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UC appoints first Indigenous Athlete in Residence

Antony Perry

30 March 2017: She’s experienced the highs and lows of professional sport, but Olympic race walker Beki Smith says being named the University of Canberra’s first Indigenous Athlete in Residence is an honour in itself.

Mrs Smith, a Yuin woman, was today unveiled as the latest high-profile sportsperson to take on the unique role at the University.

The 30-year-old will work side by side with staff and students, giving them an opportunity to learn from her experiences as a professional athlete. The Olympian will be involved in projects embedded within a host of disciplines and across all faculties.

“It’s a really special honour to be taking on this role,” Mrs Smith, who made her Olympic debut in London in 2012, said. “As the first Indigenous athlete, it’s historic and I’m really proud to be here.

“It’s about closing the gap – that means a lot to me and it’s hard to not get emotional. Hopefully, I can pave the way for other Indigenous athletes to have opportunities like this.”

Dean of the Faculty of Health Professor Diane Gibson said the program, which is now in its third year, was a cross-university initiative developed by the Faculty of Health in 2014.

“The Athlete in Residence program is modelled on the University’s successful Writer in Residence program,” Professor Gibson said. “It aims to enrich staff and students’ experiences by giving them access to elite Australian sportsmen and sportswomen.”

The Athlete in Residence program is believed to be the only one of its kind in the world and is aimed at minority athletes. Female athletics star Melissa Breen and five-time Paralympian Richard Nicholson have previously held the role.

Mrs Smith said she was in awe of what her predecessors had achieved as athletes as well as during their time at the University.

“I want to inspire and motivate people to challenge themselves and achieve their goals,” she said.

“I’ve got big shoes to fill, following in Melissa and Richard’s footsteps, but I’m hoping I can put my own stamp on it and build a really strong relationship with UC and the staff and students.”

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Nick Klomp said the University was proud to provide these learning opportunities for staff and students.

“The University of Canberra is committed to developing its reputation as a leading tertiary sports institution and the Athlete in Residence program contributes to achieving that goal,” Professor Klomp said.

“This program helps the University develop relationships with external organisations and enhances our education, research and collaboration activities.”

Professor Klomp said Mrs Smith’s appointment also aligned with the University’s commitment to fostering the growth and development of Indigenous students.

“As an Indigenous athlete Beki will help highlight and broaden the University’s appreciation of the experiences and contribution of Indigenous people as well as their sporting achievements,” he said.

Mrs Smith will work most closely with staff and students involved in sporting disciplines. Fourth year Bachelor of Exercise Physiology and Rehabilitation student Najwa Allen said the program had been beneficial for her studies.

“I’ve been involved with the previous athletes and have really benefited from having them on campus,” Ms Allen said. “I did an assignment on Melissa Breen and have attended various lectures organised as part of the program.

“They’re so accessible, too. You run into them training in the gym and it’s a really motivating factor seeing and spending time with the sort of people I hope to be working with in the future.”

Mrs Smith will juggle the program with her training commitments. She is currently preparing for the IAAF World Championships in London later this year.

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