Female Athlete Podcast, Episode with Ilsa Wakeling transcript

From international softballer to siege negotiator with Ilsa Wakeling.

The Female Athlete Podcast, Episode: From international softballer to siege negotiator with Ilsa Wakeling.

Introduction: Chloe Dalton 

This episode is brought to you by Victoria Police. Are you made for more? Search police careers to find out. 

Chloe Dalton 

I am really excited that this week to have our first Australian softball representative on the podcast

Ilsa Wakeling was a part of the Australian softball squad in the early to mid 2000s, and played in the Italian professional league, before making an incredible return to the side in her 40s after giving birth to son.

She has transferred her elite mindset into the workplace, working with Victoria Police since 2006, currently an Acting Superintendent before returning to the Critical Incident Response Team as an Inspector.

Ilsa is incredibly disciplined, and shares some awesome lessons she has learned around leadership, fear, and looking after your body and mind. 

I hope you enjoy it. 

Chloe Dalton

Ilsa, welcome to the Female Athlete Project.

Ilsa Wakeling

Thank you for having me, Chloe.

Chloe Dalton

I'm really looking forward to tapping into some of your incredible experience that you'd have. You've had across both careers in a sporting context, but also your work with Victoria Police. 

But can you take us back to Ilsa as a little kid and describe what you were like?

Ilsa Wakeling

Absolutely. As a little kid, I was one of four children. I was the youngest. And a thing that we'd quite often talk about was sibling rivalry as I was growing up. So you're always demanded or wanted the attention of your parents. 

And so I would do whatever I could just to get that attention. And all of my sisters played softball, which is where we were brought into the sport. My dad played baseball, mom played softball, mom was pretty much the manager in Jack of all Trades and dad ended up being our softball coach. 

And I think we were really drawn into the sport quite early. Loved a lot of variety of sports as well, but I think this is where my passion was. So to draw that attention, I had to figure out how to actually be the best in my family or be the best to get the praise and accolades from my folks.

So, that sort of was the beginning of how my soccer career started. We didn't really have a lot of, with my age, we didn't have a lot of opportunity to see how we can develop and how we could learn. So we used to read a lot through books, my dad and I, to understand how to actually, you know, pitch, for example. 

I was a pitcher. So to learn how to pitch, we'd read through the book, trial it and see how it went. So it was a trial and error sort of situation.

I didn't have the fortunate opportunities I do nowadays, just jump on the internet and find whatever you need and how to grip balls and all that sort of stuff. So it was quite a challenging time, but at the same time, it was a really great learning opportunity and it was very much a textbook style that I had. 

And growing up through my teen years, I played a few different varieties of sport. And again, I just always was drawn back to softball and at the time was not was not even aware and I think more so because I was a country girl, I lived in Ballarat, we weren't aware of what opportunities there were in sport and especially in softball. 

I didn't know how far I could actually go in a career with softball. So it was more just the passion that I really enjoyed. And by the time I was, I played all club levels, never played state in my teens. 

And by the time I got to my twenties, I was asked if I would trial for state. And I ended up striking out most of our state players, which was not expected, but we had developed ourselves, Dad and I, through that time. 

And admittedly, I did trial for state and under 16s and didn't make it. Felt that I was good enough, but didn't know what I was missing. So Dad and I just kept continually learning and progressing in the sport. So by the time I actually, you know, was playing against state players, realized that I actually had an ability there.

So I made my first state team at 23s, under 23s, which was pretty cool. 

Chloe Dalton


Ilsa Wakeling

Quite late on in my career, but at the same time, I think realistically it allowed me to still have that passion, but probably get all my schooling done. I started working at a law firm at the time and really wanted to engage in this softball side of things and see what could come of it. So after playing under 23s, the next year I played my first state team. 

And that's when you had scouts that were, um, at our games and observing some of the stats that I would see. And I got scouted straight away, um, had the opportunity to play over in, uh, Italy. Uh, that same year I made our Australian squads, um, the AIS squads, and, um, it really took off from there. 

And that's when I really discovered the opportunities that were there for, for the sport, but at the same time, sport in general, um, the opportunities to be able to have sport take me around the world, play against other countries and see how they develop and lead their teams and how they implement their strategies and ways of thinking. 

