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Catholic school students set for Olympic Games

“It’s been very, very exciting because the Olympics has been one of Clare’s main goals for a long time. Even back to the age of 12 she knew she wanted to go."

Clare Polkinghorne was a 12-year-old at St Martin’s primary school when the Olympic Games loomed as a career goal.

And that seemed a reasonable aim for the Carina student. Clare was the national age champion in sprinting and hurdles.

About 15 years later, Clare has made good on that goal in Brazil.

But she’s done it in a soccer uniform – as the co-captain of Australia’s Matildas as they contest their first Olympic Games in 12 years.

Clare is among a bunch of former Brisbane Catholic Education school students representing Australia.

The group includes swimmers Emily Seebohm, Alicia Coutts, Leah Neale and Jack McLoughlin.

Jacob Whetton (hockey), Alyssa Bull (kayak) and Evania Pelite (women’s rugby sevens) will also compete.

Trisha Hade, a mother of four students at St Vincent’s school, Clear Island Waters, will be in Rio as a gymnastics judge.

And then there’s the inspiring Paralympic representatives including swimmers Braedon Jason and Lakeisha Patterson who will compete in September.

Each of the former Catholic school students takes to Rio a story similar to Clare Polkinghorne.

They will have family in the stands cheering them on world sport’s biggest stage.

Clare Polkinghorne’s mum Britha will be among them, taking holidays from her role as finance secretary at Our Lady of Mt Carmel primary school at Coorparoo.

“It’s been very, very exciting because the Olympics has been one of Clare’s main goals for a long time. Even back to the age of 12 she knew she wanted to go,” Britha said.

“She thought it may have been athletics but there came a time when she needed to choose between her running and soccer.

“It wasn’t an easy choice but she chose soccer because of the team aspect. She has always loved that team approach.”

The Matildas were rated serious medal chances in Brazil if they plot a path through round robin matches in cities away from Rio.

They’re ranked No.5 in the world with a gilt-edged reputation, some of it forged from a win over Brazil at the most recent World Cup.

Their campaign started with a 2-0 loss to Canada – one of the first competitive matches of the Games, a few days before the Opening Ceremony.

Some of the Olympians have been back to their former schools in recent weeks.

Jack McLoughlin dropped into St Agatha’s, Clayfield, telling the students about the demands of swimming’s 1500m gut-buster.

Alyssa Bull and Braedon Jason returned to Siena Catholic College to tell their stories of cracking the Olympics from their school days at Sippy Downs.

The feedback from their visits was universal – their stories showed students that anything was possible with hard work.

Leah Neale will swim in the women’s 4 x 200m relay, cheered on by family including sister Sarah from St Mary’s College, Ipswich. Leah is a teammate of Alicia Coutts – a shining star of London 2012.

Keep an eye out for Evania Pelite, the former St Columban’s College flyer trying to help Australia in the women’s rugby, while Calamvale Community College graduate Jacob Whetton will join the proud Olympic history of the Kookaburras.

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