THE lightning bolt that makes people want to become an Olympian can strike at anytime, often when it’s least expected.
For some, it might be the first time they turn on the television set and watch an Australian win gold.
For others, it could be when they’re lucky enough to meet an Olympian in the flesh, posing for a photo or getting a prized autograph for keepsake.
For Kaia Parnaby, one of Australia’s leading softballers, her moment came while she was dancing and singing as a back-up performer to Nikki Webster at the Opening Ceremony for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Just 10 years old at the time, she had no idea what to expect when her Newport Public School class was randomly selected to participate in the ceremonies but what happened on those magical nights changed her life forever.
“I was fortunate enough to be in the Opening and Closing ceremonies as a performer so I really took that opportunity and ran with it,” Parnaby told The Daily Telegraph.
“We were part of Nikki Webster’s song. My school was Perth to Broome on the outline of Australia. I was only in grade five but it was really incredible.”
Boogieing along with her classmates in front of an estimated worldwide television audience of 3.6 million and 100,000 popping flashbulbs, Parnaby’s lifelong goal was sealed when she watched the Australian team march into the stadium and heard the roar of the crowd.
She wanted to come back to the Olympics but not just to sing and dance, she wanted to compete.
“The chance to be on the other side and be an athlete in the Olympics just gives me goosebumps every time I think about it,” she said.
“Just to be able to be in the arena and call yourself an Olympian like those other athletes that I’ve looked up to my whole life that’s something you dream off.
Australia won the bronze medal in softball at Sydney and when the Games were over, Parnaby decided to take up the sport and while she initially struggled to get to grips with the game, once she did, she was a star in the making.
A gun left-handed pitcher, she was picked for the Australian All Schools team in 2006 then made her senior national debut in 2009, just a year after the Beijing Olympics but her own dream of competing at the Olympics became a nightmare when softball was kicked off the program after the 2008 Games.
Parnaby did compete at four world championships, winning bronze medals in 2012 and 2014, and now plays professionally in Japan, but having to watch the 2012 and 2016 Olympics from afar while her sport was excluded was agony for her.
But now, the reinstatement of softball for Tokyo 2020 means her goal of returning to the Olympics as a competitor is once again within reach, even if it’s taken 20 years.
“We still have to qualify but if we do, it’s going to be massive,” she said.
“I’ve actually spoken to a few athletes from 2000 about what it was like to be able to do that so to walk into the stadium in Tokyo is something I still dream of.”