Bowen swimmer topples eight-time Olympic medallist
WATCHING her idol, Australian swimming legend Susie O'Neill, claim victory on television as a child fuelled Eden Hedges' desire to compete at Olympic level.
On Sunday, she went head to head with Madame Butterfly herself, and in one surreal moment, the realisation struck her - she could win.
The 16-year-old toppled the eight-time Olympic medallist at the Whitehaven Beach Ocean Swim over the weekend, leading O'Neill at the finish line by 13 seconds.
Speaking of the experience, Hedges said she hadn't realised it was O'Neill swimming next to her.
"I remember watching her on TV and thinking 'oh my gosh, she's amazing to do what she does'. So to see her yesterday looking so fit and healthy was really inspiring,” she said.
"Once I was ahead of her and I could feel she was right behind me, I kept telling myself 'you're ahead, you can win this'.
"I just kept trying to motivate myself because I knew if I came out first, it would be massive achievement.”
The swimming icon conceded graciously and approached Hedges to congratulate her after the swim.
"She came over to me and said well done and told me that I was very good. Then she asked me what age I was and where I swim,” Hedges said.
Hedges has been swimming competitively since she was about seven and completed her first ocean swim aged 14.
In July, she was the first female over the line in the iconic 8km Magnetic Island to Townsville Swim with a time of 1.50.32. Hedges followed up her victory during the 2km Icon Homes Airlie Beach Ocean Swim in September as first female to cross the finish and fourth overall, recording a time of 27.22.
The young gun said she hadn't expected to win on Sunday, but the event definitely became "the most memorable yet”.
"I went over there expecting I was just going to swim it, but then to win it - I was just like 'holy moly'!” she said.
"I was speechless, it was just crazy. I didn't know how I felt I was so excited.”
The brush with Australian swimming royalty has left Hedges more driven than ever toward her goal of becoming an Olympic athlete herself.
"The Olympics is definitely something I would like to do one day. I remember watching the Olympics on the TV and telling myself 'I want to be there. That's going to be me when I'm older',” she said.
"This weekend gave me a little bit of confidence, but I know that I have a lot more work to do before I can be that good.”
Hedges suffered a slight setback, recovering from a cold, following the Whitehaven Beach Ocean Swim.
But the rising star is set to compete in the 5km Masters Open Water Swim at Pioneer River, Mackay this weekend.
Whether it's sooner or later, there's no doubt the name Hedges will be appearing in future Olympic events.