Inspirational Women Series: Shelley Taylor-Smith

Shelley Taylor Smith has been an inspiration to many over the years and to me personally since I was lucky enough to call her my teacher at Riverside Girls High School in the mid-90's. 

It was a pretty big deal to have a champion sportsperson as your teacher and, having shows like "60 Minutes" come to your school to film her in her new environment certainly highlighted to us all, even more so, just how legendary she was!

The multiple world record-breaking marathon swimmer beat the odds to become one of the most accomplished marathon swimmers of all time and now passes on her extensive knowledge as a Champion Mindset business and long-distance swimming coach in her home town of Perth. 

Suffering with scoliosis whilst at school which extended to a lower-body paralysis whilst at university on a swimming scholarship in the U.S., Shelley's coach encouraged her to shift her focus to long-distance swimming which she took to like a duck to water...pun intended. 

That all-important decision led the sporting legend to beat record after record throughout her career. Among those, she was the first West-Australian to swim the English Channel, won 51 international first places in marathon swimming representing Australia, is the holder of 15 world race records (11 of which still stand today), was a 7-time Women's World Number 1 ranked marathon swimming champion between 1988-1995 and, in 1991 she was the World Number 1 Marathon Swimming Champion overall. 

Yes, that means she even beat out the men for the first time in the history of the sport!

Her accomplishments seem never-ending!

Shelley was named one of the 50 most iconic Australian women in 2011, she was also the inaugural WA Women's Hall of Fame inductee in 2011, an inductee into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2008, two-time Australian of the year finalist representing WA in 1990 and 1991, showcased on "This Is Your Life" and even has a ferry named after her!

In 1998, Shelley was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and Giardia Iamblia after prolonged exposure to polluted water. She was given only 6 months to live. That didn't stop her from winning her fifth consecutive 48km Manhattan Island Marathon before retiring from swimming though and, many years on, is now fighting fit. 

This is a woman who has not only achieved a great deal, but is dedicating her life now to helping others achieve their dreams and goals. 

Firmly believing that "the most important 6-inches on your body is the space between your ears," Shelley uses her champion mindset techniques in her coaching and speaking business where she encourages her clients to: "show up, do it and repeat". 

She certainly did just that and more time and time again. 

Biz Gals: What is your greatest achievement? 

Shelley: Regardless of all the accolades, awards and achievements, I am proudest of being my authentic self, staying true to who I am; the down-to-earth Shelley; the little girl who had a dream and never let go of it.


When asked recently if I had my time over again what would I change and who would I like to be more like; I replied “nothing… I would not change anything. I would not be who I am today if I changed any of my life journey and I would not be Shelley Taylor-Smith.” 


Biz Gals: What is the greatest lesson you have learnt? 

Shelley: “What other people think of me is none of my business!” Anonymous.

Being content and totally happy being Shelley Taylor-Smith has been one of life’s hardest and most rewarding lessons. You cannot love and serve others until you love and serve yourself first. 


Biz Gals: What is the best bit of advice you have been given? 

Shelley: My father, Mervyn Taylor (who passed away when I was only 15yrs of age) taught me how-to believe in myself and not let the “dream takers” steal my dreams. Life lesson no.1: In life you may get kicked in the guts but it is up to you to get back up and fight back. I live by his motto which became mine: “Get up, Get over it and Get on with it!”


Biz Gals: What or who inspires you? 

Shelley: The men and women who serve our country. Men and women on the front line. Volunteers who serve our community in times of crisis and may be never recognised for their self-less duty. These are the real heroes and heroines.


Biz Gals: What is your biggest hope for women in the future? 

Shelley: It's threefold:

  1. Embrace your own feminine power; the unique DNA you possess that is your greatest asset to achieve your feminine potential.

  2. Respect your fellow sisters regardless of religion, colour and (corporate) title.

  3. Unite as one global force for the betterment of women whose voice cannot be heard.


Biz Gals: What advice would you give your younger self?

Shelley: “Be yourself – as the quote goes - ‘cause everyone else is taken!” Oscar Wilde.

Stay true to yourself. Stand up for yourself. Speak up for those who voice may not be heard. You never know when the tables may turn and you need support.

Words: Natalie Kessell 

Image Credits: Shelley Taylor-Smith

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