Gemma Houghton was just six when Cathy Freeman triumphantly wrapped herself in the Aboriginal flag moments after her golden run at the Sydney Olympics.
Twenty-two years later, Freeman’s famous 400 metres victory continues to inspire the Port Adelaide Football club star forward, who is among a new generation of athletes elevating women in sport.
“Cathy Freeman taught me at a young age that anything is possible, and that if I put my mind to something, there’s nothing holding me back,’’ Houghton said at a Power to End Violence Against Women (PTEVAW) leadership event last week.
“Even as I changed codes from basketball to footy, Cathy was the person I looked up to who always made me believe in myself. She showed girls there is no limit to what they can achieve.
“Mum reinforced that belief. She raised four kids on her own and taught all of us what it means to work hard, be resilient, and dream big.’’
A proud Yindjibarndi woman and foundation AFLW player, Houghton is determined to instil the same self-belief in young people through her on and off-field roles at Port Adelaide.
Ahead of the club’s AFLW debut next month, Houghton has begun working with its community arm – Power Community Limited (PCL) – which delivers the PTEVAW and Empowered programs, in partnership with Centacare and the Department of Education.
Houghton said it was a privilege to play a role in opening young minds through the primary prevention programs, which engage secondary school students around gender equity and respectful relationships.
Launched in 2016, PTEVAW works with Year 10 boys to widen awareness of the root causes of domestic violence, and how to recognise abusive behaviours, while Empowered engages female students to broaden their understanding of women’s rights.
“The opportunity to be involved with PCL is huge for me,’’ said Houghton, who arrived at Port Adelaide after six seasons at Fremantle, where she twice earned All-Australian selection.
“Growing up, we didn’t have any programs like this. Had I been aware of certain situations, and what not when I was younger, I could have saved myself some relationships that probably weren’t best for me at the time.
“It’s important to understand your worth and know you can say no to something you don’t stand for.’’
Held at The Precinct at Alberton, the leadership event brought together 50 male and female students from across South Australia, to further their learning about gendered abuse, values, and how to be a positive bystander.
During a panel discussion with former Port Adelaide great and AFLW coach Hamish Hartlett, and current men’s defensive development coach Tyson Goldsack, Houghton encouraged students to play their part in challenging attitudes and beliefs that disempower women and girls.
“Cathy Freeman still inspires me today,’’ said Houghton. “Watching what she achieved helped me understand the impact you can have on someone’s life by being a positive role model.’’