Ryan Bailie had the honour of joining the Champions to Country tour in rural Western Australia last month. We chatted to him about how professional athletes can help encourage country kids to stay in school and follow their dreams.
“It was all about giving them hope and helping them realise just because you’re from the country, it doesn’t mean you can’t chase your dreams or go to Uni. Sport can be a way to do all that,” said Ryan Bailie. This meaningful event created by Sport and Recreation Western Australia saw six athletes travelling through nine regional towns and 25 schools from Perth through the Goldfields, finishing in Esperance.
Champions to Country Tour 2016
Ryan was joined by five other incredible athletes; Paralympians Brad Ness (wheelchair basketball), Adam Deans (wheelchair basketball) and Brad Scott (athletics) plus Olympians Zoe Arancini (water polo) and Maddison Keeney (diving). The four caused quite a stir with the kids, especially Brad Ness and his ‘robot leg!’ Ryan attributes the athletes’ popularity to some of the childrens’ tough backgrounds.
“Some of those kids, they’re brought up tough,” he explained. ‘They’ve got tough families and school is a safe haven away from the unrest of home. We were encouraging them to stay in school and get into sport, as you never know where it could lead.”
Kids ask Ryan the tough questions
The kids loved Ryan and he was asked plenty of funny questions, some favourites being ‘do you sleep in your green and gold leotard?’ and ‘you’re so skinny, do you eat anything?’ There were plenty of laughs along the way and Ryan was thrilled with the impact he and his fellow athletes had on the kids, loving the “I want to be like you when I grow up” messages he received along the way.
“Sometimes you don’t realise how much you can touch people,” Ryan added. “There are so many Olympians but so few kids get to meet them even though they’d love to. It’s great I can do something to give back to the community.”
Stories of winning and coming last inspire principles and students
Norseman District High School was just one of the stops along the way, and the principle was thrilled with the athletes’ visit.
“The way they engaged with our students, both in an informal and formal way and were prepared to share their stories showed our students that with hard work, resilience and determination you can achieve your goals.”
Luckily for the kids, though, the tour wasn’t all about winning. The athletes included important messages about failure and how to overcome it. Scaddan Primary School’s Principal said: “We all really enjoyed discussions about the times they have failed. This was a particularly powerful thing to discuss with students, so they know that even top level athletes do sometimes fail or come last.”
Ryan inspired by Paralympians’ stories
As well as providing the school kids with inspiration, Ryan himself was encouraged by his fellow Champions to Country athletes. “Brad has been to five Paralympic Games now,” said Ryan. “He was 18 and working on a boat on Rottnest Island WA to save money for his AFL career. One day a rope got caught around his foot and that’s why his foot had to be taken off. He started out not being keen on going to the Paralympics at all, but now he’s been to so many!”
Ryan was equally moved by Adam Deans’ story. “One day Adam fell down the stairs and they thought he’d just dislocated his knee, but he’d broken it and they found cancer in the bone,” he said. “It’s just amazing to hear what they’ve overcome and how they’ve turned their lives around. It’s incredible they all count themselves so lucky, and they’re so invested in giving back.”
‘More sports stars should tour country schools’
After seeing how Ryan and the other athletes had impacted the remote schools, he is eager to encourage more sports stars to share the message that country kids need to stay in school and really can achieve their dreams.
“It’s a shame more people don’t take up these opportunities to go to the country and do these things,” he said. “It’d be great to see more sportsmen and women in the country inspiring kids, particularly from AFL – as it’s huge in country WA!”
Ryan Bailie’s enthusiasm certainly rubbed off on the kids and we’re certain he’ll be back fro the Champions to Country tour in 2017.