ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Maddy Steere (Jr., Pascoe Vale, Australia/St. Catherine’s School) is an Olympic hopeful for the Australia water polo team and just like the rest of the world, her life was put on pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following her junior season at the University of Michigan, Steere decided to take the year off from collegiate water polo to fully focus on her dream of becoming an Olympic athlete. She moved to Canberra, Australia, to live and train with the Australia national team in hopes of making the Olympic roster.
Things were looking good for Steere, who was one of 15 athletes named to the European Tour squad in late February. The team was set to travel to Italy and Hungary for a training camp to help prepare them for the Olympics. On Feb. 25, those plans changed as the team landed in Dubai. The spread of the virus in Italy forced it to stay the night in Dubai and instead flew to Hungary the next day. By the following day, plans changed again and the team decided it would be best to fly back to Australia and cancel the European trip.
“We knew it was happening in Europe, but it was before everyone knew how bad it was,” said Steere. “It wasn’t as big in Australia yet, so it was just something where you were careful and washed your hands. We all got the messages about how fast it had spread when we landed in Dubai.”
The team flew back to Canberra to start a camp on March 1. By March 16, the virus had spread in Australia and the water polo national league season was cut short, all age group national team programs were suspended and all FINA events through October were postponed.
Steere, like the rest of her teammates, made the decision to travel home before the state borders in Australia closed and wait for the next steps.
For Olympic hopefuls, the next step was the announcement that the Olympics would be postponed a year and start on July 23, 2021. It was a hard pill to swallow for Steere, who had trained hard for the last 10 months with the national team, only to find out they would have to repeat that work for another year.
“I had kept up hope,” she said. “There was no way they would cancel the Olympics. It is too much money and too much a part of our lives. We thought everything would blow over pretty quick so we were all still super motivated to train. When everyone got the email, we were all so numb.”
Steere is still nervous that the Olympics might not happen or at least might not happen at the same scale with no spectators, but realizes all of that is out of her control. She does plan on continuing to train with the national team next season and work towards her dream of making an Olympic team.
Meanwhile, just three weeks before everything started to change in Dubai, Steere found out that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) approved Michigan’s waiver to extend her eligibility one more academic year. She had planned to return to the Wolverines following the Olympic games to finish her degree in biomolecular science and play out her senior season. She is holding out hope that the NCAA will extend her waiver one more year with so many collegiate athletes taking a year off to train for the Olympics.
“I want to finish properly and play four years at the University of Michigan,” said Steere. “I want my senior night and I am hoping it will work out, but if not, I will still be around to finish my degree.”
Through it all, Steere has kept in good contact with the Michigan coaching staff and her teammates at U-M.
“I kept in contact with them throughout the season, especially my graduating class,” said Steere. “They sent me videos on social media to keep me up to date. Their season was cut short around the same time, so it was nice to talk and relate to each other. It was the same immediate close on something you didn’t want to end. I’m sad for them.”
Her Olympic dreams, her senior season, her graduation from U-M, all of these goals for Steere will have to wait at least another year.
“You feel like life is on pause,” said Steere.
Over the last two months, Steere has managed to keep busy at home.
She has continued to train, although she has done more dry land workouts than usual because her backyard pool is solar powered and the country is approaching winter. The water in her pool is 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit), which is equivalent to the temperature of the team’s ice baths. Steere was able to get into a pool last week with things slowly starting to open up.
Outside of the pool, Steere has a handmade craft business and has been working with the national governing body to do data analysis on a survey sent out about a mentorship program. She also has been working on a fact sheet to give Australian girls interested in reaching out to American schools to play water polo. After being gone from home for so many years, she is enjoying the time with her family.
Story by Ben Blevins (University of Michigan Athletics Communications)