Alex Bunton survived domestic violence, now she’s using her voice to help others

February 28, 2023 | WNBL news

By Hayley Wildes | The Pick and Roll

When strength is talked about in basketball terms, the focus is on how athletes utilise said strength to gain an advantage. Whether that’s by driving to the bucket and being unbothered by contact, the ability to outmuscle rivals in the paint, grabbing a key rebound when their team needs it most, or a myriad of other areas over the course of 40 minutes of basketball.

Canberra Capitals star, Alex Bunton possesses those capabilities on the court, but her strength shines through even brighter off it. A member of the Opals’ 2018 World Cup silver medal-winning team, Bunton has experienced the highs and lows of sport; having represented her country on the biggest stages, but also battled career-threatening injuries throughout. She was forced to retire in 2019 due to debilitating knee injuries, before returning to the WNBL last season.

Those highs and lows pale in comparison to what she has experienced off the court. Last year, Bunton bravely revealed she is a survivor of domestic abuse at the hands of an ex-partner, which included shocking physical abuse whilst pregnant with his child.

The strength needed to pull herself out of the darkest of holes is unimaginable, but Bunton did, and now she has a beautiful (almost) three-year-old daughter, fittingly named Opal, and has returned to the sport she loves, all while being focused on raising awareness of domestic violence.

The Canberra Capitals will host a Domestic Violence Awareness Round on March 4 when they face the Perth Lynx at the National Convention Centre, and Bunton wants to see a change in the stigma surrounding domestic violence.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about the message that I’m really trying to get across with having this round, and it’s not only about awareness for women who’ve been through it, but for other people to learn about it and become aware of how serious it is in Australia, but also in the world and in everyday situations and environments,” Bunton explained.

“For me to be able to be so transparent about it now, express myself and share my story and feel confident in doing that, I want people to take that and start the conversations themselves.

“I also want to show people how sport helped me and to really have that taboo stigma shut down. I want to make it as welcoming for people who’ve been through it and who haven’t been through it, and for people to be able to relate in some way, show support and have that awareness.

“To be able to have this round and to have this platform, it’s an honour.”

Bunton survived the worst life had to throw at her, and returning to basketball helped her recognise and acknowledge just how far she has come.

“It’s crazy that this opportunity comes up because it gives me time to reflect on it all,” she said. “I look at me coming back last season, Goz [then-Canberra coach Paul Goriss] called to ask if I wanted to play some basketball with no expectations. It was a pathway for me to just start realising that I was going to be okay after everything that I went through and to see how far I’ve come in life, but also as a basketballer, I’m so proud of myself.

“It’s been a hard journey to be able to talk myself up, have that pride in myself and be able to say, ‘yeah, like hell yeah, I’m proud of myself’.

“I think proud is a massive word that I want to say, that I call myself proud because I’m proud of the Mum that I am, I’m proud of the basketballer that I am, and then also as the leader that I’ve been for this team.”

After sharing her story, Bunton received endless support from the basketball community as teammates wrapped their arms around her, as well as opponents reaching out. Through that support though, she also learnt that sadly many other people were going through similar struggles.

“I don’t think I’d be in the same position —mentally or emotionally— if I didn’t have the people in this basketball community. It’s like it’s a massive family,” she said.

“I came back to a world where people knew me as the Alex Bunton before all of that. All these things that I was telling myself, ‘How will these two worlds collide? How will people treat me? How will people see me? How will people judge me?’, and that’s an everyday thing that people go through anyway, but mine was so heightened.

“The Caps were amazing. They just treated me like a friend, a person first, and supported me through basketball. The amount of people that reached out after I shared my story, it was a bit scary to see how many people went through similar things as domestic violence or they hinted that it was part of their life.

“It was massive for me to have people who treated me like family – players on other teams, they’re your rivals on court but then they turn into someone you can have a chat with.”

Daughter Opal is the reason Bunton gets out of bed in the morning, and having Opal by her side helped her get back on track in life.

“Opal is the main reason that kept me going and kept me wanting to be better,” she said.

“Because I had someone else to care for, she gave me that reason to stand up, to make sure I showed up for her and reminded me to show up for myself. She’s taught me so much – she’s taught me how to be a Mum, she’s taught me how to be a friend and just to not take life so seriously.

“My retirement was another massive thing in my life; so now to play basketball in front of her, to come back and show her my world, it’s something really special.”

4 March will be a night to remember for the Capitals and Bunton, and it’s all about showing support and raising awareness.

“The AFP is involved and they’re going to be doing educational sessions, everyone’s going to be wearing purple at the game, we’re throwing everything at it and we’re really making it to not just have a tokenistic feel, we want to give it a good crack of showing our support,” she said.

“We’re just putting it out there and letting people know. To have women’s sport supporting something like this is going be huge. I think it’s going to be really cool for the WNBL to show that we’re not just doing it to wear a cool shirt, no, we’re actually serious and we involve our players.”

The Capitals will be hoping to end their season on a high against the Lynx, and despite the wins being few and far between for Canberra, Bunton is proud of the way the team has fought and continue to work hard.

“I think we’ve turned the corner and grown so much,” she said.

“You look at us at the start of the season to now, there’s so many different things that have been thrown at us. We believed in ourselves, but obviously the results weren’t matching up with what we wanted, and I think we’ve just focused on having fun, to work hard, to give it our all and we’ve had success in our own way and I think we’re so proud of ourselves. I’m so proud of the team.”

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