1 May 2023

Women’s Emerging Leaders Scholarship helps even the playing field for professional sportswomen

| Morgan Kenyon
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Grace Kemp at rugby training

Grace Kemp (pictured) is one of the first-ever recipients of the Women’s Emerging Leaders Scholarship. Photos: Grace Kemp.

There’s no doubt establishing a work-life balance is a challenge – throw in full-time study, and the going gets even tougher. For pro athletes, the commitment that comes with professional sport adds yet another hurdle.

The Women’s Emerging Leaders Scholarship aims to level the playing field for local sportswomen. The scholarship was awarded for the first time to players in the Brumbies Women’s Academy and Super W squads at the University of Canberra (UC) Sports Hub in February.

Funded by the Lestari Foundation in line with UC’s 2021-2026 Sports Strategy, the scholarship is awarded to female athletes in recognition of their leadership both on and off the field.

Brumbies powerhouse Grace Kemp has been a valued member of the Super W squad for four years, and made an exceptional debut for the Wallaroos at the 2022 Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

A Canberra local and proud Wiradjuri woman, Grace is currently studying for a bachelor of Primary Education at UC alongside her professional sporting commitments.

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“The scholarship I received from the Lestari Foundation has given me a lot more freedom to focus on my sport,” Grace said.

“I train for a full weekday on top of early morning and late night sessions five days a week – having this financial safety net means I am able to take that day off work to train without using up my leave.

“It also allows me to take a day off work or finish early if I need to study for an exam. My education is just as important to me as my sport, so it’s a relief to know I don’t have to prioritise one over the other.”

women's rugby game action shot

Grace trains twice a day, five days a week as she works towards the next Women’s Rugby World Cup.

Grace is currently working towards the next Women’s Rugby World Cup, which will kick off in England in 2025.

“I’m really keen for the next World Cup,” she said.

“I’m not sure I would have looked forward to it quite as much if I hadn’t received the support of this scholarship, given the pressure I had juggling work, study, and sport.”

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Grace hopes that the Women’s Emerging Leaders Scholarship will encourage more young women in Canberra to chase a career in sport alongside their studies.

“It’s important that women are supported to create something for ourselves and set our own pathway aside from the men, but we should still be seen as professional sportspeople and receive equal treatment,” she said.

“I think young local girls seeing this happen in their own backyard will show that they can access the same kind of support when they’re at a similar stage in their sport.”

Grace hopes that this scholarship will encourage more young women in Canberra to chase a career in sport.

Female-centric sports scholarships support more than just the individual; they help the entire industry move toward equality for elite sportswomen around the globe.

“I think that women still aren’t considered professional athletes in comparison to men,” Grace said.

“We still aren’t paid equally to men either, so to have this backing from a third party is a huge step in the right direction that will hopefully push other institutions to do the same.”

The 2023 Women’s Emerging Leaders Scholarship Recipients are Grace Kemp (bachelor of primary education), Ash Fernandez (bachelor of secondary education [health and physical education]), and Gabby Petersen (bachelor of midwifery).


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