So I felt it was a really great opportunity to play overseas. I probably sacrificed a little bit of Australian opportunity to play overseas, but I felt that it was something that would develop me in who I am as a person as well, living in a different country and really trying to nut out all those, you know, issues that you probably wouldn't realize unless you're an athlete that you're going into a new country, you don't speak their language. 

Your coach at the time was Cuban, so he didn't speak Italian either, and navigating through life at the same time as playing a sport, being paid to play it professionally and having to perform every week. 

So it was a good chance for me to learn the importance of time management, the importance of, um, you know, the professionalism. Um, it wasn't just about that. You got paid to play a sport. 

It was about all these other skillsets and all these other values, um, that really came around it to understand who I was as a professional, but at the same time, what qualities I can take from that and take back to whether it's my state teams, um, whether it was to the Aussie teams or as you know, now in my career in policing.

Chloe Dalton

There's some really interesting themes in there that I'd love to kind of touch on. Let's start with this concept of that wanting desperately the approval and attention of your parents. 

I think it's something where sport is often a vehicle for kids who want to kind of prove their worth in a way and sport is often a way of saying like, “hey, I'm here, I want you to recognise me, I'm trying as hard as I possibly can.” Where do you think that came from for you?

Ilsa Wakeling

Looking back on it now, I would definitely say it was probably a setup of an imposter syndrome. I wanted to feel good enough or valued or that I was good at something and recognized for it. My dad and I, I love my parents. My parents gave me the greatest upbringing. I was very fortunate they had great values. They're great people.

I always look at it and think what my dad knows is what he was taught as well. So through his sport and also his work, he was also in the army. So, you know, we have somewhat of paramilitary lifestyle when we're growing up. And I guess, because there was four of us, it really was about how do you get the attention of mum and dad when you're the youngest? 

And I look back on it now and recognize that, you know, a lot of things that I did, I remember saying, when I first wore the green and gold, I remember saying, you know, someone said to me, “are you excited? Are you happy about it?” And I said, “I just want my dad to be proud”. 

Chloe Dalton


Ilsa Wakeling

And, and it was true because I do want him to be proud, but at the same time, I'd lost the true value of what I was doing. Um, and appreciating why I was doing it. Um, so it did take me back to understand the importance of, um, uh, representing your country, um, bringing out the best version of me, um, really wanting to create an environment that allowed me to succeed. 

But also working through that with the team psychologists to understand where imposter syndrome sits into that, the value part of it, the perfection part of it, and there's still things that I work on now. There were things that I worked on when I was 22, 23.

I’m you know, 45 now and I'm still working on the same, the same things. I'm enhancing, improving and getting better through it. But you're right. It is something that, um, you know, it sets in purely because I just wanted to be, um, something that my parents would be proud of. 

And you know what, regardless of whether I played sport or where I am in my policing career, I know that would have been proud of me. Um, but it was that own inner monologue that I kept telling myself. 

So probably learning, and developing through that inner monologue to understand and accept vulnerabilities, understand and accept success and failure, or as I say, triumph and disaster, and be able to move forward through those.

Chloe Dalton

It's really interesting that term of the inner monologue. It takes me back to being a little kid. There's definitely some parts of your story that really resonated with me. Like I was probably quite similar. I still am a real perfectionist in a lot of ways. 

And I was doing cross country when I was about 10, 11 years old, so still pretty young. And when I was 11, I won national cross country. And so kind of backed up, did all this training like dad would drive around once the sun had gone down. So I'd have to come home from school, do my homework. 

The sun would go down. Dad would follow me in the car so that the lights could light up the way of where I was running to do my training and made it back to nationals as a 12 year old. And mum travelled with me to Adelaide. 

And I just had this inner monologue that if I don't win again, my whole family are gonna be so disappointed in me and they won't see me in the same way. So I woke up the morning of the race and I said to mum, “I've been vomiting, I'm so sick, I can't run.”

And I hadn't, I was completely fine, but I had almost psyched myself out that I was so afraid of letting people down, that I told myself this story, that they were gonna, like, I guess, lose the identity of who I was as a person.

Ilsa Wakeling

That's right. Yep, that's exactly right. And it does become quite challenging and debilitating because you do, you create that narrative in your own mind. Whereas it wouldn't matter what I did, my parents are always going to be proud of me. 

