Australian and Fijian Olympians shared their stories of courage, identity and culture with at-risk youth during a Proud Warrior session in Townsville on June 22.
Led by the 3rd Brigade, Proud Warrior is a youth program conducted in partnership with the Queensland Police Service, Department of Youth Justice and Child Safety, Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Australian Army Cadets and local Indigenous community Elders.
Players from the Australian and Fijian men’s and women’s rugby sevens teams engaged with program participants and mentors from across the 3rd Brigade at Lavarack Barracks ahead of the 2021 PacificAus Sports Oceania Sevens competition.
The session included a number of military-style activities and was designed to teach teamwork, communication skills, resilience and courage, with Aussie Seven's player Dylan Pietsch leading the yarning circle at the end of the session.
Pietsch said he was honoured to share the challenges he faced as an Indigenous Australian growing up disconnected from his culture.
“It’s a story that is pretty common, which is crazy to think about,” Pietsch said.
“It was really special for me to be able to talk about that with that mob, because I know that some of them would be going through what I went through.
“Just talking to them about what they’ve gone through in their lives and where they want to be, it provided good perspective on where I was at that age versus where they are at and what they are going through.
“It enlightened me a little bit.”
Participants in the Proud Warrior program are provided a safe environment to be mentored, coached and supported by soldiers and other community members.
Aussie Seven's women’s captain Sharni Williams said the similar values held by Rugby Australia and the Australian Army provided a solid foundation to build connections with the Proud Warrior youth.
“The fact that Rugby Australia and the Army have similar values and beliefs is very rewarding, we hold ourselves to really high standards,” Ms Williams said.
“But I think for the kids, it can be hard if you don’t have those role models and if you’re not really sure on what your purpose is and where you’re going. I think life can be really hard.”
Jumping straight off the bus and into activities, including a blindfolded obstacle course, communication challenge and the run-dodge-jump course, the rugby players were able to quickly build positive relationships with the Proud Warrior participants.
Proud Warrior officer-in-command Major Matthew Daniell said showing the kids they had the courage to ‘have a crack’ helped break down barriers.
“The players were really enthusiastic. They took some of the young people under their wing and developed a really good rapport early on,” Major Daniell said.
“It takes a lot of courage to stand up there and run at people who weigh 120 to 130 kilograms, and it takes a lot of courage for these kids to put their hand up and say they’ve got a problem at home or they’re struggling, or that they want to make a positive change in their life.
“That ability to display that courage, whether it be moral or physical courage, really resounded and really built that mutual understanding between the kids and the players.”