From the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa to the South West of Western Australia, it has been a memorable journey for long-serving South West Academy of Sport leader Bernice Butlion who has helped a long-list of aspiring athletes to succeed on and off the playing field.
Reflecting on her continued motivation after nearly 15 years at the helm of the State’s inaugural regional sports academy, Butlion takes inspiration from the words of late South African leader Nelson Mandela who once said, “sport has the power to change the world”.
“And I’ve seen that – and that’s why I’ve stayed in this job because I’ve seen how sport can make a difference in people’s lives,” Butlion said.
“I just love everything about sport, I just live that dream.”
The inaugural chief executive officer of the South West Academy of Sport is proof of the power of sport to open doors.
After taking a chance on applying for a job while working at the Eastern Cape Academy of Sport in Port Elizabeth, Butlion was selected to head up the academy.
“It was quite a big step for me to come from South Africa to Australia because obviously with the whole sporting system, there are a lot of similarities but there are also a lot of differences,” Butlion said.
“It’s been a really interesting journey coming from South Africa because we don’t play footy in South Africa. It’s rugby union, cricket and soccer – those are the main sports.
“What has stood out to me, in Australia kids actually play two or three different sports – and they can be good at all the sports but they have to make that decision on which sport to focus on.
“What I’ve seen is they struggle to make that decision – some athletes – because they see themselves going to be missing out on another opportunity.
“There’s such good opportunities if they want to follow their journey.”
SWAS was the first of its kind in WA when it was established to provide young residents of the South West with access to development opportunities close to home.
By providing high-level support in the South West region, the academy eases pressures on athletes and their families by reducing the need for frequent travel to Perth in pursuit of fulfilling sporting goals.
Academy athletes have gone on to compete at the highest representative levels including the Commonwealth and Olympic Games as well as the AFL. Athletes have also secured student-athlete scholarships at US colleges, and started up or managed businesses.
“I think that’s what stands out for me – it’s about making a difference,” Butlion said.
“I don’t think it’s a cliché. I think sport is a very good tool or vehicle to help you grow holistically because it teaches you how to keep that drive and that passion alive. If you can want something you have to go and get it, you have to work for it.
“You can stay in a regional area, you don’t have to move to Perth.
“So, if you really want to make it and you’re disciplined enough to do the hard yards you can make it from this environment.”