And I feel the same way about my son. He's a funny young boy, but at the same time, when he does things wrong, we talk through it, we find out, what have we learned from it and what are we going to do about it?

It doesn't matter what he does, I'm always going to be proud of him. So I know my parents would have been exactly the same thing, but yeah, that inner monologue really did become debilitating at times. 

And it's, I find it's great now to be able to have that reset, to be able to reflect on that and understand even now and some of the behaviours that I have and why I have those behaviours, which have drawn all the way back to my teen days.

Chloe Dalton

Another thing that I wanted to touch on was this idea of kind of being a late bloomer in terms of like your state representation. I think there's so many kids that kind of go through those teenage years and they try as hard as they possibly can and they might not crack it for whatever reason. 

But this concept that you were an adult by the time you made that first state team, like what do you think you learned throughout that process? 

Ilsa Wakeling

I know what I learned when I applied for the under 16 team and didn't make it. That I realized I wasn't resilient. I realized that I didn't have good processes behind me to accept failure. So my way of dealing with something like that, that type of failure, was to never put myself in that vulnerable position again. 

Chloe Dalton


Ilsa Wakeling

By the time I got a little bit older, I didn't have as much fear, which usually you'd think about it and think that children are fearless. And as you grow older, you develop that fear. Whereas getting into my twenties, I still had, you know, certain fears, but, um, I felt that I was a little bit more confident in who I was and that, um, it was okay. Um, if things weren't, um, exactly right. Or things weren't perfect. 

Um, it's something that I think is still developing. I think I specifically understood the difference between what I was like as a 23 year old to when I went back to softball at 40 and played for Australia again. 

Those differences were incredible because I really understood how, how powerful it was to not live in fear. At the age of 23, I still, I developed it a little bit where I wasn't as vulnerable, resilience was building by the time I'm 40, the resilience was built so much that my theory was well, if I'm not going to do, I'll get another three people in the dugout that are ready to step in at any point. 

And that's not a bad thing. Back when I was 23, that somewhat was a little bit daunting because I think someone else can step into my place. Whereas when I was 40, I was thinking, you know, good for me because I probably only got four innings in me rather than a whole seven innings game. 

So it would actually be beneficial. So I see resilience had been built at that time. I see the fear of failure was not a concern to me. I was prepared to be vulnerable. 

I remember, and I'm probably jumping ahead here, but I remember going back at the age of 40 and the coach saying to me after the first game we played, we played against Italy, which was kind of good for me because I was familiar with the Italian style of play because I played over there. 

But coming back into that environment, he said to me after that game, we did lose 2-1, which was okay, but I still played a cracker of a game. And he said to me, Ilsa how after 13 years of not playing for Australia, could you come in and play a game like that? “

And I said to him, I don't have any fear. You know, I go to work. And at the time that environment was different, that things could be a life and death situation. I go to sport and I love this sport. I'm here because I enjoy it. I'm playing in a team of Australian representatives that want to be here have the same drive and passion as me. 

And I just want to win. And whether that means that I'm standing on the plate, throwing the pitch, or whether I'm standing in the dugout, participating as a team player, watching my team, I'm still participating and I'm still part of that win. 

So I think, yeah, it's interesting to see that transition as a team of completely being in fear, to my 20s of overcoming a little bit of that and understanding that I need to actually provide myself opportunity to develop. 

And then as a 40 year old, fearless, absolutely fearless.

Chloe Dalton

I love that. Can you give us a bit of insight into softball in Australia? It's been a sport that has been in and out of the Olympics. And I imagine that probably has impacted it, particularly as you've been involved through the sport throughout your career, in terms of funding, media coverage, resourcing, things like that, when it's been an Olympic sport versus not been an Olympic sport.

Ilsa Wakeling

Yeah. The biggest challenge that I always found with softball, and this is probably more of an individual perspective is coming from a country background. To get good coaching and opportunity you needed to be in Melbourne. As mentioned, coming to playing softball in my twenties meant that I would move to Melbourne and relocate down here. 

To play for Australia back then, we would pay a levy. So, yep, you've been nominated in the Australian squad. Now here's your levy that you need to pay. You would still get supported and you'd still go away. 

The girls would go away to international series and you get per diem, your trips are funded. But at the end of the day, you're still paying a levy to play for your country. That blew my mind. 

