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Female Leadership Driven Through Purpose & People


Female Leadership Driven Through Purpose & People

Felicity Cohen: Hello, I’m Felicity Cohen. I’m so excited to introduce you to my Wellness Warriors podcast. For over 20 years, I’ve been a passionate advocate for helping thousands of Australians find solutions to treating obesity and health-related complications through surgical intervention and holistic managed care.

My podcast is dedicated to all the people past, present, and future who have helped shape my journey and continue to inspire me to work consistently to achieve a healthier Australia in both adults and future generations. I hope you enjoy it.

Please welcome to the Wellness Warriors podcast, Graziella Thake.

It’s an absolute pleasure to have you here. I’m very excited to hear it. All about the wonderful things that you do in the world, because it sounds like it’s vast, your contribution to so many different areas, not just from the optimization Harbor and sports psychology, but your reach in so many areas of life and community is incredible.

I’d like to start though with the fact that you have lived by the age of 10, I think I read that you’d lived already in about 10 different countries. Tell me about the early part of your life and what that was like moving around so much.

Grazilla Thake: Thanks, Felicity. Thanks for having me. And finding you here and just, you know, learning so many amazing things about the great route that you do, which I think is fantastic.

So I’m really excited to be here and to be part of this. I think, for me, the tapestry of my life kind of makes sense. Now I’m 51 this year and I look back and it’s an interesting reflection when you look back at where you began, because I remember being a child of 10 or 12 and thinking, I really hate this life.

I don’t want to keep moving and going places. I wanted to have a bicycle and I couldn’t have a bicycle because we were always moving. So my booth was, I was born in Mumbai, India. My father had worked beside Mother Teresa. He was also an interpreter for aorta and then worked for the diplomatic corps.

My mother went on to diplomacy and diplomatic work as well. Both of them met in really interesting circumstances. So my father’s work took us to many different countries. So we went back home to Malta for associates. And then we went up to the UK, you know, I had a very interesting passport by my early years.

And then, you know, we took up different things or they took up different things and I took up different interests because of them. So, you know, your past tells a story, but it was important to me to learn about my heritage. So, you know, when I go back now and I traipse those grounds and I say, this is where I came from, this is what I did. My children have that within themselves as well.

Felicity Cohen: Malta is a very beautiful country. Have you actually had time where you’ve spent in Malta and do you still have connection?

Grazilla Thake: Absolutely. I’ve got 96 cousins. I come from a very well-known and well-respected Maltese family. So Charles was a famous comedian from the war.,

I’m very proud of my Maltese heritage and what it affords me as a human being, because I think when you stand on a land that is from your forefathers. So our history of Malta goes back to the 14th century. So I’m able to share that with my children and to tell them, you know, these are these incredible things that happened in our history, the Knights of Malta , the templa to understand that St Paul’s boat crashed there, the way that the world war went was because of Malta.

They say that Atlantis is underneath the, you know, the sort of the rocks of Malta. And you look at some of the heritage and history, and even realizing that motor has got structures on it that are older than Stonehenge. So we have a deep history, the one that I’m proud of. And I think that contributes to a lot of my pride in my gut.

Small nations. You know, we say in Malta that the woman are born with high heels, cause we’re all a bit short. And I think coming from a small country, that’s very proud of its academic capabilities, but also its work ethic has shaped a lot of who I am.

Felicity Cohen: Fantastic. So where did you end up spending your teenage years? Did you end up settling somewhere and spending a long time?

Grazilla Thake: I did. So Australia. I’m Australian, which is fantastic to say, and to be here. My history was vast, so I was able to travel through countries. I have Asian heritage because I was born in Mumbai. I’m Maltese and Italian of heritage. I have that, you know, that gene that comes out of the UK, that we all carry. And I also have a proud heritage that comes from the many countries I’ve been part of. So I grew up in Australia and in Sydney and New South Wales. I wanted to return there five years ago when I came back six years ago. And I spent part of my growing years, also in New Zealand.

And then I spent my adult years, again, traveling through different countries and working in different countries. So I’m also Ngati Porou from New Zealand because the essence of New Zealand and where I spent some of my time, I learned today, or while I was there, I worked in the islands. I’m a proud owner of Pacific heritage as well as Australian heritage.

I think that to me has become so very important, especially in my work in diversity and inclusion and embracing what it means to be that whole human being. So, you know, it’s shaped my early years of my work in forensics and you know, some of the things I became interested in were because of that tapestry of background of, you know, knowing and that the world was my home.

Felicity Cohen: Amazing. I love it. You truly represent the ultimate multicultural, cross-cultural, you know, diverse everything about you. It embraces all of those concepts, which is incredible. So I read that at the age of 14, you’d already taught yourself to meditate?

Grazilla Thake: I had. So health has been something that’s been part of my life.

Both my parents were always really balanced and meditation was something that I picked up because I started to look at wellbeing and I started to look at medicine. And I went back to study some of the things that were important in the past and important in the present in medicine. And I looked at meditation. I looked at my father who wrote a book called the Design Argument.

