As the country’s best young athletes came together in Sydney for the National Athletics Championships, one young South Sudanese girl from Melbourne enthusiastically traded state and territory badges with her fellow competitors. Earlier in the year, Jennifer travelled to Canberra for the national Cross Country Championships, and she hopes to compete in more in the future. For many young people, the joy of competing at national level must be constantly weighed up against the challenge of securing funds to finance the frequent interstate travel required. The struggle is typical amongst families from migrant and refugee backgrounds.
Jennifer Audy, aged 10, has been training with the Casey Little Athletic Centre since 2014. She enjoys taking part in the 800 metres, 1500 metres and Cross Country racing events. Early in 2016, Jennifer competed at the state championships in all three of these events and qualified for the National Competitions in Canberra and Sydney.
Jennifer talks enthusiastically about her experience at the National Competitions, sharing that the most exciting aspect for her was meeting other athletes from around Australia, including a new friend named Jessica.
According to Jennifer, when participating at a state level, the bar is raised. “The Nationals’ competitions are really hard, it’s harder to win,” she says.
Project worker Lisa Occhietti notes that competing has had a positive impact on the young athlete. “Jennifer’s participation in Nationals’ competitions has given her the opportunity not only to compete at an elite level but to enrich her educationally, culturally and socially,” she says.
Jennifer’s mother is her inspiration, and she is very grateful to her for the sacrifices she has made to enable Jennifer to train, and the faith she has shown. In order to get her to Little Athletics for the weekly training session, Jennifer’s mother regularly has to give up work opportunities. Her mother, along with the rest of the family, is doing what they can to raise the funds required for regular travel and registration fees. This is a common struggle for families from new and emerging communities pursuing elite pathways for their children.
Jennifer aspires to follow in the footsteps of her father, an accomplished runner and the first person from South Sudan to compete in the Stawell Gift. When talking about running, happiness beams from Jennifer’s face. When asked what her favourite thing about running is, she wastes no time in answering: “winning!” Considering the hard work going on behind the scenes to help Jennifer follow her love of running, juggling schedules and budgets, the athlete’s simple motto, “never give up,” is somewhat fitting.
Special thanks to Chobani Australia, the Southern Migrant & Refugee Centre and St Anthony’s Noble Park Primary School for supporting Jennifer and for encouraging social inclusion of new and emerging communities through sport.