After dominating the pool at the Tokyo Olympics this year, homegrown champion Emma McKeon returned to find her city of Wollongong in lockdown and the state battling another crisis wrought by COVID-19.
But vaccination provides the path out, which is why Emma has lent her support to #vaxtheillawarra, a new campaign encouraging the region's residents to get their COVID shot in a bid to get at least 80 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.
"When I came home from Tokyo and saw everyone in lockdown and could see the impact that it's having on the community and all the businesses and people just personally as well, so I wanted to offer whatever support I could to the campaign, and encourage everyone to go out and get vaccinated when they can so that we can return back to normal life as quickly as possible," Emma said.
She was vaccinated before she travelled to Tokyo to compete in the Olympics, which she said gave her peace of mind.
"Obviously I was social distancing and wearing a mask and all that stuff, and doing everything I could, but being vaccinated made me feel a lot more comfortable over there, so I could just focus on what I wanted to focus on and enjoy myself as well," she said.
Emma has an interest in public health, having recently finished her university studies in health promotion and public health nutrition.
She said vaccination was "very important."
"Just so we can protect each other and protect ourselves... the quicker that we can get to that 80 per cent, the quicker we can get out, live normal lives, and everyone can get back on track with what they're doing and what they're working towards, and businesses can reopen," Emma said.
She urged people think about the freedoms and peace of mind they could enjoy once the community reached a high level of vaccination, and book their own shots.
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong, Professor Patricia Davidson, joins Emma in her plea to the region's residents.
Professor Davidson, who has spent her career in nursing and healthcare, spent much of the pandemic in the United States and saw the pain and suffering COVID can wreak.
She also knows how vaccines have curbed other deadly diseases, such as polio, and describes the COVID shot as a lifeline.
"I think, particularly in Australia, we've kind of been protected against these severe illnesses for a long period of time, because of the value of immunisation for things such as diphtheria and measles and mumps, and even now against HPV and hep-C," Professor Davidson said.
"Medicine has so many advances, and I'm just so incredibly grateful to science that we have a vaccine that can help us achieve herd immunity.
"Because I can tell you at the beginning of the pandemic in the US, it was terrifying, and the thought that many more people would have died if we didn't have this vaccine, is a very sobering thought."
Another community leader behind the drive is Dr Bruce Ashford, surgeon and co-chair of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District's COVID taskforce.
He said he wanted to see people suffering less severe illness from COVID.
"Secondly, I would like everything to get back to normal as quickly as possible, and I know that on just about every level that we consider, whether it be ICU beds, hospital activity, elective surgery, but also business activity in the community, travel, seeing friends, going out to dinner - I think that's our best delivery mechanism for getting back to normal things, is to get a heavily vaccinated community," Dr Ashford said.
Having more people vaccinated would lighten the load on the health system too, he said, and protect the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers from sickness.
"Not only are they working hard, they've been in this constant state of vigilance really, for a couple of years now - and that's on top of them already having pretty stressful jobs," he said.
"So the idea of a heavily vaccinated community is a great reassurance."
Dr Ashford acknowledged there had been frustrations around supply, but these would ease soon and he encouraged people to continue trying to make a booking.
For those hesitant to receive the jab, Dr Ashford said the known effects of COVID outweighed any misgivings about the vaccine, noting that even young people were getting very ill and even dying.
"I wouldn't want that for anyone, and I certainly wouldn't want to feel like we haven't encouraged people as much as possible to avoid watching one of their loved ones suffering and dying from COVID, when we know we've got a vaccine that protects us from that," he said.
Professor Davidson said it was normal to feel a little apprehensive, but urged people to talk to their health providers and consider the many others who had received the vaccine safely.
"The other thing about immunisation is it's not just about you, it's about our role in society, it's protecting our family, our friends and our children," she said.