Olympic swimming great Cate Campbell was inspired to rebuild her career after 'choking' at the Olympics by heartwarming letters from two young sisters.
Campbell, 29, was the world record holder ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, and was an overwhelming favourite to win the 50m and 100m freestyle.
However, in what she now describes as 'the biggest choke in Olympic history', her dreams of gold were dashed after she faltered on the blocks, coming in sixth.
From their NSW Central Coast home, sisters Elin, 10, and Nele Schulz, 13, watched as their hero flailed, finishing with a time an entire second outside her world mark.
Cate Campbell, 29, (pictured) has revealed how letters from NSW sisters gave her confidence to return to swimming after she choked at the 2016 Rio Olympics
Campbell, 29, was already a world record holder when she entered the 2016 Rio Olympics, and was an overwhelming favourite to win the 50 and 100 metre freestyle
In an interview with Seven, where Campbell was interviewed alongside her mum and sister, she admitted tearily 'I am overwhelmed with embarrassment and shame'.
On her return home, Campbell received tens of thousands of messages on social media, some calling her a waste of taxpayer money and a disappointment.
'It was everywhere, and I couldn't get away from it, the good and the bad', she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
She described the feeling of someone congratulating her on her efforts as dragging fingernails down a chalkboard.
Elin and Nele decided they would reach out to Campbell too, but instead to remind the swimmer she was more than just her performance in the pool.
The athlete's dreams of gold were dashed after she faltered on the blocks, coming in sixth with a time an entire second outside her world mark
'I was sad and felt sorry for you but I didn't in the least feel disappointed', 10-year-old Elin wrote to the Aussie swimmer
The pair were encouraged by their parents Jens and Antje, who suggested the girls send Campbell a hand-written letter, rather than an email.
It was these heartfelt notes that ended up on the athletes kitchen table almost five years ago, that would restore Campbell's confidence in her ability to win.
'I was sad and felt sorry for you but I didn't in the least feel disappointed', Elin wrote in the letter.
'I just want to assure you I still love you. If you think you have to go to Tokyo and win a medal to prove yourself, please don't feel that way.
'For me you have already proven to be an amazing athlete.'
Campbell credits the girls' touching letter with her decision to compete in another Olympic games, this time in Tokyo
'Everything you've done and said has really helped me to believe it could come true. I'd like to thank you for that', 13-year-old Nele wrote
Nele echoed her younger sister's sentiments, urging the athlete not to be so hard on herself for what transpired at the Rio Olympics.
'Everything you've done and said has really helped me to believe it could come true,' she wrote.
'I'd like to thank you for that.'
The sweet messages had a profound impact on the vulnerable Campbell, who described a tight knot in her stomach loosening and a heavy burden lifting.
She recalls reading the girls' letters - who she said saw her for who she was - and wanting to respond to them, but not knowing how.
'They acknowledged I was hurting but despite that, there was a lot of good in what I'd done and who I am', she said.
Campbell replied to the Aussie fangirls, who remember discovering the swimmer's response in their mailbox before school one morning.
'They acknowledged I was hurting but despite that, there was a lot of good in what I'd done and who I am', Cate said of the letters, (right) pictured with teammates at the 2016 Rio Olympics
Cate Campbell is currently competing in the Olympic trials in Adelaide, where she hopes to qualify for her fourth Games. Pictured at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games
However, it would take five years for the athlete to thank the girls in person, meeting up with Elin, now 15, and Nele, 18, who participated on video chat from overseas.
From Saturday, the talented swimmer will compete in the Olympic trials in Adelaide, where she hopes to qualify for her fourth Games.
Campbell credits the girls' touching letter for reigniting her passion to compete, this time in Tokyo.
The athlete said she was happy she finally got to meet the young women, and grateful she responded to their heartfelt letter all those years ago.
'I think for all of us, a physical letter reached across the great divide more than anything digitally ever could', she said.