Keesja Gofers is an integral part of the Australian Stingers water polo squad.
With over 200 caps for the Stingers, the attacking player, or driver as it is known in water polo, represented Australia at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and has won multiple World Championship and World Cup medals with the team in her gloried career.
“It is kind of crazy all the skills and components that combine into one sport, but that’s one of the main reasons I love it,” Gofers said.
“I love playing water polo and I can’t see myself doing anything else. I love the team aspect of it, the physical aspect of it and the skills which are so unique.”
As the youngest of four, Keesja followed her siblings to their sporting endeavours whether that be on court for basketball and handball, or in the pool for water polo.
“I always copied my sisters. I was always at the pool with them when they played water polo. I was in the back-corner practicing eggbeater (the leg kick used to tread water and lift players vertically out of the water), trying to be like my big sisters, trying to copy them. I eventually followed in the footsteps of my sister Tenile, who went to the Beijing Olympics and took home the bronze medal,” the 30-year-old said.
Gofers describes her journey as a rollercoaster, but the determination learnt at a young age helped her push through to achieve her goals.
“I have not only had my ups and downs, but ins and outs throughout my journey. Despite that, I kept getting back up and trying again,” the Olympian said.
“You will find so many athletes that didn’t make a team or didn’t make a time, but they pushed through to make the next goal. That’s where my story started. I didn’t make a goal I had, so I found out where I needed to improve and then tried again.”
“The rest is history.”
Despite being an amateur and low-profile sport in Australia, water polo has a strong and loyal club competition.
“In Australia there are more clubs than any single European country. The difference is ours is an amateur competition whereas in Europe it is professional. The standard of players in Australia is high but it is spread across more clubs,” the Sydney University player said.
“In Greece for example, two clubs have all their national players. Where in Australia, the national players span across seven or eight clubs. In my opinion, that gives the juniors more opportunity to breakthrough and gain that experience.”
The professionalism in Europe led Gofers to Greece where she could commit herself to be a professional athlete.
“I was working as a florist and training for water polo full time. Floristry is a very manual job and my body couldn’t do both. I made the decision to go to Greece for nine months to focus on water polo and get paid to do it. In Australia that’s just not an option,” the 2013 Australia National League MVP said.
“It is sad that Australian players have to do that as it leaves a gap in the Australian competition, but the sport just doesn’t have the ability to pay players professionally.”
The Stingers had already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics before the postponement of the games until 2021, which means they maintain their qualification status.
After a sixth-place finish in Rio 2016, Gofers believes the Australian team can finish in the top three in Tokyo.
“I think we are a medal chance in Tokyo. America have been the standout team for some time. They had not lost in 69 games, but we beat them in the 70th game in Brisbane earlier this year. Then you have five teams, which includes us, that on any day could win. We obviously want to be on top of all the teams but that’s essentially how I see it; America in front, a bit of pack which we are in, then everyone underneath us,” Gofers said.
“Our team has the potential to definitely take a medal.”
Story: Daniel Hill, WSA Content Creator