By MITCHELL DALE
LIKE hundreds of kids across the country, a 10-year-old Alice Mills camped in front of a television during the 1996 Olympic Games and dreamed of one day emulating the Australian swimmers' gold-medal performances.
Four years later when the Games rolled into Sydney, Mills' Olympic dream had not faded.
If anything the Sydney Games sparked more hunger in her than ever.
"My first memory of the Olympics was '96, that was when I first thought that I would like to compete (at an Olympic Games) one day," Mills said during a visit to Coffs Harbour as part of the Uncle Tobys Make a Splash tour.
"I was only 10 so it wasn't too realistic.
"Since Sydney, it has been a big goal and then in 2002, when I made my first Australian squad, it became more realistic."
From 2002, the Athens Olympics was her focus and once she secured a plane ticket to Greece in March, training went into overdrive
"In the lead-up Athens, everything was pretty much about the Olympics," she said.
"Basically I would be up at 5.30am, go to training, then sleep, go to the gym, sleep, train again, sleep..."
"I was doing ten pool sessions, three gym sessions and a Pilates session each week ? 14 sessions in seven days was a lot.
But it was a small price to pay to achieve the goal she first dreamt about in 1996.
The Brisbane 18-year-old picked up two gold medals in Athens, helping Australia win the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays.
"To come away with two gold medals was amazing," Mills said.
"I guess it exceeded my expectations.
"I was hoping to do better in the 200m individual medley, but I didn't do that well.
"I was a bit disappointed with that, but the medley relay (gold medal) picked me up."
After living and breathing Olympics for most of the year, Mills said she felt strange once it finished.
"When it was all over I was a bit overwhelmed," she said.
"We had six weeks off after the Olympics and I didn't really know what to do with myself."
Now life is slowly returning to normal for Mills, if 5.30am pool sessions can be classed as normal.
"I have been back in training for two weeks now, so everything is getting back to normal," she said.
"The World Championships are only 10 months away and the Commonwealth Games are 18 months.
"That is not a very long time."
Although she doesn't want to look too far ahead, the Beijing Olympics are already in the back of Mills' mind.
"Obviously I want to be there, but it is a long way away," she said.