We needed his, you know, his studies and, you know, he was teaching me about because we were, but teaching me about, you know, all religions in the world are fairly important. You know, it’s important for us to understand that, to be part of that meditation became, you know, part of that practice of sport.

For me at that age, it was a way of centering and focusing myself. And so I learned to do that at an early age. I became really fascinated with neurological input and how to listen to it. So finding that quiet place to do that.

Felicity Cohen: Amazing cause that’s very rare, I think for a 14 year old to embrace how to meditate and to use that in their daily life.

And I think, and understand that there’s a great place for that in sports psychology. So I’m sure it’s something that you’ve implemented across many spheres of your life too. When did you first become interested in the study of psychology? And how did you get to the stage where you were interested in forensic psychology?

Grazilla Thake: So I think, you know, when I was as young as two or three, my father taught me that where I lived, wasn’t just what I was responsible for. I was responsible for the other side of the street. So through my years, and in my father’s travels going back into India, He took me into the slums and he said, you know, pretend that you live on this side of the street, but that side of the street is also what you’re responsible for.

So humanity for me, a love of people, it’s always been part of me. I can’t say there was a defining, this suddenly occurred. I’ve just grown, knowing that I was here to do something good you know, to give back. I’ve always loved human beings. So one of the things that I started to obviously get involved in with what we were seeing in the world and the many journeys you would see abject poverty, and then you would see absolute success. You know, I’ve given flowers to prince Charles twice.

My daughter has given them to him once. We’ve sat around tables with, you know, many diplomats, many times, and you know, presidents and prime ministers and some of the wealthiest people in the world. Similarly, you know, I worked and walked into slums and so.

I think happiness is a characteristic that isn’t defined by wealth. It’s defined by attitude and your personal sense of who you are. So when I was 14, I sort of started to look at, I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. Interestingly enough, as I walked in and you noticed I had my little compression sleeve on my torn meniscus, and I kind of, I think about that, now I have a great friend who’s an orthopedics.

You know, medicine’s fascinating to me and my two children are going into medicine. But I looked at medicine, I looked at humanity and I started to think about where would I be an asset, you know, what could I do to go out there? And I think, you know, as a young person, you naturally, you know, I started looking at the United Nations.

I looked at what would I go away and do? How could I contribute and how could I go out there and heal the world? How could I go out and do something of value? I think a journey is always interesting because you might, you know, look at a certain trajectory, but whenever you look at that trajectory, I think one of the things that I talk about quite often when I’m giving speeches now is why say yes to other opportunities.

Because although it’s not initially taking you someplace that you think you need to be, other things might deliver you the kinds of things you need to know and you’ll end up where you’re meant to be. And perhaps it’s going to be far greater than where you think you’re going to be. So that I don’t want it to get into me.

Yeah. I started looking at working in women’s medicine and women’s health. I looked at also working in forensics. I started to look at some of those areas and I started to look at change management as well. And I had people around me that I was interested in and wanting to talk to. Interestingly, you know, I didn’t always look just like this, but I also was tidy and well-kept. And I went for a number of voluntary roles and one of those roles I went for I remember being told it was for a woman’s shelter. And I remember being told no one here will respond to you because of how you look. And I’d gone with my little white t-shirt and little suit jacket, my jeans and I was tidy and my hair was tied back. And I went back home and I cut my hair off. I cut my hair from here to here. And I made it quite dark and I, you know, I put a holey t-shirt and switch it on.

And you know, I kind of like were a kind of a wall cap. Remember, I went back. went to the same role, I made myself a bit messy with, for the same role, different person. And they took me on to volunteer. So I started volunteering and helping out in the kitchens. And then I also went to a place and started volunteering theory in occupational therapies and helping in different areas.

And so I learned very early though, that how I look. You know, could be a barrier in places. My gender could be a barrier, you know, we’re talking 37 years ago. So those things were barriers back then to many different things. And I was also playing sport and really enjoying myself. And I remember at 16 being told, Hey, you know, you better get serious about your studies and drop your sports because you’re taking six subjects for school.

People say no where for girls to go with sports, so I stopped playing sport. I stopped my football, I stopped my hockey and I just studied. But at 14 I learned some important lessons bet that my father never talked to me after I cut my hair off for about six weeks. He was really upset with me. But then he did say to me, he said, look, you know, you needed to learn that at some point, someone was going to see you for who you are.

It’s not going to be out here that defines you. So I think that’s where the meditation turned on as well, is I wanted to listen to my own intuition rather than the noise outside of me. And so it helped with my sport, but it also helped me to just calmly. You know, listen to myself and trust myself.M/p>

And I think that’s a foundation characteristic of anything that we could define as being healthy and well is actually learning to trust yourself and not second guess yourself. A lot of noise out there that can cause us to bend ourselves out of shape.

Felicity Cohen: Felicity Cohen: I think that’s a fabulous message and a huge takeaway for me is listen and trust yourself.

And so many of us don’t. We’re listening to all that extraneous external noise, and that often becomes how we make decisions rather than trusting our own intuition and listening to ourselves first. So I think that’s a beautiful message. Really loved that.

