This summer in South Australia, there has been an abundance of elite women’s sport on show.
World Number One Ash Barty won the Adelaide International Tennis tournament in January and more international stars competed in both the Women’s Tour Down Under and the Women’s Golf Australian Open.
Australia’s women’s cricket team have been defending their T20 World Cup title – as have the Crows AFLW football side after they won the 2019 Premiership in front of 53,000 fans – while women have also been competing in basketball, soccer and beach volleyball in Adelaide.
While in 2020 it is wonderful to see women’s sport thriving, it hasn’t always been this way.
Only four years ago an AFLW competition didn’t exist and five years ago there was no Women’s Tour Down Under, while our cricketers used to have to juggle work with representing their country.
Women’s sport certainly has come a long way, but there is still work to be done.
Equality is the main aspect female athletes strive for – equal pay, equal media coverage, equal length of season and equal resources and facilities to what their male counterparts have.
But at local levels of sport, equality is starting to happen more and more in the way of opportunity.
That’s certainly the case at UniSA Sport, where there are equal opportunities for all athletes to join sporting clubs, represent UniSA at UniSport Nationals events and participate in on-campus sport.
And those opportunities are allowing UniSA female students to develop friendships, help others and empower their teammates to achieve their goals – even if others tell you, you can’t reach them.
Those are the driving forces of two strong women who have contributed significantly to UniSA Sport in the past few years.
To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, UniSA Sport spoke to two female athletes – Lillee Wakefield, an athletics and judo para-athlete and Maria Podnar, UniSA’s UniSport Nationals volleyball team manager and player – to celebrate their achievements and their favourite aspects of being women in sport.
International Women’s Day is a special day for young athletes such as Wakefield and Podnar, as it’s a chance to raise awareness, spark conversations which will hopefully lead to a movement and celebrate strong women and the contributions they have all made.
Wakefield has had an intellectual disability her whole life, but that didn’t stop her getting involved in sport at a young age – having participated in athletics since she was three and started judo when she was five.
Since then, both sports have allowed her to travel to foreign countries and win bronze medals in hammer throw at both the Global Games and UniSport Nationals in 2019.
But Wakefield’s favourite aspects are the friendships she’s made with strong women from all around the world.
“Competing in national and international competitions is a great opportunity to meet other women, which is incredible,” Wakefield said.
“I got to meet some lovely girls from Washington Judo Club and we did team fights and every time we go back we fight together again.
“At the Global Games I competed against this lady from Iceland and despite the competition, we built quite a good friendship – we’d help and congratulate each other.
“There’s no point going to competitions and trying to be the best without developing friendships, and now I have friends from all over.”
The Bachelor of Contemporary Arts and Master of Teaching student also coaches young athletes, and helping those younger girls is something Wakefield gets great satisfaction out of.
“I just taught this young girl who was struggling a lot with shotput and I was teaching her the correct way to do it,” Wakefield said.
“When I saw her again at a meet, she came running up to me and telling me how she got a PB in shotput and now it’s her favourite event!
“And I thought it was so sweet – all they need is encouragement.”
Before Podnar joined the UniSA Sport volleyball community – as a UniSport Nationals silver medallist, team manager and committee member – she had reached a high level of the sport in her own right.
In 2018, Podnar competed in the Australian Volleyball League in, playing for Adelaide Storm and while she never had any issues getting opportunities, female volleyballers have to pay their own way.
That is something the Sports Science and Sports Psychology student hopes to fix when she graduates.
“It’s very unequal at the moment in indoor volleyball,” Podnar said.
“Men get paid but women don’t, men’s trips get paid for but for the women you have to pay your own way.
“Ideally when I graduate, I’d like to change legislations and policies for equality in sport because it is an uneven playing field and I think it should be changed.”
Despite that, it was strong female coaches and role models that inspired Podnar to get so heavily involved in volleyball.
“When I was just starting out in volleyball, I had a really good set of coaches, they were really strong females who paved the way,” she said.
“Volleyball is one of those sports that you can’t really get good at on your own – it takes a lot of sacrifice and other peoples time.
“Due to that, I just wanted to give back in a sense and provide people opportunities that they wouldn’t have before.”
Both Wakefield and Podnar have one important message to females who are hoping to get into sport – just go for it.
“It’s really important to never lose sight of your goals,” Podnar said.
“No matter how many times people tell you can’t do something, it’s only up to you to decide whether you can or can’t.
“Always be determined, put your head down and never quit.”
Words: Kirralee Thomas