Olympian Chris McHugh visits Torquay College to inspire children and give back to the community
After winning bronze at the Great Ocean Road Beach Volleyfest Challenge yesterday, Australian beach volleyball Olympian and two-time Commonwealth Games champion Chris McHugh took a moment away from the sand to share his sporting experience and personal story with more than 150 year 5 school children today in Torquay.
McHugh is an ambassador for the Olympics Unleashed program, which takes Olympians and aspiring Olympians into Australian schools to inspire and motivate students to be their personal best.
McHugh, who is currently in Torquay preparing for the Beach Pro Tour Elite 16 event which starts on Tuesday 29 November, took the time to visit the local Torquay P-6 college as an opportunity to connect with the local children and recognise the support of the school, and the Torquay community at large, to the volleyball event.
Among the many local volunteers, over 200 students from Torquay College have been participating in the Great Ocean Road Beach Volleyfest as official ‘ball kids’, helping out athletes while they compete on court. McHugh said the community involvement has made the atmosphere around the event even more special.
“I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has been volunteering at the [Great Ocean Road] Beach Volleyfest as we wouldn’t be able to run it without them,” McHugh said. “I think there is something truly special about the Australian lifestyle, that we embrace things that bring the community together. It’s really cool to have an Australian ball kid throwing you the ball and giving you a high-five on the way out of the door.”
McHugh shared with the young audience the story of his personal journey from growing up in a country town in NSW to achieving success as a professional athlete, overcoming several injuries and setbacks to become an Olympian in Tokyo. He then rounded up his presentation taking the time to answer the many questions coming from an audience eager to know more about the athlete’s background.
“For me personally, coming from a small country town, showing that even coming from a place like Torquay, the world is your oyster, is really important,” McHugh said.
“You can get out there and really have an impact in whatever area the kids choose to go down. There are so many options for kids in Australia in sport now. Brisbane 2032 is not far away and I am sure that someone sitting in a classroom, somewhere in country Australia, will be representing our country in the 2032 Olympics.
“If I can help inspire a child to get out and give something a go and take it, represent Australia at a sport or just be the best person that they can be, then I have done my job as an athlete and as a representative of volleyball,” McHugh said.
Delivered by the Australian Olympic Committee, the Olympics Unleashed program has been running for the last two and a half years in South Australia, where McHugh resides. The Olympian highlighted how being able to share their own experiences with young children is also a way for athletes to challenge themselves while engaging with the community.
“These initiatives create more connections between representing your country and the people you represent. These are the people you represent each and every day. It’s not just my family, or my parents and volleyball, it’s the greater community that you represent.
“It gives you that grounding to go out and give it your best on the court no matter what, knowing that school kids watching are proud of you, whatever happens,” McHugh said.
At the end of McHugh’s presentation, eight young athletes from the Australian Volleyball Academy engaged the students in a volleyball clinic that took the children through some basic skills exercises and volleyball games. The athletes – who are all volunteering at the Beach Volleyfest during the week – also wanted to participate in the visit as a way to give back to the community, hoping to introduce more children to the sport.
“It’s incredible to see how inspired the kids are when they get to see athletes in the flesh and they get to think – wow that could be my future,” said Torquay College year 5 teacher, Emma Dukker. “When Chris told the students things like ‘choose you’, don’t just do what your friends are doing, but choose you, just go for it and be persistent, this is so inspiring for these kids,” she said.
Torquay College student, Zac Gillard said that McHugh’s visit has been “an awesome opportunity to learn about volleyball and the Olympics, have fun with your mates and throw your ball around.”
He added that some of McHugh’s stories and advice stuck with him. “Like when he said – Don’t take no for an answer. Do what you love and keep pushing with your passion.”
“It would be really cool to see someone from Torquay representing Australia on the World Tour one day,” McHugh said. “To have that kind of impact would be amazing.”