Janine’s training is squeezed in between full-time work as a head-of-department teacher and changes according to the severity of symptoms she is experiencing on any given day – from blurred vision to lethargy, weakness to restricted movement in her arms and legs. And the changes she is experiencing in her body have accelerated significantly in the past three years as the chronic disease converts her own immune system into attack mode, targeting the protective coating around various nerve endings.
It all leaves you wondering how on earth she has managed to claim three Para Taekwondo World Championships and become the number one ranked Wheelchair Tennis Champion in Australia.
My sneaking suspicion was there would be something profound I could learn from Janine about a growth mindset, living outside the comfort zone, perseverance and living your best life. She is without doubt, one of those rare humans capable of inspiring you in a way that lights a fire inside.
Don’t tell her though because "being an inspiration" is not something she’s all that comfy with.
“It is a word that I struggle with. But I hope that my story and journey will inspire people,” she says. “I want someone to look back at me one day, years from now and say ‘because of you, I never gave up’. And it is for this reason that I will never give up now.”
At 6’2, Janine seems like the kind of person who would be destined for success in sport. At school she played netball and tennis at state and then national levels. While at university completing a double degree in Exercise Science and Secondary Education she tried everything possible including basketball, waterpolo and AFL.
Sport was clearly a massive part of Janine’s early life and no doubt only compounded the devastation of her diagnosis at 25.
“I was told that without treatment, I would be in a wheelchair within five years, a vegetable within ten and to go home and make myself comfortable and not to expect to live past the age of 40,” Janine says.
Now age 38 and planning to compete at the Paralympics at age 39, Janine sees her achievements so far as a massive “f*ck you” to Multiple Sclerosis.
“Competing at such a high level for me is not about the tournaments or the number of medals I win. It is my way of overcoming the battle I have with MS,” she says.
“Being diagnosed at the age of 25 with a progressive neurological disease for which there is no cure – is life changing. I know that every day I progress further and further and will have every function taken away from me with this terrible disease.
“I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control how I react to it and how I choose to not let it beat me.”
Amazingly, Janine didn’t even try Taekwondo until a short time after her diagnosis when a friend suggested she give it a go.
“I thought don’t be stupid, I wouldn’t be any good at that!” she says.
“But I went to my first training session. I remember throwing up in the garden half way through the session. I was exhausted.
“But, I came back the next night – and since then, I have never looked back. Taekwondo teaches you not to only challenge your body physically, but also challenge yourself mentally and spiritually.”
Tokyo 2020 will be the first time Taekwondo has been included in the Paralympics program and with Janine pegged as a medal favourite already, excitement is peaking.
She’s stared down the kind of life challenges many of us will never have the misfortune to confront and not only that, she’s pinned them to the ground in a choke hold. Janine admits her journey has absolutely been tough, and continues to be, but the fight has moulded her into a champion and taught her things she can now pass on to benefit others.
“Do not let your life be dictated by excuses,” says Janine. “I probably have the biggest excuse not to do what I do. But I choose to have a growth mindset and the courage to continue to push myself.
“Great things never came from comfort zones. And if it doesn’t happen the first time, pick yourself up and try again.”
Janine’s potential for Olympic achievement was recently recognised with funding of $11,500 from the Australian Institute of Sport towards her training expenses. While greatly appreciated, she says it really only represents a tiny part of the funding needed to achieve her dream.
“Unfortunately the gap between men’s and women’s sports is large, but then the gap between able-bodied athletes and para athletes is enormous.”
Not that a tiny thing like cash is going to stand in Janine’s way given the hurdles she has already overcome to stand on a podium.
Beyond her Olympic dream, Janine says she has one over-arching goal.
“Do what I can, as well as I can, for as long as I can.”
Amen to that Janine.