Zali Steggall OAM MP has awarded sports grants to aspiring young athletes.

In a ceremony held at Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club on Thursday, 06 May, Federal Member for Warringah Zali Steggall awarded 13 young athletes grants to assist them compete at an elite level.

Zali Steggall OAM

Zali Steggall

Ms Steggall spoke frankly about her own experience as a former Olympian and the sacrifices it took from parents and the young athletes themselves to compete at an elite level.

“Having ambitions and dreams is so important. I first decided I wanted to go to the Olympic Games when I was thirteen. It wasn’t a precise dream or what it would entail or how realistic it was. I’d been ski racing since I was four and I was a highly competitive kid. I didn’t think about what the barriers were.

“From there, you have to build out your plan and break it down into the milestones you need to meet and the support you need. It was a long journey from that moment of realisation to actually getting there. I was lucky to make it to my first Winter Olympic Games when I was seventeen.

“Like many of you, I had that juggle when I was in school about deciding the time to do my homework and the time to do my training. I felt it was important the dedication and discipline I put into my sport I also had to put into my studies. One couldn’t come at the expense of the other.

“I was in Year 12 preparing for my HSC when my parents came to me and said the next Winter Olympic Games were the next February in France, close to where I spent a lot of time. They told me there were two spots for winter alpine skiing and I wanted a chance at one, I had to pull out of school and train full-time.

“It is the kind of commitment you have to make if you want to be successful, if you want to pursue your dreams. You have to accept there is a time and place for everything. One doesn’t have to be done at the expense [of the other] but there are times you can prioritise. I did pull out of school and went down and lived in a caravan and train full-time. There were days I had to hitchhike up the mountain as I was too young to have a driver licence.

“I headed over there [to France] and I did qualify for those Olympic Games. That was the beginning of the journey of being overseas for long periods of time, being isolated, often lonely, having to deal with the outcomes. You lose more than you win. It’s on the days that don’t go to plan, where you made a mistake, or you were unlucky, that you learn most about your capacity.

“All that came at great cost. My parents took out a second mortgage in those early years because winter sports were not funded. We did not have much in the way of financial support and I had to employ my coaches. For the 1994 Winter Olympics Games, I had to pay for the excess luggage to take my skis from Europe to Norway.

“These grants go a tiny way towards some of that cost of travelling, competing and pursuing your dreams,” said Ms Steggall.

Elizabeth McMillen

Among those awarded a grant was 17-year-old race walker Elizabeth McMillen (image above, middle) who was at the awards ceremony with her mother Cathy (left) and sister Abby (right). The grant Elizabeth received helped to cover the cost of airfares to the last national titles in Perth.

“I’ve been doing it [Race Walking] since I was eight. I just competed at the Australian National Championships and came first, that was my third national title. I’m doing 5km at the moment, but next year I’ll move into the under-20s and do 10km,” said Elizabeth.

Elizabeth’s mother Cathy said her daughter was well-suited to the longer distance races, with Elizabeth eyeing a potential 30km race at the 2024 Olympic Games.

Nik Pender and Alexander McClean

Also receiving grants were friends and rowers Nik Pender (image above, left) and Alexander McClean (right). They both received a grant to compete at the National Championships in Tasmania.

“I have been selected in the Australian under-23 team. The squad I’m in is four guys rowing with one oar each. There are two different classes, sculling and sweeping. I’m a sweeper, I use one oar as opposed to two. We both started rowing through school,” said Alexander.

“I’m in the NSW team,” said Nik. “The first real milestone was when we both made the Australian under-19 team in 2019. That was the first time we did anything big with the sport. At the time, I was 16 and Alex was 17. Unfortunately, COVID hit and it threw a spanner in the works, but now we get to reboot and go again.”

The list of those receiving grants at the ceremony:

  • Maddie Davis for Swimming
  • Dylan King for Surf Life Saving
  • Finlay Miller for Surf Life Saving
  • Luca Stein for Surf Life Saving
  • Alexander McClean for Rowing
  • Nik Pender for Rowing
  • Tom Pfafflin for Rowing
  • Katja Yorke for Rowing
  • Adam Fejes for Volleyball
  • Stefanie Fejes for Volleyball
  • Jett Rocker-Graham for Volleyball
  • Elizabeth McMillen for Athletics
  • Sybella Warton for Athletics

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate