Sitting down to breakfast at my local cafe this morning, I was just about to devour my overpriced eggs when the chirpy teenager seated at the table next to me asked, "oh my god, where did you get that scarf from? That’s like so Kim Kardashian hot right now."
Resisting the urge the vomit or better still, take the scarf off, burn it and then scatter the ashes over my dignity - I mustered a polite smile and responded through gritted teeth.
For the next hour, the youngster and her posse of gal pals proceeded to ‘froth’ over anything and everything the Kardashians did, said, wore and promoted.
"Kim is like, my idol. I love her." offered one.
"Ugh, it’s too much, I want to be her." said another.
Walking back to my car in an all-but sweating rage, I began to wonder, "what has the world come to when reality television stars are being looked to for inspiration and wonderment for young girls?"
I was intensely bothered by it because there are far more honourable, genuinely talented and successful individuals worthy of our idealisations.
In women’s sport alone, we have the Matildas, the Diamonds, Cathy Freeman and Lauren Jackson, just to name a few.
These women are the embodiment of hard work, sacrifice, strength and success - the gold standard of noble inspiration.
How to build a life
I started thinking about what inspired me growing up, in an age where social media didn’t determine who was worth looking up to.
What I discovered doesn’t stray too far from home for me, it’s my very own father, Frank Zelic.
Born in the tiny village of Vrana on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, he moved to Australia when he was just 20 years-old with the hopes of working for five years to save money for his wife and family back home.
In 1968, he boarded the ‘Angelina Lauro’ ship in the northeast Italian region of Trieste and embarked on the 30-day trip to Sydney.
When he arrived, he didn’t speak a lick of English and learned thanks to a Scotsman he worked with at the Holden car factory in Pagewood, who patiently taught him using hand gestures.
"I started work on my second day in the country. My brother was already living here and there were 16 of us all crammed in a house right across the road from the factory."
"Because I was under 21, I earned less than the other workers and at the time my weekly wages were $36 sometimes $44 if I worked a half day on Saturdays. That wasn’t easy but you didn’t have a choice, you had to work and that was it."
After moving onto a job at a fibre containers company four months later, he switched gears and began doing render plastering and bricklaying which saw him earn up to $120 a week.
When my mother finally arrived 18 months later, she too worked in a factory and the money she earned went to food so that they could save up to buy a home of their own.
At the time my father left Croatia, my parents had only been married for three months and later this year, they will celebrate their 48th wedding anniversary which is an achievement in itself.
Nine months after my mother gave birth to my brother Ned, my father purchased a block of land for $1000 in Canberra and commuted back and forth to build their first home and they eventually moved to the nation’s capital shortly before the house was finished.
In 1989, he decided to stop trading as a bricklayer and forged Zelic Homes, purchased two blocks of land and began building and selling his own properties.
"I worked day and night, I did everything myself. I did the bricklaying, the plastering, the rendering, the landscaping, everything. I never worked less than 10 hours a day. You couldn’t make money any other way."
27 years later, his work ethic is still just as strong and he has forged a successful company that has seen him become one of the most respected builders in Canberra.
Not only was he an incredible provider for our family but he was a wonderful, wonderful father.
My childhood is filled with memories of waiting at the end of the driveway of our home just so I could hitch a ride to the garage in the back of his multi-coloured ute.
He taught me self-respect, the value of hard work, to be strong, independent and above all, to be good to people because how you treat others is ‘your social currency in life.’
His ambitions to succeed knew no limits, no boundaries and I’ve very much taken that into the way I deal with everything in life - from relationships, my everyday dealings with people and my job in sports media.
I am not the only one who has been inspired by ‘real’ people that have made a huge impact on their success in the sporting landscape.
Channel 9 rugby league presenter Yvonne Sampson (who I have never denied having an enormous professional crush on) also grew up admiring the strong men in her life.
"Growing up as an only child, I spent all my time with my father and grandfather. If they needed help on the farm, fencing or breaking in the horses I was always their right hand girl. They taught me the value of hard work."
"Professionally, I always admired Clare Balding, a sports broadcaster for the BBC. Such a well rounded, accomplished presenter. Plus she's a racing & rugby league nut like me!"
A quest for inspiration
NSW Swifts and Diamonds netball player Sharni Layton’s inspiration isn’t at all what you’d expect - it’s Australian Equestrian riders Gillian Rolton and Amanda Ross.
"They were doing what I dreamed of and I idolised them for that. One memory that has stayed with me was a Cross Country event where Gill fell off, broke her collarbone, got back on and finished the course and Australia won gold - the team was bigger than just herself."
"I don’t know what she is like personally but that moment comes across as a tough nut and it’s a great lesson that has stayed with me."
Not all heroes wear uniforms
Across her playing, working and media career, former Australian cricketer and commentator Melanie Jones, realised that her inspiration "is so often not simply the wonderful 'faces' of women's sport but just as much the drivers of change behind the scenes."
"The ones who without any agenda other than doing the right thing, often against a mountain of criticism and resistance have fought the good fight for women's sport."
These include, Cricket Victoria regional managers Stephen Field and Robert Wood who according to Jones "changed the perceptions of women's cricket, unearthed and developed a new generation of players."
Stephanie Beltrame, the General Manager of Media Rights at Cricket Australia is another one and Jones says her negotiation skills have paved a way for female executives and women's sport on free-to-air television.
"All inspirations in my eyes have the character and resolve to positively change the dialogue."
When I came home, I didn’t end up burning my ‘so Kim Kardashian hot right now’ scarf but after exploring my own inspirations and hearing those of the other wonderfully gifted women in this story, it gave me hope.
Hope that in a world bursting at the seams with false idols and a misguided ‘celebrity culture’, you often don’t have to look too far to realise who and what, truly matters.