TO most, she is just Karen Higgison.
Or either the mother of former Nowra-Culburra surf lifesaving star Kirsty Higgison.
But long before she met her now husband Mark and had her girls Kirsty and Ellie, Karen Phillips made her own waves in the sporting field.
Philips first began her journey in the water at the Nowra pool, with her two younger brothers Glenn and Andrew - when she was five years of age
"Dad wanted us to be able to swim from a young age, so he took my brothers and I down to be taught by coach Barbara Vaughan," Higgison said.
"It was then that Barbara saw something in my swimming ability and encouraged me to join the swim club."
Despite this, Phillips was a little reluctant to join the swim club at first before eventually getting involved a number of years later - where she hit the water every Friday night.
Two years later, she made a school relay team, which saw her ramp up her training sessions to three night a week at Laurie Whittaker's backyard pool - which was only 12.5m.
This was followed by her making a country championships meet in Temora, in the stroke of backstroke.
"Growing up, I was pretty good at all strokes, except breaststroke but backstroke definitely stood out the most during the early years," she said.
"Although I didn't make any finals, it was still a fun trip."
Following this meet, the then Nowra High School student began training in the mornings too with Julie Barnard - but only in the summer.
As she was then resigned to go back to the small inside waterways pool in winter.
"It was very hard to train in that small 12.5 metre pool, as you pretty much hit the wall when you dived in," she said.
This all led to what Karen called the 'turning point' in her career, at the country championships in Leeton.
"At Leeton, I was in every single event possible and while I was there, the head coach from the Australian Institute of Sport Bill Sweetnam (who she rates as the most influential coach of her career alongside Dick Cain), was scouting potential athletes," she said.
"It was at this time that he offered me a scholarship to come and train in Canberra with the AIS - which had only just opened in 1981.
"I declined though, as I thought I was too young - seeing me head back to Nowra."
But as the days gradually grew shorter and the morning colder, Phillips made one of the biggest decisions of her life.
"As I was getting taller and stronger, I didn't really want to go back into that small indoor pool," she said.
"So I had to either give up all together or make the move to Canberra - with me obviously choosing the latter option."
So after getting her driver's licence on the Thursday, after just turning 17, Phillips moved to Canberra two days later.
In Canberra, she balanced training morning and night, as well as school part-time, which Phillips said "nearly killed her."
"All the swimmers at the AIS were my idols and were unbelievable - I was so far behind in the training, as I had only been a couple of mornings a week in Nowra," she said.
"At first, I was struggling to just make time cycles and it was hard to catch up but I got through it and stayed there until summer, as the AIS closed down over Christmas.
"This is when my swimming career really took off, as shown by me making my first Aussie team, for the Youth Olympics in Japan."
Upon her arrival back to the Shoalhaven, she started training with Dick Cain at the Bomaderry pool every morning and afternoon.
"I can remember him saying my butterfly was really improving and there was no females in Australia at the time that were doing 200m, so he encouraged me to have a crack at that," she said.
"Before that, I don't think I'd ever swam a 200m butterfly race."
This led to her claiming numerous gold medals at the NSW state titles, in butterfly backstroke and the medleys.
"After those medals, Dick advised me I had a really good chance at making the Olympic team that year - which hadn't really been on my radar until then," she said.
Cain was right, as Phillips starred at the Australian titles in Brisbane, which doubled as the trial for the Olympic team.
She finished second in the 200m butterfly behind Jeannette Tippet and swam under the qualifying time (2.14:00), which were both prerequisites.
The most impressive thing about her performance was that she shaved 10 seconds of her personal best time.
Prior to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, 17-year-old Phillips and her team had training camps in New Zealand and Sanford University in San Francisco, to help acclimatise to the United States summer conditions.
The team then headed south to Los Angeles and set up camp in the "unbelievable" athletes' village.
"Looking back on it all, I was very blasé about the whole village - it was such a great atmosphere and unlike anything I've ever experience," she said.
