It’s not unusual for kids growing up to have dreams of grandeur. Whether it be following in the footsteps of their favourite celebrity or sportsperson, nothing seems out of reach and life is full of possibility.
A young Kyah Simon was no exception. After her first football training session, the hyperactive eight-year-old from Quakers Hill, NSW, told her mum that one day she would represent her country on the Olympic stage, but she could not have predicted she would also make history for her country and her people.
Making her debut at 16 with the Australian National Team, Simon was well on her way to achieving her dreams. Naturally gifted and with a work ethic beyond her years, it wasn’t long before ‘Kyah Simon’ and the Matildas became household names.
A proud Anaiwan woman from the Armidale region of NSW, the first of Simon’s history-making feats came at the AFC Asian Cup in 2010, where she scored the winning penalty, nabbing her country its first major international football title.
The following year, she added another sentimental jewel to her crown, at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.
In front of over 25,000 spectators, including her family who had flown both the Australian and Aboriginal flags over 16,000 km to drape over the barriers, Simon became the first Indigenous Australian to score a goal in a World Cup tournament.
It was also in Germany, that Simon and her teammates became the first Australian football team, male or female to win a knockout stage match at a World Cup.
But it was at Rio 2016 that the then 25-year-old finally represented her country on the biggest stage of them all, scoring another goal and achieving her childhood dream of representing Australia at an Olympic Games.
Now, the 27-year-old has earned 88 international caps and scored 24 goals for her country, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the determined footballer, who is no stranger to injury.
At the cusp of her ‘big break,’ a 15-year-old Simon suffered a devastating blow, breaking her leg and losing out on a scholarship at the NSW Institute of Sport.
The injured teenager had to deal with hearing the words ‘career-ending’ and ‘washed up,’ but that only made her more determined to achieve her goals.
Over the years knee, shoulder and ankle reconstructions that left her unable to play for up to 12 months at a time, are just some of the major injuries Simon has had to overcome. But these setbacks have shaped her into the resilient role model she is today.
Partnering with the University of New England through their Oorala Aboriginal Youth program in Armidale, Simon to shares her story, with the hope of inspiring Indigenous youth to reach for the stars and grow from hardships.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always looked for opportunities to speak to our Indigenous youth and to inspire them to chase their dreams, no matter what hurdles are ahead of them,” Simon said.
Sharing her journey of resilience and tips on how to overcome setbacks greatly rewarding for Simon, but being able to connect with her country and her people is just as special.
“Getting involved with the Oorala Aboriginal Youth program was a no-brainer for me, it was quite fitting because my mum and her family are from Armidale,” she said.
“Going back to country, I felt this spiritual connection to the land and to the people. Even though I’d never been there before, it just felt like home. It’s really special being able to give back to a community that has helped shaped who I am today.”
Simon hopes that through her talks she can encourage Indigenous youth to look for the opportunities in every situation.
“When you speak to groups in remote areas there is a sense of a lack of opportunity, and it’s really hard to find that light at the end of the tunnel”
“What I try to communicate is that there are opportunities no matter where you are from, if you make the most of what you have.
“Personally, I’ve been faced with more injuries and setbacks than I’d like, but I’m a believer that your toughest moments are where resilience derives from.
“For me, the beauty of being injured was that although I couldn’t play the game I love, I had the opportunity to grow mentally,” Simon shared.
Drawing on her own experiences, the Melbourne City forward wants to instil the importance of mental toughness and resilience in the Indigenous youth of today.
“Your mind is a lot stronger than your body, so being exposed to my first major injury at such a young age really set me up in terms of accepting that it’s not always going to be an easy road,” she said.
“You learn more from your failures than you do your successes, but when you overcome and build that resilience, it makes those wins all the sweeter, and you’ve got a new appreciation for what you have.”
“After my first injury, it was around eight months before I made my Matildas debut, which showed me that even when you are faced with a setback, something amazing could be just around the corner.
“Unless you work hard to make it through those tough times, you won’t be able to experience it.”
Taking control of your future and the power of setting goals are important lessons Simon wants to share with the students who participate in the program.
“You are the driver of your own ship and that is so powerful,” Simon said.
“You can make your own decisions, control what you can control and chase whatever dreams or aspirations you choose.
“You might be faced with hardships, but if you stay true to yourself and know exactly the direction you want to go and the goals you want to achieve, then there shouldn’t be anything internally or externally that will stop you.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s never easy but there is power in setting goals and having direction in life, whether it be schooling, sport or any career path you choose.
“If you write it down and believe you can do it, all you need is to stay focused on your own endeavour to greatness.”
Originally published for olympics.com.au