Olympian Melissa Wu on resilience and adaptability in sport and business

8 min read
Emma Wardill

From an injury that nearly derailed her career to a Commonwealth Games Gold medal, Melissa Wu has had an eventful and momentous year.

The four-time Olympian, businesswoman and GoDaddy ambassador faced numerous challenges this year in preparing for the Games, as well as:

  • Running three small businesses
  • Spending much of the year competing overseas

After injuring her back competing on the reality TV show, SAS Australia last year, Melissa faced a long road back. She and her new diving partner worked hard to be fit and ready to compete in Birmingham in July.

Not only did she make the team, Melissa and her teenage diving partner Charli Petrov took Gold in the synchronised 10m platform. Melissa was also the flag bearer for the closing ceremony.

We caught up with Melissa to find out how she overcame injury and adversity to win Gold and keep three businesses running in a topsy turvy year.

Related: A chat with Melissa Wu

Back from the brink

After injuring her back tackling herculean tasks on SAS Australia, Melissa started the year not convinced she would be able to keep diving.

This was only months after winning an individual Bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Early in the year [I was saying] I don’t think I can dive on this injury … I’m not sure this time I can get over it,’’ she says.

“I definitely struggled a lot this year with just knowing — your mind says yes but your body says no.’’

But the diver, who made her international debut as a 13-year-old at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, is not one to take no for an answer.

“For me I just didn’t sit back and hope it would get better. I definitely took a proactive approach to it,’’ she says.

“I made every effort to explore what it was and to try other things.”

A key part of Melissa’s ability to remain resilient was a mindset that was focussed not on what she couldn’t do, but on what she still could do.

“I worked really hard on my mindset because I knew that was going to be the thing that was going to have to get me through. I knew I would have to dive in pain and just be strong every day,’’ she says.

“A big thing for me was focussing on the things I could do, not the things I couldn’t do

“Because when I focus on the things I couldn’t do I just went down this negative rabbit hole and I couldn’t control that. All I could control was the things I could do and … give everything I can.”

A platform for success

Melissa opted to revert to synchronised diving for the Games to give her body a break. This way, she had only three hard dives to deliver, compared to five in an individual program.

But not only did Melissa still have to overcome injury, but she also had a new partner who lived in Melbourne to her Sydney. The pair underwent a lot of pressure to land one of just 14 spots on the diving team

“To be selected for the Commonwealth Games, to be a sure thing, you had to win nationals. So we had a bit of pressure on us to win going up against another pretty good pairing.

It was a bit stressful,’’ she says.

In the end, the paring prevailed and delivered in the most spectacular way possible, twisting and flipping their way to a Gold medal.

Mel Wu with partner Charli Petrov
Melissa Wu (right) with synchronised diving partner Charli Petrov (left)

“We managed to put it all together on the day at Commonwealth Games and we were really proud of that,” she says. “It was pretty awesome.”

“We went in just wanting to dive our best. To come out with a Gold was really exciting — it was awesome.”

Diving into business success

Melissa’s perseverance and adaptability in sport have also kept her on the road to business success this year, despite the challenges of rehabilitation, training, competition and travel.

Mel Wu in her office
Along with being a 4 x Olympian, Melissa Wu also has three businesses

The Sydneysider has not one, but three side hustles she juggles with the help of family and business partners:

With much of her year spent away from home, Melissa says adaptability has been key to keeping her businesses on track.

“I think you always have to be really adaptable.”

“You can’t predict what’s going to happen,’’ she says. “I didn’t know at the beginning of the year that I was going to be away the whole year.

“We also outgrew our gym space, so we had to move. I knew I had to juggle these things this year and just find a way.”

Related: Why small ventures need agility

Taking it one priority at a time

Melissa’s mantra this year has been prioritising and not trying to do everything at once.

“This year I’ve definitely had to prioritise different businesses, with me travelling and being away,’’ she says.

“We got a premise for our gym and moved in here the week I was home between travelling and the Commonwealth Games.”

Mel Wu at HrdKAW Strength gym
Melissa Wu discussing business at new HrdKAW Strength gym space

“The gym has had to be top priority at the moment, and the activewear label and the coaching not so much.’’

Melissa credits her family for being a key support network, working to build the gym business and packing activewear orders while she has been away.

Goal setting for business success

As an elite athlete, Melissa says she’s naturally a goal setter and a competitive person. The two traits have combined to keep the fire burning to continue to compete.

Her younger sister, Kristen, passed away in 2014 and Wu says she’s reminded daily about wanting to make the most of the moment.

“I always have a goal for myself and things that I want to achieve in the day. I think part of that was everything I went through when my sister passed away,’’ she says.

Instead of just going through the motions like I was before, I make the most of each day, do what I can with it.

Melissa also credits her family with being role models for hard work and achieving — from her grandparents to her parents and siblings.

“Everybody works hard, everybody’s achieving things and that just drives me to want to, I guess, just fit in and be as successful as them,’’ she says.

Melissa says her family are keen goal setters and says the athlete’s mentality has helped her in business. “Always know what you are working towards.”

What Melissa Wu learnt this year

In addition to her incredible sporting success this year, Melissa says she’s taken away a lot of business lessons too.

Moving HrdKAW Strength from a garage to its first fully fledged property has meant grappling with overheads, new systems and “responsibilities, more stress, more pressure.”

To help make the business run smoother, Melissa says they are looking for automated solutions to help manage elements like their client base and payments.

Melissa Wu with brother and sister
Melissa Wu (right) with brother Josh (middle) and sister Maddi (left)

Personally, Melissa has also used the down time from diving to learn a lot more about weightlifting and shadow her brother and sister, who are champion weightlifters.

She is also trying to learn more about using social media to help her businesses.

“I don’t think that’s a strength of mine, but it’s something that has to be done … so figuring out:

  • How do we plan that better?
  • What content do we need?
  • Staying on top of it

Related: After the Olympics with Melissa Wu

So, what’s next for Melissa Wu?

Working through her priority list, Melissa says she’s currently focussed on updating her GoDaddy website for HrdKAW Strength so it matches the new branding rolled out in the gym.

Then she wants to get the backend processes firing for the gym to free up some time for her other businesses.

“Once all that is going on a good schedule, then [I’ll] focus back on the activewear getting that going. And then probably figuring out ways we can keep the diving coaching stuff going,’’ she says.

As for diving, Melissa doesn’t expect there will be any more competitions in store for her this year. She’s optimistic about getting back on the board next year.

After a year of incredible challenge and success in both sport and business, there’s no counting Melissa Wu out anytime soon.

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