Ellia Green is a proud athlete, but perhaps an even prouder role model.
Career-wise, she’s packed a lot into 27 years: Rugby Sevens, NRLW, an Olympic gold with her 2016 Rio teammates, a viral 80-metre try that was viewed over 200,000 times on Facebook and a decade in athletics (that goes a little way to explaining that match-winning viral try).
The truth is though, she will always be proudest of what her on-field performance affords her: a platform to push for change. Throughout her career, she’s advocated in areas closest to her heart, namely adoption and stamping out racism.
Ellia was adopted in Fiji when she was a few days old and raised in Melbourne by her mother, Yolanta, along with her brother. She has spoken publicly about her personal experiences with racism, particularly as a child, saying: “I experienced bullies and a lot of racist comments—and I’ve never forgotten about it. Ever.”
She hopes to use her position of power to shine a spotlight on what it’s like to be a person who’s “scared to walk into a venue because of the colour of their skin.”
Her compassion undoubtedly matches her competitive spirit and although her beloved mother may not be here to witness the changes she will inevitably make—Yolanta passed away two years ago after a lengthy battle with cancer—something tells us that she’d be incredibly proud of her daughter, both on and off the field.
Hit play on the video above to hear what Ellia Green has to say about role models, racism, responsibility and grief, and read her full interview below.
Do you feel a responsibility as an athlete to be a role model?
“As an athlete, it’s incredibly important for us to be the best role models that we can be and to promote change. Since winning the Olympics, it’s really given us the opportunity to be seen on a global scale and to have a voice, to stand up for people that aren’t heard and for the issues that we’re passionate about. Every time I hear a kid say I’m their idol or role model, it fills my heart.”
“We have a responsibility as leaders in our game to help those vulnerable voices that don’t have the platform to speak out.”
Talk us through the causes that you champion and why.
“Two issues that I hold close to my heart and try to raise awareness of are racism and adoption. Racism is a big problem that I’ve experienced, and still experience. I think education from a young age is so important to change behaviours and change attitudes. In terms of adoption, I would love to see changes to the restrictions around the adoption process in Australia. There are so many beautiful couples and single people willing to welcome a child into their family, and we need to make the path for them to do that much easier. I think every child deserves a home and to be loved.”
Your mum has obviously had a huge impact on your life. On reflection, what did you learn about yourself during the heartbreak of losing her?
“Losing my mum challenged me in ways that I have never been challenged before. I was never prepared for anything like this. It’s a kind of sadness that I’d never experienced before, and one I don’t think I’ll experience again. The greatest challenge was having to return to training and normal life and just finding myself again. It taught me to be brave even when I couldn’t see the light. As I’ve come out of the cloud of sadness—which I never thought I would escape—I am astounded by my resilience. I think maybe I have more of her strength in me than I realised.
Who’s someone you admire for always speaking up in uncomfortable situations?
“My beautiful partner, Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts. She inspires me every single day. I admire the way she stands up for the rights of her people, her culture, her ancestors, and her future children. I love her dearly.”
What would you say to those people who feel it is not their responsibility to drive change in this country?
“Imagine yourselves in the shoes of a kid who needs parents, or who doesn’t have a home, or is being bullied. It’s horrible to be on that side—to feel like you shouldn’t be in certain places because of your skin colour—so find the love in your heart to see it from the other side. Have empathy.”
Any parting words about uncomfortable moments?
“I know for me, I have always encouraged myself to get comfortable being uncomfortable. More often than not, in that space, it’s shown me my true potential.”
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