And I guess that's probably where I look at a lot of other sports that do have a lot of funding behind it and can appreciate that they've got that support. But I think it also afforded us to keep grounded. 

It afforded me to understand the importance of still having something else outside of my sport, which is why my sporting career did come into it because, sorry, my policing career came into it because I wanted to still strive for what I wanted to achieve in my career and I always wanted to be in policing. 

So it still allowed me to jump into that space. Watching when I played in Italy, it was in the early 2000s. And, you know, I did strive to want to be in that Olympic team, you know make the Olympics, but it was a strive to want to do that. 

But unfortunately, my last year in Italy, I ended up getting an ankle injury. I broke my ankle, my Achilles was too tight. So instead of that going, it was my ankle, which put me out for the rest of my season over there. 

And so when I came back, I rehabbed it, got back in, played a national series here, and then couldn't go back in. Well, then decided I'd apply for the police force and see how that went before I knew it was a transition within six months and I was in the academy.

 The funding itself with softball has been really interesting to watch over the years. And I'm watching us go in and out, as you say, of Olympic games has been really challenging as well. And you can see the change of the teams. 

You see the people that are in the teams. You know, we had a really strong 2000, a really strong 2004, 2008. They were great years. And to be able to make an Australian team or sit in the squad in that era was just unbelievable. 

And I remember standing, the first time I played for Australia and looking down the line and seeing the people that are standing next to me and just being absolutely blown away that I got that opportunity. 

I had Tanya Harding standing next to me. I had Nat Ward standing next to me and one of my long-term friends, Natalie Titcume, she was also in the team and that was just so inspiring. But there just simply wasn't that funding there to keep people like that around. So they did play back to back Olympics.

But then, you know, all of a sudden it's back out of the Olympics and then all the girls strive for then is your world championships, which doesn't give you the same headline, doesn't give you the same wraparound that sporting context. 

So it really suffered a lot when it was withdrawn and, you know, again, it's been withdrawn and I really feel for the girls cause I work so hard, um, currently watching them when I was in my forties, um, you know, watching them work so hard to get there and then not get that next opportunity in another four years is just heart-breaking. 

It's not a lot of sports that have to suffer that.

Chloe Dalton

I'm still like thinking about this concept of you coming back at 40 and just killing it, playing for your country. Have you watched Lauren Jackson's return to basketball at all, the way that she kind of had some time off and was forced to retire from her body and she's come back? 

I feel like there's some real parallels in this sense of perspective that you can have at that point in your life that sounds like it's really quite liberating, that feeling of going back and playing.

Ilsa Wakeling

Yes, absolutely. And I can, I can really see where she's come from in wanting to do that because it is somewhat your identity. I know that my sport, even though I played it as a, as a very young child in the outfield picking daisies and not really participating all the way through to representing Australia. 

You know, I, it is a part of who I am. Any involvement that you can get when you're not playing, you know, that's why I became a director. That's why I wanted to be a specialist coach. That's why I ended up being an assistant coach because you just wanted to continue to give back to that sport that you absolutely loved and had passion about. 

Um, so when I watched someone like Lauren come back and I'd been involved a little bit through my ex partner, my ex husband, was involved in basketball. So I had a fairly decent understanding of the culture around basketball and what I really appreciated in watching the basketball culture is that the men and women really supported one another and I know that, you know my former husband was quite supportive of Lauren and her career when she came back it was quite inspiring.

And what I really love now is seeing other sports as well like, you know, you've got the soccer and the Matildas when they've got their kids on the sideline, just seeing those sort of environments and that was one of the inspirations for myself at 40 is my son was four at the time and he used to call softball golf ball.

Um, but he, him coming along and having photos in green and gold with him standing next to me is, is priceless. We're going to have that forever. And that was something special for me. Um, and it was just an added bonus to be able to play for my country again, but have my son there with me.


Yeah, that's really, really special. 

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Chloe Dalton

When it got to a certain point, it was unfortunately out of your control having to make that decision to retire from softball. Can you share a little bit more about that experience?

Ilsa Wakeling

Yeah. So, um, it was just, just prior to COVID actually, I'd finished the Australian, um, uh, Asia Pacific series, uh, here in Australia in Sydney. And, uh, at the time I was an Acting Senior Sergeant, um, I was over at Caulfield Police Station and, um, and was going through a transition of getting a promotion, um, I was going through a separation, um, I had started my uni degree, um, and was trying to juggle all of that at the same time as have, you know, um, 50% custody of my son. 

