Kevin Sheedy and Cathy Freeman inspire indigenous youngsters from around Australia.

Sporting Stars Inspire Indigenous Youngsters

By Michael Rogers

Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman urged some of the nation's most promising indigenous footballers to make the most of their opportunities at the Qantas AFL KickStart Camp held last month in Sydney.

Fifty boys aged 14 and 15 spent a morning touring a Qantas A380 at Sydney Airport with Freeman, GWS coach Kevin Sheedy and former Sydney Swan Michael O'Loughlin as part of the week-long camp.

Freeman said there had been nothing like the KickStart camp when she was a young athlete to help her become accustomed to life as an elite athlete. She said it was magnificent to be a part of the program.

"There's all of this untapped potential right there in front of us and to be a part of it is a privilege and an honour," she said.

"[I told them] just to make the most of the opportunity, to grab it with both hands andů give themselves a chance and make the most of the support that is right there in front of them."

Having enjoyed a stellar career with the Sydney Swans, O'Loughlin said his work as the League's engagement and talent co-ordinator afforded him the chance to give something back to indigenous communities.

"We all know that indigenous people love their sport. We had Kevin Sheedy here and when Cathy walked through the door, all the boys' jaws dropped to the ground," he said.

"To see an absolute superstar and an inspiration to all our people here to have a quick word to them, they couldn't believe it.

"We've done our bit, we've had our turn in the spotlight. Now it's these guys' turn."

O'Loughlin said the camp aimed to give the boys a glimpse of life at the elite level, while offering them some memorable experiences and promoting their personal development.

"We try to treat the week as an AFL club would. There's a lot of training, a lot of meetings," he said."We're trying to drum into them what it takes to become an elite player and they're getting there. They've got that little taste of it and they have obviously got another level to go to but they've got a taste."

While in Sydney, the boys visited the Sydney Cricket Ground and watched the Swans train and met indigenous stars Adam Goodes and Lewis Jetta. They also played in a curtain-raiser at the SCG before round 21's clash between the Swans and the Western Bulldogs.

Of the 50 boys involved in the KickStart camp, 25 will be selected to tour internationally in 2011 as part of the Flying Boomerangs squad and take part in an indigenous leadership course.

"It's a pretty elite program and these guys are very lucky to be in it," O'Loughlin said. "Guys who have been before them have done an outstanding job so these guys have got a responsibility and they know that. Without this, what would they be doing? I don't know."

Qantas AFL Kickstart LogoThe Qantas AFL KickStart program uses Australian football as a vehicle to promote healthy lifestyles in indigenous communities. The program works with state governments to tailor messages for different regions and communities and it involves children, teenagers, adults, coaches, umpires, administrators and women.

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