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Paralympic Games representatives Nikki Ayers and Maria Strong are among 16 athletes who have been named as Thrive with Pride ambassadors, starting a six-month tenure in which they’ll drive inclusion initiatives in their sporting communities.

The announcement of the ambassadors was timed to coincide with the start of Sydney WorldPride 2023.

The program, which is led by the Australian Institute of Sport, is in its second year and will draw upon the expertise of organisations Pride in Sport and Proud 2 Play, who will advise and work with the athletes.

Strong represented Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics and won bronze in the women’s shot put F33. Ayers was part of the mixed coxed four rowing crew that came fourth.

Another Para-athlete among the Thrive in Pride ambassadors is Commonwealth Games lawn bowls medallist Serena Bonnell, who said: “As a Para-athlete I know what inclusion is intimately and I know how exclusion can negatively impact the trajectory of someone’s life.

“I am excited to be an ambassador because I believe sport should be accessible for all people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability or background.” AIS Acting Director Matti Clements congratulated the new ambassadors and said their appointment came at a momentous time.

“We know how powerful the athletes’ voice is so to have sixteen Australian athletes helping to educate and drive such important initiatives and conversations is really exciting.”

“There’s also a huge amount of momentum at the moment with close to 20 sporting events being held during the Sydney WorldPride 2023 festival, all aimed at promoting visibility and inclusion of LGBTIQ+ people in sport, which is what our program is all about.”

Australian Diamonds netball player Ruby Bakewell-Doran said she was passionate about creating safe sporting environments.

“Being part of the Thrive with Pride Program is a step towards creating spaces where people really feel like they belong and are free to express themselves as they truly are.

“Authenticity should never be hindered – it’s what makes us go from good to great. As an ally, I want to help empower people in the LGBTIQ+ community to bring their whole selves, in spaces that will always have their backs.”

Sprint cyclist Kalinda Robinson said: “As a young athlete growing up in a rural area with discrimination highly prevalent, LGBTIQ+ representation in sport gave me hope that I might one day have the courage to live my truth.

“My aspiration in putting myself forward for the Thrive with Pride Program was to provide younger athletes with more representation so that they might be brave enough to live true to their identity and to educate others in the creation of a safe and supportive community.”

More information about the program can be found on the AIS Thrive with Pride Program website.

2023 AIS Thrive with Pride ambassadors:
Alyssa West, Water polo Australia, South Australian Sport Institute
Amelia Catt, Sailing, West Australian Institute of Sport
Charlotte McShane, Triathlon, NSW Institute of Sport
Greta Hayes, Hockey, NSW Institute of Sport
Heath Thorpe, Gymnastics, NSW Institute of Sport
Kalinda Robinson, Cycling, South Australian Sport Institute
Katerina Paul, Snow, Victorian Institute of Sport
Kaylia Stanton, Netball, Victorian Institute of Sport
Maria Strong, Athletics, Victorian Institute of Sport
Matthew Mitcham, Diving, NSW Institute of Sport
Natalya Diehm, BMX, Queensland Academy of Sport
Nikki Ayers, Rowing, ACT Academy of Sport
Poppy Starr Olsen, Skateboarding, NSW Institute of Sport
Rowie Webster, Water polo, Victorian Institute of Sport
Ruby Bakewell-Doran, Netball, Queensland Academy of Sport
Serena Bonnell, Bowls, Queensland Academy of Sport

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia and Australian Institute of Sport
Posted 17 February 2023