Um, so there was a lot of, a lot of things going on in my world and, um, COVID had just hit and I remember getting my first injection and, um, prior to it, I had marks coming up on my hands and I didn't know what it was. I thought it was lupus. 

My sisters had lupus her whole life. So that's what I thought it was. So, you know, we, um, I took a synthetic steroid to try and calm the rash, and it didn't go. The shorter version of this story is I went to a dermatologist, he took me to a rheumatologist, I ended up getting muscle and skin biopsies to determine what the disease was. 

And the disease was, it's called dermatomyositis. So, “derma” being the skin, “myo” being the muscle, and “cytos” being disease. And so basically what it meant was my skin would come out in a rash and my muscles would deteriorate. 

So within a fortnight, my muscles had deteriorated so badly, I went from what I'm normally about a size 11 into about a size six, seven. I was struggling to fit into anything and that was in a fortnight. 

Chloe Dalton


Ilsa Wakeling

I remember looking in the mirror thinking, what's going on here? Why am I losing significant weight and muscle? Mind you, as an athlete, as you'd be aware, you work so hard to get that strong shape, that strong figure. It's a lot of time and effort to get that and then maintain it. Especially as you get older, trying to keep that maintenance of it. 

And so for it to go, it was almost, you know, that's another identity of me. And yeah, when the disease came about, it basically means that when your muscles deteriorate, you've got no strength. 

So I'd lost a lot of energy. I was very lethargic. I was pretty much a victim to the disease at the time. So going to the rheumatologist, he was quick on it. Within, I would say a month, I started all types of medication.

I went on a drug called methotrexate, which is like a cancer drug. So it's also used for autoimmune diseases. And I had a really bad experience with that. And so I ended up jumping off that and onto a different type of med. 

I now I now do IVIG, which is done every six weeks. So intravenous immunoglobin. So I go and get hospital treatment for a day. And that's where they put antibodies back into my body. 

The the way that I managed it was making sure that I could, continue doing what I'm doing, try and listen to my body. It was about that slowing down process and understanding what was going on and how do I best set myself up for success. 

So I put a lot of processes in place at the time. I retired from softball because I knew that I just physically could not play. I couldn't do anything like that.

I maintained a gym program purely because sort of similar to MS that you need to keep your body continually moving with this disease because if it stops, it will seize up. So the gym side of it was just maintenance, making sure that I kept strong and I didn't overexert myself. 

I did have a lot of trial and errors where if I did too much gym sessions, it would actually create too much CK in my bloodstream. And it'll would poison my bloodstream. So I'd sit back five or six weeks. So that was a trial and error sort of experience. But all in all, you know, it's something that we had to try and prevent cancer from coming. 

We did the preventatives. And to me, it was about how do I set myself up to succeed in this environment and this situation. So it was about, you know, getting early wins. So I'd set myself up to do box breathing exercises in the morning, no electronics for an hour. I would do hot and cold showers and I'd do stretching all before I left the front door. 

I'd even, as they say, make you better because it's a small win. Those sorts of things that would set me up for success. And then when I came to work, I would do my full duties. I was fortunate to have colleagues at the time that were really supportive of me because it was during the COVID period where everyone was isolated. 

So I didn't feel like I was isolating myself too much. But they would help me out and be outside doing the operational world and I'd do the strategic world of protests and policing at the time. So to me, it was something that I didn't want to stop playing because I have such a passion for it. 

I had to stop playing, but at the same time, I didn't want the disease to take over and be who my identity was. So how do I still maintain who I am, and continue progressing through this. So setting up all of those little habits, I truly believe now that it was actually somewhat a blessing in disguise because otherwise I might not prepare myself as best as I do now. 

And it leads into my healthy living lifestyle with my son. It leads into how I lead at work and my considerations for how I look after myself and my considerations for how I speak to my people and make sure that they look after themselves as well. So some really good winds came out of it.

Chloe Dalton

It sounds like you are incredibly disciplined. Like you've been through something that is out of your control. And I imagine like you touched on, like took away a lot of your identity and sounds incredibly draining and frustrating at times. 