One that’s really absent, I think also for our young people, you know, especially for young women, I mean, I think it’s all embracing young guys, young women today.

That’s why I’m back in sport. I mean, I started in forensics and you asked that question, which I didn’t really answer around why forensics. So I actually got advised to go into forensics by a wonderful lady in KPMG, who I interestingly started trekking hills with 20 years later, ran into her again, when I was given a holiday, Aroha retreat, which is in Queenstown.

Grazilla Thake: Grazilla Thake: And that holiday was given to me by friends who say, look this is an opportunity. I wanted as an opportunity to go, but it was a great time for me because it was a time of massive change for me to go. And then she ended up being there. Also, interestingly, the lady who had created a bit of a barrier for me to going into my volunteering work, listened to me give a seminar to a police force and turned up at the end of that seminar.

And you know, you’re looking at hundreds of different faces and suddenly she comes up, oh, that was amazing. I said, do you remember me? And this was like 14 years later. So I think the lesson in that, that I tried to give also now in my work in sport and through many of my surgeons and why, because at that stage, I think I was given the advice that, I was always fascinated by forensics.

And I remember sitting down and talking to and saying, where do you think? You know? And I was only 18. And I’d started my studies, my bachelor’s, I was going into Otago and, you know, 17 and kind of the whole world was like this. And she said to me at 18, when I spoke to her again, she said, look go into corrections, because if you’re fascinated by it, it’s going to give you that real test of yourself and psychology that you need to do anything you want to do in the world.

It will open all your doorways, but it will test you as a person. And I knew it was gonna be tough. I didn’t know that I could, but I kept that doorway there. I studied at Otago university first. I was a foundation pupil of Cumberland house and Otago. I met some great people there, great friends.

Maths was never my thing. My girls are much better at maths than I am. And you need maths and statistics for psych. So I really worked hard. The science has been natural. And then ended up deciding to come back up to all Oakland and go into my masters at Oakland. And that allowed me then to keep traveling over to Australia and talking to people here about forensics and picking up certain papers and understanding.,/p>

And so when I graduated, my thesis was beside policing. So I did a thesis in south Oakland communities, besides [00:17 a really amazing Constable back then, and we had problems with the gang population and young people in gangs. And again, it goes back into that young population, people seeking identity.

And so young people becoming part of gangs and, you know, and in listening to talking to. And being around both policing, which is a uniform population and gang populations, which are also uniform populations, the pain and the hurt is just that we all want a sense of belonging. And so young people were looking for that..

I now work in the Western days beside Jamaica and I work in the US and a lot of our sports people, interestingly end up going into gangs. They preyed upon, you know, if we don’t support them in that second tier and they don’t succeed. And when I say preyed upon, I don’t think there’s anything. Abnormal or wrong about gang culture.

I think if we acknowledge it, it’s actually part of everything we do. We want a sense of belonging in uniformity. Gangs provide [00:18:00] that there are different sorts of gangs in our society that we become part of as a sense of belonging. And so my thesis taught me a lot of things. It also helped me to open my eyes to lots of things.

But it was really interesting and I thought it was wonderful when you reached out for the podcast, because I look at you and I forgot how glamorous you are. And how wonderful you are. And I look at you and I remember back then I was also modeling. So I got picked up to do modeling when I was 17 and had modelled for a number of years. And when I went back up to Oakland to do my master’s,I sat down and said, I’m probably not going to continue modeling. And I was invited to, you know, judge a, number of parades and do lots of interesting, wonderful things. And she said, but I would love you to come in and, and to run the school here.

And so I designed the programs and ran the school and that’s what put me through my masters. So here’s my juxtaposition. I’m, I’m studying and working in community and I’m working in a modeling agency and I learned very early how to balance work and how to balance judgments and how to be that person. I remember going for my friend’s interview, which was a panel of five people.

Marvelous man has now passed away. A couple of people who’ve now passed away. DSAP Indias were sitting on that. Big Mati, he was the co Marshall for the department of corrections. And I remember going in straight from work into my interview. I was so applied to work for Emirates and I sent my papers up to NASA as well.

I was really interested in aeronauticals and had this fascination and still do for space. And I sat down and this panel of five people asked me questions, they were all looking and I said, thought we’re in a jail. And I remember him laughing at me. It’s just that innocence that I had, you know, he said to me, you’re remarkable.

Cause you’ve come in here not only with your degrees, but you’ve come in here with five years of volunteering and community. And he said, we don’t often see that, we don’t often see someone who’s actually just been going out, and come in with the practical input. I also had an auntie who’d worked in jails and I really I had studied and tried to look at what will I do to make a difference because re-offending and offending was a big problem.

I wanted to be of use, like, I was kind of like, I want to apply my skills someplace where I know I’m doing some good in the world. And so my father didn’t want me to go to the US. Because at that stage, he was like, no, I’m not that keen on you going to the USA. That’s not going to be for us. And he was here in Sydney at that point, and my mum was in New Zealand. She’s consulate for motor for about 30 years. And so my world was so next, it was like, you know, diplomacy and diplomats. And then dad had left his work and he was working as a principal of two schools at that point Catholic school and a Muslim school. So had these dichotomies around me, I was running a modeling agency, modeling school and co-running the agency and judging modeling competitions, but also developing the self esteem of young woman, you know, as they were coming through.

