Rocky, Deeks and Liminality

by Jill Fitzsimons


I watched Rocky for the first time ever last week and I cried at the end, not just with joy for Rocky, but because I recognised a part of myself in Rocky.

This has been my first year in a new job and it’s been hard; really hard at times. The newness, coupled with the demands of parenting and study and indeed, the enormity of the job itself, has at times felt like being on the receiving end of one of Apollo Creed’s blows in Rocky. I say Rocky, because like Rocky in Rocky,  I don’t think I’ve been a victor this year. I’ve achieved lots of things, but it’s a three year appointment and it’s going to take some time for me to ever kind of feel that I’ve really been a winner. I’m not being humble, I’m being real. I think being real allows you to feel a sense of freedom about these things. I haven’t always been this wise, but over time I’ve learned that any other mindset could do you in. Well, that’s the kind of thinking I’m practising at the moment.

I watched Rocky because one my Year 12 students this year, a terrific and earnest young man,  was passionate about Rocky and his enthusiasm inspired me to eventually borrow it when I found myself at Video Ezy with my kids.

I’m really glad I did, so thanks, Matt.

Turning over some thoughts about Rocky in my mind over the course of the week, I realised what drew me to Rocky was his persistence, discipline and commitment and his story was exactly what I needed to inspire me to keep going, even though I was getting the staggers.

The other inspirational sporting figure I’ve turned to as Term 4 (and my first year as a middle leader) draws to a close is Robert De Castella. I’ve always been really interested in Robert de Castella – Deeks. In fact, he’s one of my favourite people. His victory in the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games is one of those childhood memories that has always stayed with me.

Just magic.

I once heard him being interviewed with Pat Clohessy on ABC Radio and I’ve never forgotten his observation that you can’t tell how good a distance runner is until they’ve really done some training. What I took from this is the greatness can take time to manifest itself. In fact, in my context, I guess I’m not talking about greatness, rather, effectiveness. Deeks said of himself that it took time for his greatness to come to fruition. He had to train to become who he was – his ability only really revealed itself over time.

This idea actually connects with a lovely quote I read many years ago by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and found again recently (much to my delight), which underlines the importance of patience and not expecting too much of yourself too quickly,

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

I’m taking comfort from this.

Like Rocky, Deeks is a great example of someone who let time gently shape the person they became. They both worked hard too, really hard and were rewarded for their persistence.

This is an inspiring idea, especially at this time of the year – a time of the year when exhaustion can rob one of the hope that you’ll ever make it.

The other idea that I’m enjoying thinking about when I get the chance is the idea of liminality and I have to thank my friend, Joel, for alerting me to this idea, an idea that I’m really enjoying thinking about and reading about. It’s great to have a fascinating idea to entertain in a quiet moment.  Liminality is the in between time, a time of ambiguity, uncertainty and being unsettled. It’s the midway point of a ritual, a time when you have begun a ritual – perhaps a transition ritual and you ‘”stand at the threshold” between [your] previous way of structuring [your] identity….and a new way, which the ritual establishes’.

Unlike Rocky and Deeks, who did reach their metaphorical destinations and triumphed, I have a long way to go, but somehow their stories – as Christmas approaches, exams are corrected, reports are almost done and 2016 course plans are (slowly) taking shape – are inspiring me to be a little bit Rocky and little bit Deeks – to keep going.

And maybe, just maybe, one day, I will think…I “did it!”

Sport can help you escape things for a few hours and is also a great teacher.


Read other stories from our Whitefriars’ College scribes.

You will find a diverse range of thoughtful and amusing sports stories at



  1. Grand stuff Jill. I really liked the de Chardin quote. We are all always in the act of becoming. I thought you were being a bit hard on yourself in the intro.
    My wife was a primary school teacher and she is always touched by the impact she made when she bumps into former students. Working in mental health the last 2 years, I was initially frustrated at what I perceived as the lack of impact from my efforts. Similarly I bumped into 2 former clients this week who I hadn’t seen for a year and both had remade remarkable changes, and said that my caring, support and ideas were valuable at a low point in their lives.
    Now I am more content to just be watering the flowers, and worry less about which were always weeds. Which struggle to find light and water on their own. Which die or grow deformed from the poisons they ingest. It takes a village – and time as you rightly point out.
    The trouble with movies and popular culture is that it is mostly very binary for the dramatic effect. WInners and losers. Lifters and leaners. Successes and failures.
    Anyone who plays AFL is a success. Any team that makes the finals is a success. Any teacher who stands in front of a class for 10 months to be vulnerable and honestly share both knowledge and wisdom – is a success.

  2. Thanks, Peter. De Chardin is just wonderful. I was so pleased to finally find this quote again after thinking about it for so many years. Loved reading your comment.

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m just amazed that you found a Video Ezy still in operation Jill.

    Deek’s high point was at Waverley in 1991.

    You sound like a great teacher already, keep it up.

  4. Well done and welcome Jill. As a youngster at primary school in Canberra in the early ’80s Deek was the most famous Canberran. A visit by him to your school was akin to royalty. His 5th in the ’84 Olympics, heart breaking (but historically speaking rather impressive). Nice incorporation of liminality too.

  5. Neil Anderson says

    Good afternoon Mrs Fitzsimons!
    So you’re THAT teacher that everyone hopes will be teaching them this year and the one years later that Peter said would approach you and thank you for making such a difference in their lives.
    It sounds like you are teaching at a number of form levels and the school is lucky to have you, so hang in there.
    My wife has taught at Primary, Secondary and now Tertiary level so I know the balancing act you have to perform with family, teaching and studying.
    When you said the academic year was over but the planning for next year was beginning, it certainly rang a bell. It was hard to go on holidays for my wife with all that next year planning to be done.
    As a bit of light relief and writing exercises for the students, I hope you find the Almanac useful.

  6. Jill, you have the eye of the tiger!

  7. Beautifully put, Jill.
    And you choose to do this.

    Those of us lucky enough to have choices available to us probably define ourselves by the choices we make.
    “Do I stay or do I go?”
    “Do I make that call?”
    “Do I write about Rocky and Deeks and liminality(!)?”

    And in deciding, we (everyone) can make a bit of a difference to people.

    That’s a grand story. Happy teaching. Happy shepherding.

  8. Thanks, everyone; you are very kind. I have to say that Rocky II was great but Rocky III, IV, V and Rocky Balboa are not looming large as any kind of muse. Apparently Creed is meant to be super. Who knows what this could inspire! Back to writing reports for the moment. Might have to write something about the Tigers next year, especially now that Yarran and Rioli are on the list.

  9. Thank you for your writing, Jill. Revealing, and, your fragility. Liminality is also a dangerous time, a time of ambiguity as you state. During such times we need others, their writings, and sometimes good rites, to give us the handles to get to the post-liminal stage. Some people never get there. Some are traumatised like Miss Haversham in Dickens’ Great Expectations. In some respects, students are in a liminal time, particularly Year 12. Best wishes for the end of the school year, and for authentic re-creation. (In many respects, the four quarters of an Aussie rules game is a liminal time, until the final siren! Football rites, from cities to small towns and isolated rural communities, are also so important).

  10. Hi Stephen,
    I enjoyed your comment. I love Great Expectations and transition rituals. I live in hope that one day I will find myself in a post luminal stage of sorts as a Richmond fan. It’s been a hard road since 1982. Thanks for your insights. Jill

Leave a Comment