But it sounds like you're really disciplined in your approach to really, I guess, take back control over the things that you can have control over.

Ilsa Wakeling

Yeah, no, you're spot on. And I don't realize how disciplined I am until I can reflect on something like that and understand the impact it had on me. But to me, it was just absolutely important. If I wanted to continue to do what I'm doing, being who I am, and as I said, I had so much going on, I didn't want to drop my uni stuff. It was about engaging with the support networks that I had around me.

You know, my academic advisor was completely supportive. He gave me some extensions to allow me to actually find time to do all my study. With work, I had a really good network around me there. 

My support network from home, my parents would come down, and one of my sisters would come down frequently to either look after my son when I had treatment. 

The gym sessions to me is that, that's again, as you know, through, as an athlete, gym is your identity as well because it's almost like you're solace. 

You go there because it's not just, um, it's, it's not just the, the lifting of weights, it's almost like, uh, it's my version of cheers, you know, everyone knows your name, you get in there, you get amongst the people that are there. You're enjoying a session at the same time. You happen to happen to be getting gains from it. 


I like that.

Ilsa Wakeling

So, you know, it's, it's benefit that come from it, but, um, you know, I really, wanted to still be who I am, but I had to do everything in moderation. I had to consider what was being put in my body. I had to consider what type of products I was using on my skin. So there was a hell of a lot of things that I had to consider. 

But to me, this was the best way that I could work on me and the best opportunity that I could give myself to succeed in it. So absolutely disciplined. But again, probably came from my early days in Italy where you had to understand the importance of discipline, the professionalism and commitment.

Chloe Dalton

Before we hit record, I kind of got a rundown of all of your jobs and the career progression that you've had with Victoria Police. So some of them you started as in uniform policing, then there was the Critical Incident Response Team or CIRT. I think is that if I got that acronym right? 

Ilsa Wakeling

That's it, correct? You got it well.

Chloe Dalton

Yep. A Sergeant, a Senior Sergeant with the public order response team. You've worked with the Assistant Commissioner in part of Human Resources Command, also acting superintendent, currently an acting superintendent, have I got that right?

Ilsa Wakeling

Yes, that's right.

Currently. And then heading back to CIRT to be an inspector with CIRT, is that correct? 

Ilsa Wakeling

 That is correct. Well done. Thank you.

Chloe Dalton

Yes, I got it right. Is there a highlight when you reflect on your career so far with Vic Police?

Ilsa Wakeling

I think there's probably a lot of highlights in your policing career. I guess the way that I look at it is probably what has, what's my idea of success. And so I would say I've had a lot of disasters throughout my career. I've lost in appeals where I've got a job and then someone appealed me and I've lost it.

But to me, a highlight is when you see something succeed. Not necessarily a moment in time, but it might be something that takes time to actually succeed. I'd probably say one of my highlights currently is in the role that I'm currently sitting in. I was put into the role in May last year, and my commander at the time informed me that I could own the position.

I'm now in a position where I feel that we have progressed in the work that we're doing. I feel that the people have that psychological safety in the environment that they're in, that they're comfortable to speak up in any meeting. 

They're comfortable to come and see me about whatever they need to speak to me about, whether that's personal, whether that's work, whatever the circumstances are. And I feel that I've created that environment that people want and have a desire to actually come into work. 

And I know that it has a couple of different elements. It has the element of we need to get this done, so need to put our heads down and get this work done, but also has an element of fun and enjoyment when we're in the workplace. 

So I've developed who I am in the terms of being a leader in the terms of my vulnerabilities. I consistently tell my team, you know, that I do still have imposter syndrome and I am a perfectionist and I am working through that. So I'm happy to display that kind of vulnerability.

But in all honesty, to me, that is a highlight because I've been able to see in a short period of time that I've been there, 10 or 11 months, that through that style of leadership and me developing what that leadership is, which I believe is transformational, I'm certainly not autocratic unless it's time critical, but it has highlighted to me the importance of putting our people first. 

It's highlighted the importance of people feeling valued and that's really rewarding from my perspective. Receiving really beautiful cards and “thank yous” from my staff as I'm about to move out of there and move on to my next journey at CIRT. 

It warms my heart knowing that while we're all still working on ourselves in who our true authentic leadership styles are, I feel like there's been some really good wins that I've been really, you know humbled about.