And learning so much about, and I often used to say to the girls, not everyone is going to allow you to be beautiful. You have to find that within you. And the guys as well. And I worked with an amazing team who I’m still friends with and we just had a blast and, and it was lovely and it was wonderful.

And I think there’s a misdemeanor around, you know, different industries and what people do. I mean, I went from there to working in a maximum security jail. I didn’t change who I was. Because I always loved people and I worked the same way. You know, I didn’t wear the same clothing. I didn’t turn up the same way, but the same person turned up and I think that’s also valuable and that’s shaped my work.

You know, that I was only 23. So I’m 51 now. And I’m looking at back way down that channel road. Oh, that’s right. I can, and I can see it and feel it. You know, and at 14, another part of that interesting story was I was at a rotary club and I wanted to get to a stress management team, now that’s what turned me on to psychology.

And I was, I turned around to my parents and I said, oh, you know, like you take this and they’re like, no, no, you go. So I went in, I went to the stress management seminar, that’s where we picked up the meditation stuff. And it was nothing but 30 minutes. Wow, 10 year old girl. And, um, I remember them saying to me, we’re all 14 inside.

Thank you for being here because after two days I’d given them honest responses. My view on the world, what I thought when I listened to them, you know, I saw men in tears and I learned so much and I think I care. What I gathered up at 14 and I still carry it through my life and my career I’d love people.

I don’t think that human being should go through the pain that they go through. So my work, although I worked at the bottom of the cliff and forensics has always had a desire to, to be driven into prevention. And that’s where I’ve gone. So I’ve gone into prevention work. I’ve, you know, even when I was working in a maximum security jail that you’ve worked, you know, you walk into the bowels of the jail.

And you’ve learned very quickly that you’re going to get tested, you know, and it’s not tested by the inmates. It’s tested by you colleagues, by the officers who want to know that you’re there for the right [00:24:00] reasons. I didn’t have a problem for the years that I worked there because I worked from a sincere. I believed in what I was doing.

I was invested in bicultural therapy. I was in, I walked straight into who’s part of the panel who hired me. And I think, you know, coming back to your question, why forensics, you know, we can do really not such great things. I think about the population that we live in and the amount of wasted effort we have.

Causing each other hurt and pain. Yes, I’ve cut a man down. Who’s hung himself. I’ve pulled children out of drains. Yes. I’ve been, you know, on the outside of a cell that inmate has thrown their body around cell and lesbian blood on all the walls. And I’ve talked to him. Yes. I’ve been in some of the most difficult environments.

I’ve, you know, I’ve seen a husband and wife literally, you know, being so violent towards each other and to pull that down to a situation to actually to extract them in those are real life situations. Yes. I’ve been in the middle of a gang centralized situation and the jail. Yes. I’ve sat with people.

I’ve heard man raped, you know, in the next cell. You know, you see that and you know how bad it gets, you know that violence exists, you know that people do absolutely horrendous things to each other, to children, to their wives, to their husbands. So how do we prevent that? How do we stop it? We have this beautiful planet, this beautiful world.

There’s so many amazing things to do, but we don’t all get born into advantage. So the only advantage is learning, it’s education. And so everything for me has been both in that surgeon forensics, in going into forensics, accepting my position. Humorous story there, which I went, oh, I digress into because I got offered at three positions and my dad was like, don’t go here.

And then I went, I’m not going to go to the UAE. And then I told him I was working in a jail. He said, I should have sent you through the states. I think, you know, it took a lot and at that point, my work in sport was also beside what I was doing. So while I was in Otago, I made friends with a lot of guys who played rugby because I was on a floor with nothing but rugby guys, one girl.

Seems to be the way, like I seem to be the one person in these strange situations. They were my dearest friends, you know, they respected that I had a relationship in Oakland with a guy. They took care of me. I was known as the wog. And in those days it wasn’t kind of rude, but for me, it was with them because they didn’t mean it badly.

I was, I was on a floor with them and they took care of me, whereas she let’s take a here, let’s do this. Let’s do that. And, you know, cleaned a few black eyes up for them, did a few things to help out here and there. Was part of the Thursday evening crate club, even though I couldn’t drink a crate. And you know, I had fun and I enjoyed my time, but I learned so much about what sport gives us and I learned it. Not intentionally. It was around me.

Felicity Cohen: So all of this story around everything that shaped you early twenties in maximum security jails, what an incredible experience. And I’m sure it really did shape a lot of your future direction. How did you actually get to that point where you decided that combining all of your skills to move into the optimization hub and working in sport and developing all of these programs?

What was the progression from there into psychology in sport and how you could apply those skills?

Grazilla Thake: Grazilla Thake: Short story, not the long one. So there’s a lot. I had so many different things happen along my way. I probably should have perished in nine 11. I was used to being on the Washington flight and change my flights.

