Keynote speaker Nova Peris is a pioneer was a in Australian sport and politics. She became the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal. She is one of only a handful of Australians to compete in two different sports - hockey and athletics - at the Olympics. She is also the first athlete to win international gold medals in two different sports - Olympic hockey and Commonwealth Games athletics (200m, 4x100m relay). Nova's most impressive feat, however, may be that became only the third Australian mother ever to win Olympic Gold.
Nova Peris used determination and an unshakable belief in herself as an Aboriginal teenager and single mother to make achieve her aspirations. Her athletic career and litany of achievements on and off the field are incredible. That she was able to share her accomplishments with her daughter Jessica made her medals and awards even more memorable.
Motherhood and elite sport generally don't pair well, so how has Nova managed to combine an 11-year career, which has taken her to more than 60 countries, with being a mum? Nova's mum, Joan, always believed she was destined to be something special.
Many people thought Nova's pregnancy spelled the end of a promising sporting career.
"People said, 'She's gone, she's finished', and that was like waving a red flag in front of a bull," says Nova. "It was like when you want to do things for yourself, but you also want to prove people wrong. The year before I had Jessica, I'd played acclimatisation games with the Australian women's hockey team that went on to win gold in Seoul, and it inspired me. Once I had Jess I think the reality check was having so many people actually come up to me and say, 'you'll never represent Australia'. Even my own stepfather was angry at me."
Four years later Nova was atop the medal podium at the Atlanta Olympics, the proud winner of a gold medal as a member of the Australian women's hockey team. By this time, her story captivated Australian hearts. Prime-time show 60 Minutes chronicled Nova's journey and how she and Jessica shared her success. She was a beloved champion. However, she wasn't a content champion.
She wanted to achieve the same feat in athletics. Just one month after winning gold at the the Olympics, Nova and Jessica set off for Melbourne to face her new challenge in sport.
"I think a lot of people were really surprised, but it wasn't as though I was going from one extreme to the other. I had done all the groundwork to make that transition. I was running for WA in 1994 and 1995 at national championships, making finals,” Nova says. “A month after the Olympics I was back training with Cathy Freeman so I was fair dinkum."
Despite Nova's busy schedule, she was always mindful that Jessica was able to spend time with her mum. Her daughter has been there to witness many of her mum's achievements, a rare opportunity for a child. She was at Nova's side when Nova became the first athlete to carry the 2000 Olympic flame on Australian soil.
Nova's accomplishments earned her the respect of the Australian people. She turned that respect into votes, winning a seat in the Australian Senate after the 2013 federal elections and making her the first indigenous woman to be voted into parliament.
The many struggles Nova faced as a single mother and an Aboriginal woman have made her an expert in what it takes to achieve an unprecedented feat while overcoming what stands in the way. Her enthusiasm for communicating her life story makes her an inspirational guest speaker who will challenge your conference or convention crowd to push through the obstacles in order to find glory.