Liz Symes had worked for 10 years in the disability sector, so when the opportunity came up to be involved in the Bathurst Giants' new Kickability program, she jumped at it with both hands.
While the program has been running across Australia for more than five year, Kickability launched in Bathurst this year, providing an opportunity for people with a disability to participate in specialised sessions focusing on fundamental movement skills as well as teaching basic skills.
Symes headed up the program and spent plenty of time learning and training ahead of of the program's launch and has since been rewarded for her work, being named the 2021 AFL NSW/ACT Disability Inclusion Volunteer of the Year.
She said she was overwhelmed by the honour.
"I got a phone call from [AFL Central West coordinator] Casey White and he told me about the award. I didn't actually know it was something that existed," she said.
"I was very excited when I heard. I felt really honoured because it's something I never remotely expected. It's very special."
When Symes started working in the disability sector a decade ago, she quickly realised there was a lack of inclusion for people with a disability in sport.
"I wasn't able to get them involved in anything. I tried all sorts of options but I came up short every time," she said.
"It's always something I've wanted to see happen and us as a club, we were pretty much on board to make something happen. We just didn't know how."
It was in the weeks after the Bathurst Giants held a planning meeting at the end of 2020 that the club received a message about Kickability.
It was something that Symes was ready to embrace but admitted she was unsure how the program would be received.
"I connected with people I knew in the industry and put the word out there," she said.
"We got beautiful Savannah Phillips to be our poster girl on our flyers. We started promoting it quite actively in the media and on Facebook.
"We actually had no kids turn up on the registration night. We thought, we'll see what happens and on the first night we ended up with half a dozen kids. We got up to around 20 at times.
"We turned nobody away. We had people as young as six, through to people in their 20s. That in itself was a set of challenges because not only was I looking at size differences, I was looking at ability differences.
"I set up a bunch of activities and everyone engaged in what they were interested in and what they enjoyed doing.
"We tried to work on some skill development just in regards to pancaking the ball and learning how to kick for goals properly. That paid off quite well with a lot of kids.
"Parents have told me that their son has told me they have to kick the ball this way and while that's only a little thing, it means so much. For me, it was always about the sense of belonging to a team."
The Bathurst Giants' Kickability program wrapped up back in June, with all participants receiving a certificate, a model and a football of their own to take home and practice with.
For more information on the Kickability program, visit the Giants' Facebook page at @bathurstgiantsafl.
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