Sixteen-year-old Harry Sharp has a dream – he wants to be an elite athlete.
Some would argue the Ballarat teenager has already reached that status, with three national steeplechase titles already under his belt.
But it’s not that simple - Harry is also a prodigiously talented footballer and he’s not quite sure which way to go.
That’s where the FedUni WestVic Academy of Sport and the Victorian Institute of Sport come in.
Harry is already being mentored and supported by the regional academy in Ballarat, and in July he was among 41 young athletes from regional Victoria invited to attend the institute to hear from the best about what it takes to reach the next level.
“What I decide to do is going to depend on the people around me, and the guidance I get from the academy and institute,” said Harry.
Caption(l-r) Ballarat Academy Executive Officer Corey Saitta, VIS Performance Manager Bill Tait, and 16 Harry Sharp inspect the VIS athletics track.
“The VIS is an amazing place – the setup’s so professional, and you can get support on anything from skills to nutrition to psychology.”
The VIS receives Victorian Government funding of $6.7 million a year so our athletes can perform at their best on the world stage.
The 41 athletes are currently being supported and nurtured at six Victorian Regional Academies of Sport (VRAS) in Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Mildura, Traralgon and Warrnambool.
The academies provide pathways for aspiring athletes to reach state and national level through development programs.
The regional academies are really kicking goals, with athletes like Harry coming out of Ballarat, number one ranked Australian junior golfer Mitchell Crabbe coming out of the Barwon Academy, and 15-year-old basketball prodigy Piper Dunlop from the Bendigo Academy.
In fact, our regional athletes are punching above their weight, with around one in four of the 260 senior athletes supported by the VIS calling regional Victoria home.
Graham Gordon is Executive Officer of the Bendigo academy and said that success is no surprise to him.
“It’s not just about raw talent,” he said. Regional kids really have to be self-driven – it’s harder for them to participate with all the travel and they need family behind them. They really need the endeavour, the motivation and the focus if they want to succeed.”
Graham said the regional academies play a vital role in nurturing young talent, while enabling kids to stay in their families and communities as long as possible.
At the VIS the visiting athletes heard what it takes to be the best from a panel of three outstanding Victorian athletes: three-time Paralympian skier Mitch Gourley from Geelong, new Vixens senior recruit Lara Dunkley from Sale, and world number three amateur golfer David Michelluzi from Cranbourne.
David said the VIS had a world-renowned golfing program, but it was much more than that.
“I’m on the road for up to 12 weeks at a time. The VIS teaches you about nutrition, psychology, and about looking after yourself physically and mentally.
David is on the verge of turning pro and is looking forward to playing in the Australian Open next year.
Lara grew up in Sale and agrees that making it to the top in a regional town involves a lot of sacrifice and travel, but she was always incredibly focused.
The VIS amazed her with its facilities and the education on nutrition, science and psychology, but it’s not all about success.
“A big part of the VIS is helping you understand you need balance in life,” she said. “You always need a plan B.”
Mitch hails from Geelong and says the VIS has been instrumental in his longevity.
“It’s been one of the main constants in my life for 15 years,” he said.
“Alongside fantastic training facilities, it’s the personal support - whatever challenges I’ve faced the VIS has been in my corner – like family.”
The visiting athletes also took part in sessions run by experts from the VIS on sports science, sports psychology and nutrition. It’s hoped today’s open day will help streamline the pathway for our future champion athletes to progress to the VIS.
Through the VRAS and VIS, the Victorian Government is ensuring our high-performance athletes and teams have the best facilities, resources, coaching and medical support to hone their development and skills so they can perform at their best on the world stage.
With only a year until the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games kick off in July, our Victorian athletes are in good shape for medals.