For almost two thirds of Joanne Whitehorn’s life she has been playing water polo and her vast water polo career is about to wrap up at the end of this current OVO Australian Waterpolo League season, but not before she plays her 300th match this Sunday.
Jo first came to the sport as a twelve-year-old after doing swimming for years and years, but it all changed when she started high school.
“In high school I had a friend’s sister who played in the Sydney south west team and told me to come along because she thought I would like it as a swimmer. From there I just really enjoyed it and started playing with St George.
“I started at St George water polo first, then I moved to Sydney University after St George folded and then I had quite a lot of injuries, so I stopped playing for a bit but decided to come back and play with Cronulla because my friend was playing there,” she said.
Besides from water polo, Jo’s other strong passion in life is working with children.
“I currently work in childcare, I’ve taught kids how to swim most of my life and it’s actually really rewarding. People think its babysitting, but we’re teaching tomorrow’s future and some of the kids are really amazing.
“I’ve been working in childcare for six years now and before that I taught children for seven and a half years.
“I wake up and get ready for work and it’s great working with children because you can’t predict what you’re going to walk into, every day is a new challenge and I love challenges,” she said.
Sport is renowned for having highs and lows at every level and Jo has had her fair share.
“I have a bar in my ankle, I’ve had a shoulder reconstruction, lots of broken fingers and had to have a season off because there wasn’t any ligament attached to my elbow. I was told I shouldn’t play but came back after that season off.
“Representing Australia is the biggest achievement, you train every morning and every night to get to represent Australia and it’s what we all strive for.
“As soon as you put that Australian shirt on it’s like I’ve made it here kind of thing.
“About ten years ago we won junior worlds and we’ll be the only Australian U20 World Junior Champions because they’ve changed the age groups. I still have my gold platted medal which is in mum’s shelf with all the other objects of pride,” she said.
Having been part of many different junior and senior teams at a club, state and national level, Jo has a simple philosophy when starting with any new team.
“You’ve got nothing to lose, I know they have information on me, but I’ve got the experience and that’s what I try to back myself with.
“I kind of psyche myself up with that experience and I know I haven’t got anything to lose, so I may as well try new things and if it doesn’t work a teammate is always going to back you up,” she said.
As a veteran of the sport and competition, Jo enjoys giving back and enjoys being a mentor in her ACU Cronulla Sharks team.
“I think the biggest thing I talk to the girls is backing themselves, sometimes I think they’re scared because they think the senior players will yell at them.
“But I never yell at them I just pull them aside and talk about how they could’ve done it differently and empower them to be better for next time.
“It’s all about making them better players, because obviously I’m not going to represent Australia again, but that’s what they’re striving for and to make them better is better for us,” she said.
Looking back on all the training sessions, games and travel, Jo has one standout memory which springs to the top and for good reason having a father from South Africa.
“I played Australian schoolgirls we went to South Africa, I was actually captain for that year and it was amazing.
“We went on safari, we went to a preschool for disadvantaged school children and it was like living a different life. We spent a whole month there boarding, going to different schools and exploring.
“It was really good to experience my background and see what it is actually like. My grandmother was there at the time, I missed seeing her because she went to the wrong place because she is a bit old and got the locations mixed up,” she said.
With the end near, Jo has one eye on life after water polo.
“I’m currently studying a diploma which involves a coaching aspect. I am doing a sports management diploma, so hopefully I’ll finish that soon and I plan to start my own business.
“Fingers crossed when water polo finishes that’ll be my focus. What I want to do is I want to go to child care services and teach children the foundations for sport.
“A lot of children don’t have that hand eye coordination and they kind of expect it in primary school so I want to bridge that gap, so when they go to school they’ll have the confidence to participate in sport,” she said.
This Sunday Jo’s ACU Cronulla Sharks will face Adelaide Jets at Sutherland Leisure Centre and is fairly relaxed in the lead up to the match.
“I kind of want to make it a fun game. But being the person who always goes a 120 percent, I’m going to find it hard to have fun.
“I’ve had people help me here and people help me there, it would be great if they wanted to come and see my last game at home,” she said.
Jo knows she has got to ease up on my body and stop playing the sport she has enjoyed for almost two decades as the rehabilitation times start adding up and things become harder.
“I won’t miss the training sessions. I mean I love going to training and passing the ball around, but I hate swimming, it’s the most boring thing.
“Water polo also does take up a lot of time, so having that time to myself and have a little bit of freedom will be good,” she said.
Catch Jo in her final hurrah at home before the final series when she faces FYFE Adelaide Jets this weekend in round 11 action. To view all round 11 fixtures, click here.
The 2018 OVO Australian Waterpolo League finals series will be held at Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre from May 4-6 with first games on Friday May 4 beginning at 3:00pm AEST.
One or three day ticket passes are available. Tickets start from $15 for adults and $10 for U18s, all children under 5 are free.