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Athletes give back as youth mental health advocates

30 May 2024

When it comes to performance, an athlete’s state of mind is often just as important as their physical abilities.

AIS Mental Fitness Ambassadors
Among the AIS Mental Fitness program Ambassadors in 2024 are Olympians Nick Lavery, Rebecca Henderson and Seve de Campo.

The concept of being ‘mentally fit’ particularly resonates with racewalker Rebecca Henderson who experienced her own mental health battles last year when a fractured spine left her unable to train.

“I spent twelve weeks on the couch barely allowed to move. Not being able to train as I normally would two times a day, every single day, was a real challenge for my mental health,” Henderson said.

“During that time, I just tried to take a step back from racewalking and focus on all the other areas of my life such as finishing my university degree and hanging out with friends.

“I believe having mental fitness strategies in place is so important to not only perform well in elite sports but in all aspects of life.”

Amid preparing for the Olympics in Paris, Henderson has signed on to be an Australian Institute of Sport’s (AIS) Mental Fitness Ambassador, drawing on her experiences to help young teens stay mentally fit throughout life.

She joins 20 other athletes in delivering presentations across high schools and youth sporting organisations as part of the AIS partnership with the Black Dog Institute.

Black Dog Institute Engagement Manager (Schools), Lachlan Steuart, said: “The Mental Fitness Program is a free interactive program for high-school-aged people, delivered by elite athletes who provide their unique lived experience to educate and inform on strategies to build social connections, how to help a friend that may be struggling and how to access available resources.”

The AIS Mental Fitness Program highlights wellbeing as the foundation of sustainable success – a sentiment that aligns with Australia’s High Performance 2023+ Sport Strategy to ‘win well’.

Rebecca Henderson presenting at a school for the AIS Mental Fitness Program
Australian racewalker Rebecca Henderson presenting at a high school for the AIS Mental Fitness Program.

After a school visit earlier this week, Henderson is hoping to help students adopt mental fitness strategies that can be carried through into their adult years.

“Learning the strategies early I think will really help them build up their mental fitness throughout life. I know that’s something that I would have liked to have when I was younger,” Henderson said.

Fellow ambassador, Rowing Australia’s Nick Lavery, shares a similar goal and wants to raise more awareness about mental health issues.

"I’m really looking forward to being a part of this program and making an impact,” Lavery said.

“I remember the confusion of adolescence can sometimes be very isolating, but openly discussing and destigmatising mental health can help young people feel connected to themselves and others even in tough times.”

For further information about this program visit the AIS Mental Fitness Program webpage.

AIS Mental Fitness Ambassadors 2024

  • Aleisha Power – Hockey Australia
  • Anna Cripsey – Australian Sailing
  • Catriona Bisset – Athletics Australia
  • Christopher McHugh – Volleyball Australia
  • Danielle Spitty – Water Polo Australia
  • Elizabeth Simms – Water Polo Australia
  • Elly Bayes – Gymnastics Australia
  • Jack Lunn – Athletics Australia
  • Josh Katz – Judo Australia
  • Maddison Cooke – Equestrian Australia
  • Nick Lavery – Rowing Australia
  • Nicole Christodoulou – Football Australia
  • Rebecca Henderson – Athletics Australia
  • Sarah Daily – AusCycling
  • Seve de Campo – Snow Australia
  • Sofia Knight – Diving Australia
  • Solomon Bushby – Volleyball Australia
  • Tegan Reder (Blind) – Swimming Australia
  • Zoe Newman – Hockey Australia
  • Zoe Vorenas – Equestrian Australia
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