Flyers Captain Jenna O’Hea has been awarded the Victorian Institute of Sport Sarah Tait Spirit Award as recognition for her inspiration on and off the basketball court. O’Hea was named joint winner alongside Melbourne Vixens 2020 Suncorp Super Netball premiership player, Caitlin Thwaites.
This is a well deserved honour for the Flyers, and Opals, inspirational captain and recognition of the important role she plays in Australian basketball as well as her community work, particularly her ongoing support in the mental health sector, off the court.
VIS Sarah Tait Award
The Sarah Tait Spirit Award celebrates an athlete who most encompasses the spirit of the VIS. This athlete has demonstrated courage, commitment and persistence to achieve their sporting goals, whilst showing the ability to inspire and bring out the best in others, engage with and bring pride to their community.
Like the Award’s namesake, O’Hea and Thwaites were recognised for being inspirations in life as well as in their sports and both are fantastic role models to athletes, both past and present. It was a tough decision for the judging panel and they were impressed by the athletes’ exception work to raise awareness for athlete wellbeing.
2020 has been an extraordinarily difficult year for elite athletes but it was even tougher for Australian Opal’s Captain O’Hea who broke a wrist during the WNBL season and worked really hard to return to the court for the Finals.
Although the Southside Flyers had been the best WNBL team all season their two narrow finals losses only motivated the skipper to work harder in preparation for Tokyo, where she was due to lead the Australian Opals.
When COVID sank those plans Jenna threw herself into the new “iso” training regime and was a huge inspiration for not just the players in the Australian squad but for other VIS athletes who she often reaches out to.
O’Hea is passionate about raising awareness of and support for mental health. Through her initiative of personally wanting to donate $100 to Lifeline for each 3 point shot, this was then picked up by the 8 WNBL clubs and the WNBL organisation raising $15,000 and, thus demonstrating an impact beyond herself to the community.
O’Hea is a well-liked regular around the VIS gym and a huge supporter of the other athletes around her. She regularly posts congratulations messages to other VIS athletes on her Instagram when they achieve success and posts mental health messages with links to Lifeline and other support means. O’Hea is also a regular with VIS Sports medicine, utilising the physiotherapy service and working closely with Lead Physiotherapist Steve Hawkins on her wrist rehabilitation.
“It is an honour to have Renae Ingles present this award and an even bigger honour to share this award with Caitlin. 2020 has been a rough year, so to win this award is extra special this year,” O’Hea said. She continued to thank VIS Physiotherapy Lead Steve Hawkins and VIS Strength & Conditioning Coach Ben King for their help this year.
“I’m currently in the Queensland hub for the WNBL trying to win a championship just like Caitlin and the Vixens. And I hope 2020 can be the year for all of us,” O’Hea said.
Joint winner played the season in Queensland
Thwaites glittering 18-year career reached a dazzling finale in 2020 when she helped the Vixens to a very special Suncorp Super Netball Premiership.
When the Melbourne Vixens relocated to Queensland, Thwaites’ well documented previous struggles with anxiety and depression helped her not only overcome the challenges of being in the hub but also inspired her fellow Vixens at a time when personal wellbeing was paramount.
She has spoken publicly about mental health issues and has gone further to explore topics including inclusion, diversity and anti-violence campaigns. She now feels it is her responsibility as a role model to support the greater good and to give back to the community and to the sport.
Thwaites is an Australian representative in two sports (volleyball as well as netball) and while that aspect of her life is coming to an end she continues to help and motivate young people with her contributions to the Netball Victoria Talent Academy, Bushfire Relief Appeal, Lifeline and the Confident Girls Foundation.
The Sarah Tait Spirit Award, named after the late rower Sarah Tait, was presented by 2019 Award winner former netball star Renae Ingles and Dr Larissa Trease, Sport & Exercise Physician and Medical Advisor to ASADA. Dr Trease was formerly the Chief Medical Officer to Rowing Australia and worked closely with Tait.