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From a young age, Melbourne Boomers basketballers Alice Kunek, 25, and Maddie Garrick, 24, both aspired to play in basketball competitions like their big brothers. And from the moment they started competing, they were determined to be the best. However, the road to the top has been a difficult one to navigate. Most women’s sporting leagues aren’t given anywhere near as much funding as the male equivalents. According to reports, Socceroos captain Tim Cahill makes a tidy $27,397 a day, while it takes Matildas co-captain Lisa De Vanna a whole year to earn the same amount. But the poor cash returns don’t stop talented young women from working toward becoming the best in their chosen game. Here, Garrick and Kunek talk about some of the difficulties they’ve had to face to make their sporting dreams come true.
The average week in the life of a Women’s National Basketball League player can be manic, according to Garrick. The Boomers train together three times a week. But it’s the additional commitments that take their toll. ‘Recovery, shooting sessions, extra weight and cardio sessions, going to the physio – the little things add up,’ she says. And because her Boomers salary isn’t enough to survive on, she coaches kids or works at the YMCA, too. ‘We’re the best women in our country playing in the sport. The discrepancy is disappointing,’ she admits. Kunek agrees that the gap in income between male and female players is frustrating. ‘We work just as hard and we do as much training. We don’t get paid nearly a quarter of what they get paid,’ she says. The ongoing problem is the fact that men’s sport sells better than women’s sport. ‘That’s the way it’s always been,’ she admits, but suggests that a lack of television broadcasts prevent women from gaining the exposure and salary they deserve. ‘I haven’t heard a man complain about his income but if anyone did I’d have something to say to them,’ she adds.
'I haven’t heard a man complain about his income but if anyone did I’d have something to say to them.'
Both Garrick and Kunek have made the squad for the Opals, but neither are guaranteed to have positions at Rio in 2016. Despite that, they are firmly focused on their achievements at a national level. Kunek played in the qualification against New Zealand in the Oceania Championships in 2015, but didn’t make the team that’s off to Rio. ‘I didn’t make that tour but that’s okay,’ she says. ‘You can’t lose yourself just for that focus. I focus on getting better every day, being the best that I can be. I’ll still work towards the Olympics, but right now the Boomers come first.’ She suggests that the key to her success is revelling in the small moments and putting her heart into every game, rather than looking beyond that to a more impressive moment. ‘You can’t think of the end goal every day. You have to live and breathe the journey.’
Garrick and Kunek have always known that professional sport would never deliver a financial return that they could rely on long-term. Garrick is currently completing a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science at Deakin University and is interested in working with other elite athletes on technique and biomechanics. Kunek completed a Bachelor of Commerce at Deakin in 2014 and plans to undertake a masters, too. But she points out that it’s not always easy to juggle intense training and university commitments. ‘There were nights when I stayed up until 2 am trying to finish assignments when I had training the next morning. But it all pays off in the end,’ she says. The pair will eventually transition into environments where they can use their sporting experiences to work in the basketball industry after they retire.
Deakin University sponsors the Melbourne Boomers and is part of the Elite Athlete Friendly University network.
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