Coach & Athlete - Blood is Thicker than Water

14 August 2019
Janelle & Lani

Since falling into a coaching career more than a decade ago, former Australian distance swimmer and Olympian Janelle Pallister (nee Elford) has never looked back - it was a path she was destined to travel.

"I was sitting by the pool watching Lani do her Learn-to-Swim and they asked me to coach," she explained.

From that moment in time Pallister has risen to become one of Australia's top female coaches, having being selected to coach on Australian junior teams and also on the cusp of senior team selection. 

Lani & Janelle

Her daughter, Lani Pallister, looks set to follow in her swimming footsteps as a promising young junior. Selected to swim with Australia's World Junior team competing in Budapest later this month (August 20), she also one day dreams of competing at the Olympics like her mum.

There's no hiding the similarities between the mother-daughter duo, with both displaying a fierce competitive drive and attitude to succeed, and on their list of achievements, they also share a unique feat - they have both featured on the Australian all-time top ten fastest list for the 1500 freestyle. Janelle set a time of 16:10.11 back in 1987 and has only recently been nudged out, while her daughter, Lani Pallister, is currently eighth after posting a 16:06.84 in Brisbane at the World Trials.

Swimming Australia caught up with them in Brisbane to discuss their unique relationship as coach and athlete. 

Having commenced swimming at an early age and always training under the watchful eye of her mum, Lani doesn't know life any other way.

"I've always been with mum. I've never been with another formal swimming coach," Pallister said. 

"When I started out I was always adamant I was going to be a 100m butterflier, then I got thrown into distance as well, and they happened to be the same events as mum. It was a complete accident, but it's kind of worked out now."

There's no doubt the two have a unique bond and understanding of each other, a valuable tool in the coaching caper.

"There's almost an unspoken language that we have. We can just look at each other and know whether to speak to her or not," reflects Janelle.

"You have that little bit more of a connection of what they need."

Janelle, Dawn & Lani

Speaking on coaching her daughter, Janelle wears two hats on race day. "When she's competing, I really do have that coaches hat on," she said. "I don't have the mother emotion involved, but then when she hits the wall, the emotions of 'mother' start to come out." You can see the immense pride in her eyes when she speaks and there has been much success despite Lani being only 17 years of age.

Watch the full interview below.


Pallister has already experienced success on the world stage. In 2018 she declined her spot on the Australian Dolphins swim team heading to the FINA World Short Course Championships in China, instead, opting to compete in the World Life Saving Championships. As a 16-year-old she secured the World Surf Title. But she has now switched her talents in the surf for the pool with a focus towards Tokyo.

The Cotton Tree swimmer has already had a big year of racing in the pool. She claimed five gold medals at the Age Championships back in April in Adelaide, then competed at the Hancock Prospecting World Swimming Trials in Brisbane.

At the FINA World Junior Championships in Budapest, she will have a full program, racing freestyle in the 200m, 400m, 800m, 1,500m, 4x100m relay and 4x200m relay.

To stay up-to-date with the latest results and news from #TheNextWave at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships make sure you follow Swimming Australia on social media – TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Janelle Elford

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