"As on of the younger athletes on the team, some of the older swimmers, such as Michelle Pearson, took me under their wings."
Before she even hit the water, Phillips had a big decision to make - to attend the opening ceremony or not, as her 400m medley event was on the first day of the program.
"Everyone had the option to attend the opening ceremony or not but of course I said yes," she said.
"It was such a great experience - when we walked into the colosseum, I've never seen so many people in one spot at one time."
After a solid performance in the medley, which saw her just miss out on the final, Phillips was the second fastest qualifier for 200m butterfly final.
"My goal going into the games was to make a final," she said.
"Going into the final, after swimming another personal best in the morning's heat, I was quite nervous and it was a surreal feeling - but I knew once I got in the water, I was confidence in the way I was swimming."
In the final, even though she swam another personal best and Commonwealth record (2.10:56), it wasn't quick enough to knock off the then world record holder Mary T. Meagher from the United States - seeing Phillips claim the silver medal.
"The medal proved that me going out of my comfort zone by leaving home and moving to Canberra and all those tears and hard work was all worth it," she said.
"It took a while for it to sink in that I, a little person from Nowra, was actually second best in the world in that event - it was easily the pinnacle of my career."
Later that year, Phillips was named the inaugural winner of the AIS Athlete of the Year in 1983-84, before she claimed her first Australian title - leading to her winning another silver medal in the 200m butterfly, this time at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.
"As well as winning another silver, I won a bronze in the medley relay, where I swam 100m butterfly," she said.
Despite all this success all before she turned 21, Phillips decided to step away from the pool.
"I returned to Nowra that following summer but at that stage, Dick had moved to Sydney to coach and I wasn't prepared to travel up there to train," she said.
"So I went to Wollongong to train with Ron McKeon, who I trained with in Canberra, but it was at this time that I really started to lose interest.
"I was ready to move onto a normal life."
After stepping away from the sport, marrying Mark Higgison and having her two daughters, Karen returned to the water close to 20 years later.
"As we lived at Culburra Beach and were heavily involved in the surf club, I decided to try and tick my bronze medallion off the bucket list," she said.
"So I restarted swim training but I hated it at first, because I was just doing laps on my own - it was boring.
"But as Kirsty was doing swim classes at the time time, I asked if I could jump in with their squad and thankfully they allowed me to."
After gaining her bronze, Karen then competed in a number of ocean swims, including Nowra-Culburra SLSC's own Tilbury Classic.
It was at this time that Kirsty's swim coach asked Karen "why she was training" and encouraged her to compete at the World Masters Games in Sydney.
"It was at this time my career had come full circle, as I was back swimming with clubs in the still water," she said.
Karen didn't miss a beat upon her return, so much so, she broke a number of Australian records in the 40-44 women's category at the NSW Masters Shortcourse Championships, including two previous held by three-time Olympic gold medallist Shane Gould.
She then claimed four gold medals, in 200m and 400m medleys and 100 and 200m butterfly, at the Masters Games.
"Even though I was enjoying being back in the water, the frustrating thing with swimmers is that they are never as quick as they were when they were younger," she said.
"I felt good in the regard to that the fact I was improving my times but that feel of the water you lose a little bit when your'e older."
Karen went on to win two gold and two silver medals at the NSW Surf Championships and silver at the national championship.
Karen and her family then decided to move to Queensland, where she continued swimming with the Mooloolaba ironperson squad, with daughter Kirsty - who at this time was breaking into the Nutri-Grain series.
But a bulging disk in her neck, not related to swimming, forced her out of the pool once again and she hasn't been back competitively since.
Karen and her husband Mark now enjoy living in the Sunshine Coast, which allows them to keep tabs on Kirsty's ironperson career.
"When I was growing up, I could dedicate most of my time to swimming, but Kirsty has to balance university, work and training into her schedule," she said.
"She's got the love of the water as well but hers is more like the ocean, which she gets from her father.
"It's so great to see her passionate about her sport and chase her dreams like I did."