six Degrees made it clear they were happy for me to strike a healthy balance between full-time work and my commitments on the track.

“What’s more, the organisation shows a genuine interest in my sporting journey and successes.

“I now earn a full-time income, which removes a lot of the financial stressors that previously impacted me and my family, and now have the financial support to train six to eight times a week and to pay for recovery and physio when I need it.”

When he joined Six Degrees Executive, Henry wasn’t surprised to find that a lot of the values and attributes he had developed on the athletics track translated into his working life.

The high performance required of an elite athlete meant he approached his study and work with the same mentality he brought to athletics, including being competitive and not being afraid of physical and mental challenges.

Then there was the strong mindset and professional resilience needed by an athlete to cope with both the triumphs and failures of their career.

And the ability to work smarter, not harder, to avoid burning out.

But Henry also discovered that his work in recruitment was helping make him a better athlete.

“One of the big focuses at Six Degrees Executive is passion – passion for the industry, passion for the team and passion for the company,” he says.

“It’s the same with my sport – I am passionate about my sport, about my coach, my support team and my training partners.

“When you work in an environment where passion is a focus, you can’t help but have it flow through to your personal and athletic worlds – and vice-versa.

“Working for Six Degrees has also helped me grow as a person because it is really focused on the development of my personality and I’ve taken that to the track, where it has had a major impact on how I present myself as an athlete.

“Working with passionate, like-minded, mature individuals is moulding me into a better athlete and a better person.”

Henry deliberately divides his life into two quite distinct careers.

His working day is all about recruitment but when the clock hits 5pm he changes hats and heads to a training session that can last up to three hours.

Then it’s home to dinner (a healthy one, of course) and a good night’s sleep before starting all over again.

That doesn’t include his weekend training commitments and meetings with sports psychologists and officials from the AIS and Athletics Australia, as they help map his path to Tokyo.

Yet he says there is still enough time to relax and socialise.

“Routine, structure, consistency and familiarity are very important to me,” Henry says.

“Being in a supportive company and having flexibility in my hours means that when I’ve finished work, I know what’s next on my schedule.

“This structure offers direction in my life and keeps me moving rather than having to constantly figure out what to do next or worry about when my next shift is.

“You’d be forgiven if you thought I had no social life between work, training and sleep, but I do. Again, it’s all about having a well-managed schedule.

“Although my personal life can take some sacrifices, I still have time to go out with friends and can enjoy a night out without too much of an impact on my training.

“It’s comforting to know that I won’t be living this lifestyle forever, so I’m happy to make some sacrifices which will lead to long-term gain … and potentially a spot on the 2021 Olympic team.

“Loving my sport and being dedicated is what drives me out of bed in the morning. The sport keeps me on my toes and inspires me to front-up at training, even after a tiring day at the office.

“Finding a supportive and encouraging company has helped fuel this drive.

“Life is full-on but I’m living proof that with a strong support team and a supportive company behind you, anything is possible.”

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