You're about to, as you said, you're about to head back to that CIRT, the Critical Incident Response Team, and that from what I understand involves negotiations and working in sieges. Can you kind of give us a bit of insight into what that actually looks like as a police officer?

Ilsa Wakeling

As a police officer. So, well, when I was at CIRT, because I probably couldn't give you exactly what it's like right now. And I have no doubt that it's changed in the last nine years, but when I was there, it was about sieges, suicide intervention, barricades, edge weapons, and those higher end jobs. 

They have developed a little bit more where they've got a tasked ops, which basically means they do task operations of incidents that might be happening, and they can work with other units within Victoria Police to execute, certain, might be a warrant for example. 

The negotiation side of it, although again has developed and changed since the time that I've been there, they've got some brilliant leaders there that really lead the way in the terms of how important and how pivotal a negotiation can be.

What I always found was going into a place like CIRT and being a negotiator myself, I felt that I became better at deescalating situations. Once I became a negotiator and used, I used options like police tactical options less because I was a negotiator than what I ever did prior to being negotiator. 

So the skillsets that you actually develop in those areas are just brilliant. They're brilliant. And I've just been hearing a few conversations that a couple of the staff have been having in relation to how important it is.

The challenge of using a negotiation skillset in your own family is always going to be hard because I try and use negotiation techniques on my son and it never works. Which is, I don't know whether he's got a better skillset than me or whether he's just learnt well. 

But the job that they do is essentially was created because there was a stop gap between uniform police and the SOG. And that's where CERT was initially developed.

And so the work that they're doing has morphed quite substantially, especially since I've been there. It's a great environment. You've got some really great people in there. 

The skill sets that they develop in there, I found coming out of CIRT and moving into uniform policing again, you've got a different mindset and it's definitely set on that safety aspect, like how do I position my people to make sure that they're safe, but get the desired result at the end. So it has got that enhanced level of thinking, critical thinking. 

I think it will be really beneficial for anyone that's at CIRT when they're ready to move on in their careers. Being able to use the skill sets that they've got there and how valuable it will be in educating our younger members that have just come through the academy and on a divisional van.

But realistically, it's a role that I think is absolutely essential in Victoria Police. It's one that will continue enhancing the diversity that you get within the unit. 

Close Personal Protection is another example where you work with dignitaries and VIPs that come to Victoria and protect them. 

You work alongside their protection units. So you might work alongside Secret Services from America, like those kinds of things and getting insights, networking and developing ways of doing things that's best practice. It's a very exciting place.

And they've got some really great members there that I think are leading us from the front. So I'm, I'm really excited.


You touched on the special moment when you represented Australia again in softball and having your son by your side. I've heard you speak about your story of returning from maternity leave coming back to work. 

Can you give us a bit of insight about what that was like and your first day back on the job?

Ilsa Wakeling

Yes. So it was a bit of a challenge to be honest, because I only took five months off in maternity leave and I did have a caesarean. So it was about how do I set myself up to succeed again? 

How do I have that discipline to be able to get myself back into the shape that I was in prior to being pregnant and being able to prove that this is not a hindrance or it's just a blip in my career and that I can come back and I can still do the job that I was doing.

Um, so, um, so leading into the question you're asking, um, I was fortunate at the time to have a really great trainer. And, um, so he helped me through all that physical side of things, um, to build the strength and, um, be able to do what I was doing prior to being pregnant.

Um, so I could do all of my qualifications and pass all my fitness quals without issue, which was fantastic. Um, the first day, the first day that I came back, I walk in the office and we've got a board in the office where it would tell you what role you're doing for the day, because it could vary. And on that day, I saw that I was the lead negotiator. 

And in my head, I sort of thought, been off for a few months. I probably should just warm myself into this. And to be honest, looking back and reflecting on that as probably me sitting back going, I just want to take the easy road in. 

So nothing wrong with being thrown in the deep end. And this is probably an example of why. But I remember, um, wanting to actually be removed from the lead negotiator role and wasn't able to do so. So I took on the role, no worries. Within half an hour of the shift, a job came up and it was a siege. 

Uh, so we attended the siege. It went for nine hours. Um, it was one where when we first arrived, the male had a firearm. So he's basically scoured his fence, sitting on top of his fence and pointed the firearm at me.

