Raising the bar, literally and figuratively, for young athletes

Raising the bar, literally and figuratively, for young athletes
Raising the bar, literally and figuratively, for young athletes

SBS World News Radio: Balancing education with a promising sporting future can be difficult for some promising athletes, but a program in Melbourne is helping young Indigenous sports men and women as they contemplate their athletic and academic futures.

Thirty eight Indigenous teenagers from all corners of Australia attended the third "Raise The Bar" program at the University Of Melbourne.

Program co-founder Bridgid Junot says it was an opportunity for the talented athletes to expose themselves to the added benefits of sport.

"The purpose really is to show our participants that through the sport of athletics that gives them the opportunity to engage in an education system. We know that with education, health outcomes, economic outcomes, social outcomes are improved."

At just 16, Paige James knows better than most sporting dreams don't always come true.

The one-time gymnast and Olympic hopeful says she was devastated when overlooked for Rio.

"Basically my whole life had led to that moment - I'd trained 36.5 hours every single week, and to find out that our team didn't qualify was a big upset."

Now, in an attempt to revive that dream, the versatile teenager has turned her hand to the discipline of pole vaulting.

James spent time under the watchful eye of Bridgid Junot, herself a talented pole vaulter who won Bronze for Australia at the Manchester Commonwealth Games.

Ms Junot says gymnastics provides a solid grounding for the challenging sport.

"Gymnastics is an incredible sport that provides really good fundamentals in acrobatic skills strength power agility and Paige as an Australian representative she obviously has all of that."

But the key, as reinforced at the "Raise The Bar" program, is finding balance - so Paige James says she hopes to also study zoology or sports science.

"I want to do something I love as well and if I don't get an education I won't be able to do that. I obviously like sport more than school, as most people do, but I know how important education is so I try and prioritise both to an equal amount."

Perhaps the poster boy of the program is 16 year-old Roneld Baragud from Yam Island in the Torres Straight.

It's closer to Port Moresby than Queensland and has a population of about 100.

Baragud is a promising 400-metre runner, but for the first time tried his hand at pole vaulting and says he loved the sensation.

"Flying over the bar with the pole vault it was a bit cool, it was a bit weird at first, it felt like floating in the air, yeah."

Bridgit Junot says his attitude epitomises the program.

"It's absolutely fantastic - he's had a really new experience today and he's seen how - quite literally and figuratively when you raise the bar - what that can do for your spirit."

But Baragud sees his future firmly on the ground.

He wants to attend Melbourne University and graduate with a social work degree.

"I just want to help like my people from the street, like youths."