And so it didn’t leave New Zealand at the time that I was supposed to. And my colleagues who were going to a UN conference, I was due to speak at Parrish on that flight. So. There are so many different things that took me to so many different places in my history and they didn’t happen because I designed them.

They happened because they just happened. I was in places, asked to do things. So I lived working in forensics. I left with , you know, cervical cancer. And I had to go through that little bit of a journey, self cured of that, and went back to our Vedic science, was picked up very quickly into working in change management and organizations formed a company that specialized in that.

Kept my love of community and forensics there. I mean, I look back at my passage and forensics and, [00:29:00] you know, nine out of my 10 colleagues have all died of cancer. They stayed there a little bit too long and they loved what they did. But I think the thing is that then it’s such an abnormal environment to be in.

You can’t share it with anybody. I have a passion for first responders. The optimization hub works with sport, but in Corazon that I also have works with first responders. So I haven’t left that behind. I continued to work with sport or besides sports through my work in corporations. I worked with 26 multinationals, both in the Pacific context, but also overseas in the UK and the EU.

I started speaking all over the world. I spoke in China and went to Beijing. I spoken in the US. I spoke at UN conventions. And the convention of the child is still learning how to learn. It became really apparent to me in my work in corporations that, and I say this with the greatest respect for all those wonderful people, I [00:30:00] worked with, but, you know, you have those in our communities and you have those incorporations, there’s no difference. The human beings just going through what they’re going through.

I was wanting to drive better leadership, obviously coming out of forensics. For me, it was about leadership and leadership development and how can I affect and grow that. So I got asked to do some work with the junior Maori All Blacks.

So whenever I say that here, I have everyone throwing their Aussie t-shirts at me. You know, and there are lots of Australian representatives and UK representatives and that’s my team. And they know that I’m a real fan of the black culture and how that culture is designed and developed. And I think that humility that those guys were able to create has come from that love of the Jersey. And I think that comes through all sports. So I grew up playing around ball and both my girls have succeeded one to represent a country, the other two groups, injury [00:31:00] state, but both are equally good at other sports. And I’ve always said, you know, sport grows your potential to work and develop with other people.

So when I was working in corporations, I used to have a lot of people who came from sport kind of work with me and those corporations. And I think of Gary Briggs and guys like him, who’d gone into South Africa and into going across as an all black, where it wasn’t paid and has stories of, you know, I’ve got this amazing kind of work that I’m doing in Tampa.

Well, I’m just, you know, I’m kind of out there with the boats every day. And then I get on the plane and I go on an all black because he wasn’t paid. You know, so in those days the guys weren’t paid for their sports. And so I succeeded to know many very famous sports men and women who are part of my network and part of my friendship group.

And they taught me some things about sport. I was always under the misdemeanor, that sport was a healthy environment. And I think what happened for me six years ago when I returned to Australia was a lot of people come into me and saying, because I was about to step into work with the big four and was going to continue that leadership work.

And I’d still kind of worked beside community. I’d started a couple of foundations over the years. But how I trip wider to sport was there was a desire for the curriculum that I’d written in leadership and in education. So I’d also been responsible for teaching teachers and working with principals and the principal planning association, department of education, governments, correction.

So lots of different things that I’d done. Sport had presented itself beside me all the way I had taken it seriously around what I was doing, a trusts and foundations, because a lot of sports, men and women, as well as corporations were involved and the work of giving back into community for a new mothers, which I’d started to help women in low diesel communities.

Actually, my children’s started that. And the big element around that. Why sport was that again I like the rest of the population thought sports really healthy. So when I came here, I came back to Australia and I was asked to, you know, to take some of the curriculum that I’ve been running in leadership and also community and around the development of say graduates into what they were doing.

And bringing that into sport. So what happened was I, well, why, you know, sports got all these other things on offer and suddenly, you know, it was have a look at this. And so I got talking with Scotty Draper and other guys about the importance of what was happening in sports mental health. So I’d worked in forensics, I’d worked in change management, sports psychology was something that I [00:34:00] collected as I was going along.

It wasn’t my big focus. And I think, you know, for myself, I’m no longer a registered psychologist, but psychology has played a huge part in my background. I took up the mantle of leadership, rewriting the curriculum that I’ve written for you know, for, for organizations. And I did a number of focuses groups in those focus groups, it was learning about what was happening in that sports environment.

And then talking to really great old friends of mine who are on my team, who I’ve known since I was a kid. And people I came across like Paul Hutchinson and Ben Collingwood’s and Emilia Koch, and then, you know, colliding with wow there’s a hole here, you know, so those guys came a few years later, but in the early days it was talking to jolly and it was talking to penny and it was talking to the people that I knew, you know, also in UK sport.

And the involvement here in Australia, And then I visited the AIS and I talked to more people and that’s where I did my focus groups and my studying and my research and rewrote the programs and wrote the first, ever in the world sports curriculum that actually dealt with that 14 to 16, 16 to 28 onboarding and offboarding of young athletes.

