As part of the WWDA blog, we’re spotlighting some of the amazing examples of leadership in our community of women, girls, feminine identifying, and non-binary people with disabilities.
In this interview, WWDA staff member Mali spoke with Stephanie Van Honk, an athlete living with disability, to talk about her sports achievements and leadership journey.
Mali Hermans (MH): Thanks for chatting with me Steph! Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
Stephanie Van Honk (SVH): Yep! So, I’m Steph. I live in Cairns, but I went to Murwillumbah High School in Northern NSW. I go to programs right now, and really enjoy exercise and sports such as swimming, running and athletics.
I started participating in cross-country and athletics when I was 8 years old. When I was 8, I came first in the state for cross-country! I was a really fast runner. Once you turned 10, you could start going to National events; so, when I was 10, I made it to Nationals, a five-day sporting event with people from all over the country.
I’ve been to Nationals a lot over the years – I’ve come second in Australia in my cross-country category three times, third once and sixth once. I participated all the way up until Year 10 in 2013. My family couldn’t afford to keep sending me to Nationals because it was too much money, so after 2013 I continued to participate in zone and regional cross-country heats.
In Year 10 I started swimming, I hadn’t had the opportunity to learn before then. I made it to the regional heats and even took out the overall Girl Champion!
MH: So many victories! Can you tell me a bit more about what the Nationals events were like?
SVH: Yeah, so they were held in different parts of the country every year. In 2008 Nationals was held in Geelong, in 2009 they were held in Nowra, in 2010 in Brisbane, in 2012 Adelaide – although I didn’t get to go to that one – and in 2013, they were held in Tasmania.
It felt good to be there, but it was always so cold because they were always held in the winter! Other places I got to visit included the Institute of Sport in Coffs Harbour.
MH: Would you consider yourself a leader given all your sporting achievements?
SVH: Oh, that’s a hard question! Yes, I would, I think people around me at school looked up to me because of my sporting achievements. I would often try and talk to my friends and bring them into doing sports with me. Sometimes all they needed was that example of leadership and a friendly face to get involved.
MH: You’re definitely a leader to me! Do you have a favourite memory of any of the sports events or competitions you went to?
SVH: I remember the school swimming carnival in Year 12, that was the best! Jade normally beats me, but in Year 12 I took out the Age Champion for the first time. I worked really hard in the lead up to that carnival. I was doing swimming lessons with the support unit in the afternoons on Wednesdays. I wanted to start swimming a bit earlier, but it wasn’t possible until the end of school.
MH: Do you still swim now?
SVH: Yes! I still do laps at the lagoon up here in Cairns or go to Tobruk pool. My times are improving too – my first set of laps was 40 minutes, and now I’m down to 37 minutes. I’m continuing to work hard and get faster.
MH: Often when we’re leaders, there are challenges. Is there anything that made it hard to participate in sports for you?
SVH: Yeah, I’ve had pains in my legs. When I did cross-country in primary school, I had a bad fall twice at the beginning because it was wet and raining. I’ve got a current ankle injury right now too, which I’m hoping will improve for my next big event.
MH: Another event! Can you tell me what you’re currently training for?
SVH: So, I’m training for the 7 Cairns Marathon in September, North Queensland’s biggest marathon event. There’s a 2km, 5km, 10km, 21km and 42km run. I’m doing the 5km run and really looking forward to it! There’ll be a presentation for Age Champions, so fingers crossed I might place. I’m still a fast runner you know, but I haven’t been running as much because of the ankle injury!
MH: I have all my fingers crossed for you Steph! Is there anything that you would tell other women with disabilities to encourage them to be leaders and participate in sports?
SVH: I think what I would tell other women and girls with disabilities is to train and find others to help you do it. My support worker is like a personal trainer to me, that’s been really helpful. Eating healthy stuff so you get some nutrition in your body is important too!
With the help of others and by looking after ourselves, we can all achieve in our own ways.
Stephanie Van Honk is an athlete living in Cairns. Steph enjoys exercising, swimming, running, dancing and making TikToks.
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The blog posts do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), and blog posts are contributions made by women, girls or non-binary persons with disability about what leadership means to them. All possible care has been taken in the preparation of the information contained in this document. WWDA disclaims any liability for the accuracy and sufficiency of the information and under no circumstances shall be liable in negligence or otherwise in or arising out of the preparation or supply of any of the information aforesaid.