Commonwealth Games netball gold medallist Caitlin Thwaites and Rio Olympic bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith are amongst 22 current and former Australian athletes named AIS-Lifeline Community Custodians for 2020-21.
Now in its second year, the partnership between Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and Lifeline Australia will help deliver the impactful community engagement program, with athletes stepping up to help increase awareness around suicide prevention and encourage anyone who needs support to reach out and ask for help.
Recently-retired Australian netballer and current Melbourne Vixens player Thwaites is one of the 15 new Custodians for 2020-21 and is grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community in a space she is very passionate about.
The 33-year old, who represented the Diamonds from 2012-2019, has been open on her personal struggles with depression and anxiety throughout her career, and hopes sharing her story will help others.
“I have had my own journey with my mental health over the years and through this I learnt so much about managing my wellbeing and developed a number of coping strategies which I now use everyday,” said Thwaites
“Thank you to both the AIS and Lifeline for providing the opportunity to be a part of this important program.
“I have been open in sharing my story and struggles when I am out in the community because I believe assisting to reduce the stigma, and educate the community is vital to helping people going through their own personal battles.”
Thwaites is joined by race walking champion Dane Bird-Smith, who is one of the seven athletes who will continue as a Custodian after being a part of the inaugural program in 2019-20.
Bird-Smith was overwhelmed with the success of the program last year, where the 21 Custodians assisted Lifeline to raise just over $2 million through more than 50 engagements across Australia, where they were able to help in excess of 35,000 people directly and indirectly.
“With the current impacts of COVID-19, it is now more important than ever to keep supporting Lifeline and the life-saving work that they do,” said Bird-Smith.
“I feel very fortunate that as an athlete I have an opportunity to make a difference and help Lifeline continue to deliver their critical services to Australians.”
The immediate focus for this year’s Custodian cohort will be lending their voices to Lifeline’s first ever National Emergency Appeal which is in direct response to the impact of COVID-19. The campaign ‘You’ve got 30 seconds to save a life’ is aiming to raise $5million to fill the funding gap caused by cancellation of key fundraising events, storefront closures and an increasing demand for services.
Australians are turning to Lifeline in greater numbers than ever before, with the organisation receiving almost 90,000 calls for help in March alone, the most in their 57-year history.
Lifeline Australia CEO Colin Seery said he was ‘delighted the Lifeline Community Custodians are supporting our Emergency Appeal’.
“We know many athletes would be finding this time very difficult after the postponement of the Tokyo Games. So, it is a really selfless act for them to help us ensure that every Australian has the opportunity to connect with Lifeline if they are struggling through COVID-19,” said Seery.
“It is both a testament to their strength of character and Australian spirit, they are a great group of athletes. We are very grateful.”
AIS Director of Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Matti Clements says while the program will be delivered a little differently to originally planned (as a result of COVID-19), the key objectives have not changed.
“We want to remind Australians of the importance of reaching out and staying connected and to give a voice to the struggles that we know many people are facing, especially right now,” said Clements.
“With travel and physical distancing restrictions currently in place, we will be looking at virtual engagement opportunities and utilising athlete’s digital presence to continue to share their personal journeys and assure everyone that if you need support, there is someone who is ready to listen.”