I think we’ve neglected our duty of care in sport because we professionalise our sports people at 12, 13, 14, but we don’t actually equip them for the audience of feet, which is massive now that we consider the social construction around them. And when we think about the fact that sport is a commercial entity, so commercialization of sport means that everybody is interested if you were succeeding and they feel like they’ve got a piece of you.

So that turns our sports people at a very young age, into gladiators that we are pushing and trying to kind of get some place. Interestingly, mental health and sport has a different tapestry in Australia and in the US than it does in Norway where, you know, there are higher rates of eating disorders and in the UK it’s violence.

And so expression of mental health or how we express ourselves like you, and I would express ourselves differently around when we pressurised is different. According to the country or the culture we live in. Likewise, so is the sport that we tend to channel our young people to. So if we say Bolt was born here in Australia, he’d be playing NRL. But because he was born in Jamaica and Jamaica upholds, you know, its track and field.

He is who he is. And you talk to Glen Mills, his coach, whether the privilege of having on panels with me and working with Jamaica, you [00:37:00] see the difference in embracing sport, you know. In a country that didn’t separate genders has been very different to our experience of sport here in Australia. So all of these things have shaped how the Optimisation Hub has grown.

We have programs for women in sport. We have programs for coaches. It was interesting, in 2016, the data said that, you know, 75% of our sports people were coming out with mental health issues or 73%. That we had an $89 billion problem due to lost productivity around mental health, which came straight from the Queensland Mental Health commissioner and one of the interviews I did with him.

And that in sport, 92% of our sportspeople when they come out of sport, transitioned back into coaching. So you kind of go I have to go back into coaching and nobody has taught resilience or mental agility, or some of the softer skills needed to be able to work in an education based environment.

Cause that’s what it is. Then we’re breeding a problem for ourselves because not every athletes succeed. When you look at that 5.4 million who actually invest their time in sport in Australia, and you look at the stats and figures internationally, you know that we’ve got at least a quarter of our population invested in being somebody in sport.

The truth is 1% or half percent of those people are gonna make it. But what about the opportunity in sport? What about saying, okay, so we’re under a misdemeanor that sport itself is healthy. Yes, it is. We need to go out and do, but there is a mental health cost if we’re doing it in a certain way. So if we pick it up as an education format, and that’s why sport, because sport is also an educator and it’s an education based curriculum and it requires a curriculum. What’s missing in that curriculum of sports is it’s missing the mental health side of the curriculum, but the mental agility that we teach, the transitional resilience that we teach is not taught anywhere. So we’re teaching a series of programs into sport at its young age, but we have a curriculum that starts at 12 and that finishes at coaching. But also one for women and another for diversity and inclusion taking on the fact that defaults all the sports. That people need to be able to hear and see, you know, things and not everybody’s catered. To everything and everyone, we have to.

Felicity Cohen: I can really see the need for so much of what you’re providing, especially in that mental health space that our sports people, no matter at what level they’re playing. And so often their dreams and desires are to become, professional level elite athlete, but they need that the mental resilience and agility that you’re talking about, but also the coaching to equip them with the skills to cope and to manage within their team environment. The same as they would in a corporate sector environment. One of the pieces that I still feel is a missing piece and that I see here in our workspace is the exit strategy and that where I feel that so many of our sporting networks are letting their athletes down elite level is when they finish.

So they’re invested, invested, invested until they get to that point of exit strategy. And then there’s all these other mental health issues and lifestyle issues that are emanating once they actually leave their sport. And I’ll give you an example of where I see it here and keep in mind that we’re dealing in weight management every single day.

We ended up with some of those elite athletes who have been trained to, they might be an elite rugby player, for example, and they’re eating 14 Weetbix in the morning because that’s part of how they have to fuel themselves and build. And they’ve got a very specific nutritional need as a sports athlete.

But when they exit sport, they’re not then retrained how to manage their energy input versus energy output. It’s one of the biggest issues. And then all of a sudden there are weight concerns that kind of creep up over time as part of a big, multi complex issue relating to that exit point.

Do you feel as though we’re letting them down at that exit point or are you very actively involved? Obviously there’s a lot who get to that coaching point and I hope there’s lots of other pathways for them as well, that are being grown and evolving. How do we help more that exit point?

So we touch point with, you know, anywhere from 2 to 3000 athletes every year at different levels. I still very much, I’m at the mindset that we don’t onboard our athletes.

So you would touch point them at that elite level coming out. And that is a concern. That’s where I started my sort of original investigation and concern. But what about the opportunity to teach all of these things that you’re talking about? Load management is taught. Nutrition’s taught, but also that you need to self-regulate.

And I think that’s one of the things that we don’t teach anywhere for us as human beings. How do you make the decision for yourself? How do you self-regulate, how do you get the right information and how do you adjust? So adjustments fairly important. And so in our program, that’s one of the key areas where we’re teaching identity regulation, movement, making decisions, you know, that ability to be resilient is made up of, you know, seven or eight different components.

What you put into your mouth, what you put into your mind, it’s the same sort of thing. So, you know, you are eating your emotions. And so quite often, when an athlete is transitioning, that intake of food is also an intake of, I haven’t yet changed or adjusted who I feel I am and who I want to be seen as.