Instead of me you know, freaky out or anything. I obviously did what our normal tactics would be. And you just take cover and then you reposition yourself and you then start engaging again as a negotiator.

By the end of the job, I'd moved around to the front of the address and had been negotiating face to face with him. And we ended up getting him out of the address. We made the safe arrest, nil injuries. 

And it wasn't until I got in the car at the end of my shift to go home that I actually reflected on it and realized, I've got a five month old at home and I've just had an offender point of firearm at me. 

And it probably took me back a little bit to realize, you know, I'm in my mid thirties at this stage. Should I be starting to look at what career development I have? And it really did push me in the direction of going, okay, I actually want to start looking at promotion. And there's a whole team here of about 180 at the time that can do this job. 

And there's a whole heap of people that can do negotiation. I think it's time for me to step out of this role and start moving on to the next step, which is my provisional pathway. And therefore became a Sergeant, and back in the uniform.


Yeah, wow, it's quite an incredible story. I'd love to kind of wrap up this chat that I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about you and kind of what you've learned about yourself throughout this process. 

What do you think could be done better for, I guess women across the board returning from pregnancy into those work roles, whether it's even looking at as elite athletes or potentially into the workforce, was there anything you think that can be done better to support women?

Ilsa Wakeling

I think sometimes it's hard. It's funny, I just had a conversation today with one of our members who has gone off on maternity leave and she's still doing her two or three days a week where she'll come back into the office to probably invigorate her, but at the same time keep her mind in the game, so to speak.

I think it probably identified to me because the experiences that she had during pregnancy were exactly the same experiences as me. I was probably fortunate. I say fortunate because at the time I had flexibility at home.

 My husband could look after my son when I was at work and vice versa because he had more afternoon, evening work that he was doing. So we had flexibility at home. So I was fortunate in that situation. Whereas the staff member that I spoke to today, doesn't have that flexibility. 

So, you know, I think the awareness of understanding the flexible workplace arrangements, the awareness of understanding how we can integrate them back into the office, so it's not such a long period, I think it's always quite daunting when you've been off for a period of time. 

And regardless of whether it's maternity or whether it's a physical injury, a mental health injury, that return to the workplace is quite challenging when it does become a longer period. And I know that Victoria Police are working through how we do our return to work with people and try to get them to return sooner rather than later, more for their own mindset. 

But I think that engagement, the initial engagement, and it's really hard as a manager to always be on top of your game with it, but I think what we do need to consider is how do we implement processes where we've constantly got welfare people that can reach out to these people to ensure that they don't feel they're on their own, to make sure that we've got meaningful work when they return. 

And it does depend on what type of return they do. If they're at full duties, if they're at partial duties, if they're requiring flexible workplace arrangements, but understanding what they need and then demonstrating to them that it's not just said, but it's actually going to be implemented and assisted through that process. 

So I think the doing of it is essential. And I know that as a manager, it becomes a lot when you've got a number of people for different reasons being off trying to manage all of that. But putting the person first, I think, is always going to set us up for success.

Chloe Dalton

Yeah, I love that. I think it's such great insight. Thank you so much for your time today, Ilsa. I've absolutely loved getting to know more about you and your story, and I think it's really quite amazing the way you've kind of really been quite reflective, I think, throughout your career as an athlete and with Victoria Police as well. 

It sounds like you're constantly learning and growing and evolving, and I've absolutely loved the chance to chat to you today, so thank you so much for your time.

Ilsa Wakeling

Thank you for the opportunity Chloe. I've enjoyed it. And I did listen to a couple of your podcasts. It was really good. 


Oh, thank you very much.

Ilsa Wakeling

So I've enjoyed, I've enjoyed having a listen, you know, putting it on. And I find myself, I listened to a lot of podcasts anyway, but at the same time, this one, because it hits home, um, it's there's, you know, the sporting aspect of it, there's the policing aspect of it and hearing people that you don't actually know a lot of someone's background.

And so this has been a great opportunity to um, you know, actually dive into someone's, um, personal story that just inspires you, doesn't it? So thank you for inspiring me. 

Chloe Dalton

Oh, I really appreciate that. Thank you so much.

Ilsa Wakeling

No worries. Thanks, Chloe.

Outro: Chloe Dalton

Thanks so much for listening. 

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