Netball champion Claire O’Brien and Australian Rules football rising star Isaac Heeney have taken out the premier sporting honours at the annual ActivateUTS Blues Awards.
O’Brien, who is in the second year of a sports management degree at UTS, was named sports woman of the year in recognition of her achievements at national, state and university level. She has landed a full-time contract for 2017 to play with the NSW Swifts in the new Suncorp Super Netball League and is in training for the 2017 Netball World Youth Cup in Botswana.
Heeney has juggled first-year management studies in UTS Business School with his second year on the senior players’ roster with AFL 2016 minor premiers the Sydney Swans. He was named UTS sports man of the year, to add to his 2016 AFL Coaches Association Best Young Player of the Year award.
Both said they felt privileged and humbled to be chosen ahead of other elite athletes at UTS.
Heeney said balancing studying and elite sport was certainly a challenge but UTS academic staff had given him great personal support and flexibility.
"The Sydney Swans have been fantastic in actively encouraging all of us players to study and there’s dedicated time in our schedule for personal development. The skills I have learned through football are definitely a big help, things like being organised, time management and pushing myself to be the best I can be. Study is also giving me something to take my mind off of football, which I think is a really healthy thing to do.”
O’Brien also paid tribute to the support she received. “My tip for other athletes trying to balance their studies and their sport is to keep asking for help wherever and whenever you need. The staff support given at UTS is second to none.”
The UTS Blues awards were presented at a black tie dinner and included honours for 77 sports men and women, representing more than 20 sports, through Full Blue, Half Blue and club achievement awards.
UTS law and journalism alumnus and 2016 Olympian Hayder Shkara delivered the keynote address and paid tribute to the support networks that help all athletes in pursuit of their sporting dreams.
Shkara represented Australia in taekwondo at the Rio games and said his loss in the Bronze medal repechage fight was both devastating and instructive.
“My most treasured memory from Rio was when I was sitting down and crying my eyes out, as you do once you realise your Olympic dream is over. I saw my dad [Husam, who immigrated from Iraq more than 30 years ago], who’s sitting here tonight, being walked in by a bunch of volunteers.
“He wrapped his arms around me and said ‘I’m still proud of you’ – and that was my gold medal moment. He said it wasn’t the result that mattered but the process that forged the person I am today … the character you develop, the courage you build, the faith and certainty that manifest within you.”
Shkara said that despite the general public’s perception, skill, raw talent and determination alone would not bring sporting greatness.
“Every athlete here knows that without the support of their families, their loved ones, their clubs, this university, they wouldn’t be here tonight celebrating their sporting achievements.”
ActivateUTS chief executive Elizabeth Morgan-Brett said the Blues awards highlight sport’s growing strength and significance at UTS, as well as the university’s support for students seeking to combine sporting excellence and academic achievement.
“UTS is renowned both nationally and internationally for the flexibility it offers students through our Elite Athlete Program,” Ms Morgan-Brett said.
“Importantly though, the program doesn’t compromise the integrity of the degrees these students undertake. The senior executive is supportive, academics are supportive and the result is a program that helps young people to realise their potential in sport and in life after sport.”
In 2016, UTS attained its best result in intervarsity competition, taking out second spot nationally – 1200 students competed in national and international events.
The Blues awards also recognise achievement across the 30 UTS clubs, whose 5500 members underpin a strong culture of health and wellbeing that benefits all students, staff and alumni, said Ms Morgan-Brett.
Isaac Heeney and Xavier Richards (AFL); Patrick Cummins and Christopher Green (cricket); Daniel Alvaro (rugby league); James Clark (water polo); Max Brooks (surf life-saving); Samuel Figg (rugby 7s); Edward Marks and Kenneth To (swimming)
James Rose (AFL); Gabriella O’Grady, Samantha Geddes, Olivia Cason, Mason Cohen, Liam Speers, Emmanuel Fakiye (athletics); Harry Conway (cricket); Jonathan Aspropotamitis (football); Tony Liu (kendo); Claire O’Brien, Amy Parmenter, Prudence Ellis, Toni Anderson, Georgia Marshall, Sam Skinner, Christopher Nicoll, William Wright (netball); James Chuter, Alexander Purnell, Lewis Willoughby, Franc Gourlas (rowing); Amelia Stabback (sailing); Daniel Clopatofsky (shooting); Jordyn Christensen (softball); Shane Campbell (surfing); Callum Sherington, Oliver Signorini, Tomas Elliott (swimming); Serena Stevens (taekwondo); Stephanie Maiolo (touch football).