And so letting go of those habits is a mental adjustment as well as a physical adjustment. And so all of it boils back down to, I mean, we, we see this all the time and I know I touched upon coaching when we’re working with coaches, we’re working with teaching coaches, just what you were talking about, that transitional resilience, the importance of it, how to work with their athletes differently, how to educate loading, but how to do it from a mental training component.

When we’re teaching the athletes edge and sports pulse programs for our younger athletes and our professional athletes, we’re teaching a lot of what you just touched on there, which is, but it’s from an identity regulation perspective so that they will embrace the knowledge and information that wonderful people like yourself offer them at that stage because sometimes it’s like having combats in your ears, all you can see is this, and you need a little bit of ear coming in there.

Grazilla Thake: Which I think is about stopping and regulating and taking that personal responsibility that self-efficacy, which is fairly important and being able to work with change and transitions. You know, in 9 hours, we teach all of that as a base curriculum that opens that person who’s very young, who’s come through, he’ll come and land with you at some point in time how to take onboard the information that you’re giving. But how to actually be able to prevent the worst case scenario and adjust their identity. So they’re ready for, okay, my body’s going to do some different things. My performance has got to do different things. I mean, my biggest buzz is getting a car park out the front so I can get in here on time.

For an athlete, it is an auditorium or, you know, a stadium packed with people or a sideline that is praising them for what they’ve done. We also don’t teach our athletes how to regulate praise and how to understand that it’s okay to like what you’ve just done. Because they’re so busy being taught. Well, that’s not good enough go for the next personal best.

And so, yes, that’s important, but it’s really important to get healthy identity going in there and so all the components that we teach do that very quickly. We surround our athletes with five different trainers who all studied and learned with us for a period of a year. And they go through teaching those skills in concise sessions, in a group.

So that you’ve got that group reflection and then they’ve got that background of information or science-based information in positive psychology and psychoneuroimmunology and that basis to take on the information. So we find that nutritionists, when they come to us say, oh, we’re going to refer our clients to you because we can’t get that adjustment.

So that adjustment becomes very important, you know, and its effectiveness is only going to happen when you take personal responsibility. But I think you’ve got the emotions sitting in there. And I think we, we know so much from the research in your area, which is very important that the basis of everything is our emotions.

We’re eating our emotions. Absolutely a lot of the time, this is an emotional need, readjusting to our chemical need for something and automated kind of response and habits. And I am this person and changing that and identifying differently and then say, okay, I’ve got to adjust what I’m taking in. And so, you know, health is so much about your mind and about your mindset and about psychoneuroimmunology and understanding how the neurology changes, how you then can build health, because it’s not just mindset.

Health is neurological as well. You have to teach [00:47:00] that you have to teach all of that component. How you take food into your body is psychologically dependent on where the nutrition is going to go. So, you know, it is, and I do agree with you, Felicity. I would really agree with you that we’re not doing what we need to do.

We do it really well. I’ll back my people 200% and what we do in our formula and, and the programs that we use that are evidence-based I’ll back that up. I’ll also say that the casualties that come in at the end of the cliff don’t need to be there. I really don’t need to be. But it’s not just in sport.

Felicity Cohen: Yeah, absolutely. And the work that you’re doing through your programs is unique and, you know, hopefully reaching as many people as possible and definitely so needed. It’s amazing.

Grazilla Thake: We’ve just partnered with the largest provider in the world. So we are the foremost provider of mental health solutions in that area of sport, but we’ve also, you know, in both in hospitality [00:48:00] and another is we offer our resilience programs.

You know, the world at the moment is sitting on its head and saying, I can’t deal with this. And we need to come back to that. And our body tells us, we have to read that you would see that so much with your clients, your body is a map of your life. And so it’s telling you something, it’s an excellent barometer every single minute of the day.

So you mentioned earlier when we were chatting that you are up at 4:00 AM because you start your working day when you’re working with, for example, today with the west Indias, I think you said, and other nations, what is that workspace look like? And how lucky are we to have the technology to allow you to impart all of your knowledge and experience and to be delivering programs and your expertise just through what we able to communicate via, to so many different nations around the world. So today you’ve worked already with how many countries?

Worked with four countries today and two last night.

So, but before that I was on and off planes. So I’m grounded like rest of the world. It’s kind of, it’s not legal for us to travel at the moment. Yeah. So we can’t leave Australia, with a view of coming back, you know, and I can’t give that month of time I would need to away. So if I was going to go overseas, it would be for a period of three or six months.

You know, none of us can really afford to go and in quarantine and go through what we need to. Prior to two years ago, I was fortunate enough to be traveling at least, you know, 10, 12, 19 times a year and speaking in different places. So I spoke at sport accord, which we had here, but I also spoken in Prague and spoken in Kosovo and spoken at middle medical health forums and medical forums spoken in the US.

A lot of those forums. I mean, one person hears you speak, they invite you to another. [00:50:00] I’m used to speaking to vast audiences, and I’m used to speaking about this very topic and other topics I’ve been asked to talk on social construction and, what it is to rebuild a society and how mental health plays a part in both leadership and also the way that we work with cultures, what is diversity and inclusion?

