The Aje Report


Trailblazers | 8 Australian Women in Sport On The Trials + Triumphs That Got Them To The Top

It’s well-known that nothing worth achieving in life ever comes easily.

And more than the wins, it’s the challenges along the road that make us who we are—something no one knows better than an elite-level athlete who’s dedicated their life to reaching the top of their game.

So, in celebration of International Women’s Day 2023, we spoke to eight trailblazing Australian women in sport to discover the trials, triumphs—and tips—that brought them to where they are today.

From tennis star Priscilla Hon to former Olympian Olia Burtaev and elite high jumper Amy Pejkovic, keep reading for The A.A Report’s conversation with some of Australia’s most inspiring female athletes.

Abbey Holmes, Sports Journalist + Former AFLW Athlete


What is one of your proudest achievements in sport?

Oh gosh, it's so hard to choose! I would have to say first and foremost being a part of the inaugural AFLW Premiership with the Adelaide Crows. That was one truly special group, and I'm so grateful for the players, coaches and staff that made that dream come true. I would also say the four-time Premierships with Waratahs in the NTFL and kicking 100 goals in 2014… see, once I start, I can't stop [laughs]!

What is the biggest tip you’ve received and would offer to an inspiring athlete, striving for peak performance?

It sounds so simple, but the biggest tip I have received would be not taking no for an answer, and just believing in yourself—knowing that you are capable of achieving whatever you set your mind to.

A tip that I would offer to an aspiring athlete would be to really lean on all resources that are available to you. I wish I was better at this when I was a lot younger. Your coaches, and support staff—S&C coaches, nutritionists, dietitians, physiotherapists, sports doctors, etc.—are all there to make you a better athlete and person, so lean on them to develop your craft and your body for peak performance as much as you possibly can.


What has been the biggest challenge of your career?

A huge challenge is learning to be on your own a lot. I started travelling overseas for tennis when I was twelve, so adjusting to rarely seeing my family and not being able to have a normal day-to-day life is a lot tougher than it seems. Of course, there are some incredible highs, but the lows are very low, and you learn from such a young age playing tennis as a professional to not let yourself dwell on those lows.

What keeps you motivated and inspired?

Tennis is a really tough sport. It’s 90% mental. You are the only person that can make your dreams happen. If you have a bad day, you don’t have a teammate to rely on who can help you both come out on top.

Finding motivation is honestly really tough day in, and day out. To keep myself going, I remind myself of why I’m doing this, what I’m aiming for, and what I want to achieve for myself. When you do achieve certain milestones or win those big matches, the feeling you get makes it all worth it.


What keeps you motivated and inspired?

What keeps me motivated is to keep challenging myself. As you get older in your career your ‘Why’ changes and I have found joy in seeing the game from a perspective that is much bigger than mine. I want to see the game continue to grow and to help push it forward with my peers.

What is the biggest tip you’ve received and would offer to an inspiring athlete, striving for peak performance?

The biggest piece of advice I have received is to enjoy the journey and not be so results focused. There is so much joy in the process, there is joy in the hard work, and sometimes we get so caught up by results and numbers that we aren’t seeing the progress and the steps forward we are making.


What drew you to sports growing up?

I have always been drawn to artistic sports that combine grace, movement, art and music. My mum put all my sisters and me into ballet from a very young age and ensured we experienced ballet theatres and the art and culture behind the athleticism. Another reason why I feel like I was constantly drawn to these multidimensional sports was that there were so many elements to perfect—always something to work on and achieve. There was never a moment in sport where I felt like I had perfected a routine, technique or execution—which might not sound ideal or motivating, but in hindsight, it is what kept me coming back and feeling driven.

What is one of your proudest achievements in sport?

My proudest achievement would have to be competing in the London Olympic Games in 2012. The training year leading up to the Olympics and the Olympic Games itself was one of the most challenging, testing and yet most amazing experiences of my life and one that I will never forget.


What keeps you motivated and inspired?

I love moving my body, and I am addicted to that post-workout high that most athletes are familiar with. I see exercise as a form of self-care, while also providing an excellent challenge. For me, my motivation comes from wanting to show up for myself in the best way possible while testing my body to see what it is truly capable of.

What is one of your proudest achievements in sport?

The London IPC World Championships in 2017 will always be one of my proudest moments. I showed up at the start line of my first race, having been in the hospital two weeks prior due to a bad case of tonsillitis. Lucky for me, my body was somehow still ready to race, and I ended up winning both of my events and claiming back one of my world records.

The things we achieve when we least expect to seem to always be the most satisfying, I think!


What is one of your proudest achievements in sport?

One of my proudest achievements in soccer was receiving a soccer scholarship to the University of Kansas. It felt like a way for me to give back to my parents for all the time and money they put into my soccer career growing up. Without the extra lessons, running coaches, and everything they did for me, I definitely wouldn't be where I am today.

What is the biggest tip you’ve received and would offer to an inspiring athlete, striving for peak performance?

Everything happens for a reason. So you can either let that define you, or you can use it as a motivator to make yourself the best ‘you’ possible.


What is one of your proudest achievements in sport?

Winning my high jump silver medal at the world youth championships in 2009, which was in Bressanone Italy. I went into the event as a 16-year-old jumping against an 18-year-old and managed to jump a personal best at the time of 1.85 metres, it was unexpected and the greatest feeling. The atmosphere of the crowd, and the rush I got when I cleared the bar was like I was unstoppable, and it was so much fun I almost can’t put it into words. Seeing how happy my family and my teammates were was so rewarding, and jumping really gave me a sense of purpose and freedom.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career?

When I was diagnosed with a brain tumour at 19. I was aiming to make the Olympic Games and the world junior championships that year. I was living life as a 19-year-old, then my world burst into flames to being told I had a brain tumour and needed surgery immediately.

I was unable to sit upright in bed for a week, learning how to walk again. I lost 12 kilograms in two weeks and was in an indescribable amount of pain and unable to do the most basic tasks. To then getting back to the track three months later and having my first jump, with a long road to recovery, was my biggest challenge.


What is one of your proudest achievements in sport?

I don't have one moment. I am proud of the way I have shown up every day for 10 years. Some days in elite sports are tough, but they are the days that have shaped me into who I am today.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career?

Navigating the period of 'consciousness' as an athlete. As you mature, it becomes much more difficult to find a flow state. Your mind is suddenly more active; thoughts of fear and judgement become prevalent, but the beautiful thing about this is that success is much sweeter this way—a higher appreciation.

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