Maeve Plouffe is an Australian Olympic Track Cyclist and a Gold and Silver Medal Commonwealth Games athlete. But she was a self-described “dorky, uncoordinated kid” when her mother and father signed her up for Nippers at Henley Surf Lifesaving Club.
It was 2010, and Maeve, her two sisters and parents had moved to Adelaide from Singapore. Jim Plouffe and Leisa Moroney were keen for their children to settle in quickly.
“They registered me for Nippers because they knew surf lifesaving was founded in community and volunteering, and was a great place to make friends in a new town,” explains Maeve.
She embraced the new experiences with open arms.
“Surf is where I first gained my love for racing,” Maeve says. “I remember going to my first surf carnival – it was raining and miserable weather.”
That day, Maeve competed in a Nippers ocean swim event, and ran out of the water dead last. But the result didn’t discourage her in the slightest.
“I was desperate to improve,” Maeve laughs. “I jumped at the opportunity to do extra training with Henley – running, swimming and board training. I was on a mission.”
Fast forward a few years, and Maeve was waking up Jim and Leisa at 4.30am in the morning for swimming training, and cramming in as many surf sessions as she could each week.
Other people started to notice Maeve’s tenacity.
“My surf skills lead me to long distance swimming, and following that I was encouraged to attend a talent identification session at South Australian Sports Institute session,” Maeve said.
Along with her athletic ability, the attributes Maeve had gained from her Nippers surf sessions lead to her selection as a potential track cyclist.
“The handling of nerves I learned through state titles on the beach, the suppression of fear when under a big wave and, most importantly a love for racing – these are things I have carried with me through life,” says Maeve.
She has now represented Australia at the Tokyo Olympics, and won Gold in the Team Pursuit and Silver in the Individual Pursuit at the
Commonwealth Games. She holds the Australian Individual Pursuit record and was recently signed by Dutch team DSM as a professional road cyclist.
Right now Maeve is training to do it all again at the Paris Olympics in 2024, with the skills she learned on the beach still very much front of mind.
“Having determination and resilience to run down the sand, to swim around the cans (even in the worst of weather) and the enjoyment of competing with friends – these are the sorts of attributes elite athletes use every day,” Maeve says.
Maeve is also incredibly grateful for the friends she made through surf lifesaving.
“I’ve maintained some of my longest friendships through surf, and I still try and patrol at Henley Surf Lifesaving Club as much as possible – even though that’s hard because I am not often in Adelaide for very long anymore,” she says.Maeve is also a part-time student, studying a Bachelor or Laws and Science (Marine Biology).
It seems Maeve’s never far from the ocean, even when training and racing in velodromes and on the streets of Europe.
This month South Australian children will slip-slop-slap, don pink safety singlets and head to surf clubs to begin sessions for Nippers season 2022/23. Nippers is the junior arm of surf lifesaving, a staged development program that teaches children essential water safety skills, builds their confidence in the ocean and envelops them in a community that values friendly competition and volunteering. For children like Maeve, Nippers can also be the start of something big.
Written by Sarah Keenihan
Copyright Henley SLSC October 2022
Images thanks to Leisa Moroney, Maeve Plouffe and HSLSC.