I think what touched me the most was going to Kosovo, which I’ll just touch on briefly. We still have a lot of to do with Kosovo as well. But you know, going into Kosovo where interestingly enough, the Teresa was born and I just felt, I mean, I was only there for three days. I literally flew in and spoke, was taken around across the very spoken if you gain with Intercommunity, talk with the different federations and then got back on a plane and came home.

So it was a five days trip because, and that was, you know, from leaving here to go in there, speaking, coming back. And that’s what my life has been like. So as we all adjusted and COVID hit our world, it hits Singapore first where it was one of our major clients. Obviously it did hit China, but Singapore was a major client and we’re due to be out there.

So we had to adjust and just, we already had our platform. We were already working online, but what it meant was if I was going to speak on panels, I was going to speak online. If I was going to work with things. And so I think now I, I almost feel privileged that we can do that. That in our business we have been doing that.

We, you know, we’ve charged a 10th of what we used to charge because we put everything online and we made sure that if I’m working someplace, I can always be present, you know, both here in Australia and India. So I’ve been able to last night, we with two countries have meetings in four countries is today, which was four countries this morning, like have meetings into and then work with two, and then go out to our local community and talk to Ramon close who were expressed about indigenous community and how we can fit that here.

I’m still very distressed, you know, having come from New Zealand to here feeling like we’ve got so much to do here around our indigenous communities, in our multicultural attitudes, you know. And how we, I need to shift that. So I think, you know, my world of working internationally hasn’t changed. I don’t get on and off planes.

I think I see a lot more pain and a lot more hurt. I feel a lot more agency. I do a lot more, and I say yes to everything. So sometimes I’m working through the night, you know. 2 nights ago, I hadn’t slept for two days because I was working in a different time zone. So whatever it is, but it still allows me to do the one thing that I think is most important and that’s be a great mom. I think that for me is I want my children to look at the world I’m working in and be able to take learning that is around them into where they are.

So we can’t travel at the moment, but they sit in my living room and they listened to ESA boat to Glen mills, to shaliach raise the price. They listened to, you know, some of the most amazing American athletes, you know, they listened to Kimra Campbell and just, you know, they can hear that going on in their world.

They can hear our amazing team. So for me, none of my work has changed. None of my ethic or my attitude has changed. I still love people and I’ll still do everything I can to do what I know the world needs.

Felicity Cohen: Amazing. I love that. And I know that on Fridays, it’s your give back day, you mentioned that you’ve been in community and that you maybe didn’t get quite as much time this morning.

What a wonderful thing to be able to do to still have that time to give back and to work into in community. What does a typical Friday look like for you when you are working in community?

Grazilla Thake: So once a month, I’ll go, I’ll try to go into community and just volunteer or help. That can look like different things.

So, recently I had an award last year just before we got into lockdown. And then I was asked to give some help to Kathy Skibbereen around the work in schools and go out to schools and communities and speak to youth leaders and then going out to Logan and Logan Lee, and then other communities and seeing how you can help there.

And walking in beside that work with people returning to work, you know, working with indigenous community. So it’s about where I’m needed is where I go. And that very much has been my attitude. So we have, I’ve always given back 10% of my time, 20% of my time. And it hasn’t changed.

Felicity Cohen: That is absolutely spectacular. You’re a beautiful role model, not just for your children, but for so many other people out there. And I love the idea of always saying, yes, I’m never going to hesitate ever again in my life. I’m going to say yes to everything. Thank you so much for encouraging that kind of concept around, you know, taking those opportunities and finding time because we can all find the time.

It’s just a matter of how you, you know, manage your time and approach every opportunity as just that, that it’s always going to be a great opportunity for you. You never know what’s around the corner.

Grazilla Thake: You never know where it’s going to take you. I don’t know the bend in the road, and sometimes it’s bigger than you thought it was going to be.

It can be bigger than being here and you never thought you could be here, you know, so it’s always about saying yes.

Felicity Cohen: I love that. I feel like I’ve just kind of opened a can of worms today, and there’s so much more to dive into and to talk about. So maybe we might need to do a chapter two at a later stage because I’d love to hear more from you, Grizilla. But I think I’m going to stop there. I have one question that I always like to [00:56:00] end with and ask all of my guests. What does wellness mean to you?

Grazilla Thake: So to me to be well means that I can breathe the air and I’m free. So it’s a sense of freedom to enjoy everything around me. To know that I’m free to love and be, and can do what I need to do that I have the capability and capacity.

And if I don’t, then I’m unable to do so. So that’s what wellness means to me. It means that I’m mentally free, and I’m physically free, and I’m emotionally free to do things

Felicity Cohen: Spectacular. I love that. Please thank Graziella Thake for joining me today on the Wellness Warriors podcast.

Thank you for joining the wellness warriors podcast. It’s been a pleasure to have you online with us. If you didn’t enjoy the series, please leave your review, subscribe and follow. And we look forward to sharing many more stories with you in the future.

Nutritionist & Dietitian

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