NAIDOC Perth 2019 sportperson of the year Paige Smith can’t remember a time when softball was not a constant presence in her life.
However 16-year-old Swan View High School student, who wants to be an inspiration to other young indigenous girls, can remember a time when she hated the idea of playing the sport more than almost anything.
Her mother and her three elder sisters all play for Jaguars Softball Club and her brother Matthew Johns represented WA in the sport.
It’s hardly surprising that when she was younger, Paige wasn’t the least bit interested in the sport.
“When I was younger I hated softball, I hated it, I couldn’t stand it,” she said.
“Having to go to it every weekend, go to all the training sessions with my brother and sisters, it was just… I was surrounded by it.
“Then one day I just gave up said ‘sure mum I’ll come and play’ and since then I’ve loved it, but I took some major convincing to play.”
That convincing has now taken Paige all the way to Japan after she was chosen to represent Australia as a pitcher, and while she described being selected for the team as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it hasn’t been without sacrifice.
It’s her school work she misses out on – often arriving home at 11pm after extended training sessions – that she struggles with.
That’s where Swan View Senior High School’s Follow The DREAM program kicks in.
Essentially a tutoring service for a select group of indigenous students who achieve attendance and grade benchmarks, Paige said the program has helped her immensely.
“School is the big sacrifice,” she aid.
“It’s off-season at the moment but I was doing State Schoolgirls and club training, so I was probably training six days a week, two hours per session or even three hours with the State team sometimes.
“I love DREAM, I really do and it helps me because it’s obvious I don’t have time to do the work at home with the amount of training I’ve got.”
The academic assistance has paid off for Paige, who described herself as a “save the turtles kind of girl”, after she was selected as just one of two WA students to take part in the Earth-Watch Student Challenge in South Australia, studying the recovery process of ecosystems after 150 years of cattle grazing.
After being named as NAIDOC Perth 2019 sportsperson of the year, Paige hopes that she can be an inspiration to other indigenous girls, while also acknowledging the harsh realities that come with playing sport at the elite level.
“I was happy NAIDOC Perth thought I was worth it, because to win this award you have to have an impact on your sport and you also have to have an impact in the community,” she said.
“For them to think I was worth it was great.
“I hope I can be a role model.
“I hope other indigenous girls can look at me and say ‘well, if she’s doing this, why can’t I?’
“I’ve got a lot of role models, mostly my family, because they push me but they don’t push me so much that I don’t want to play, they get the balance right.
“My coaches say all the time this game is a game of failure, but it’s what you do after that, that’s what matters.
“To be a good pitcher you need to deal with those failures and you have to trust your field to back you up.”
Paige hopes her talent is enough to see her play softball for a college in the US – preferably at the University of Hawaii – but ultimately, she just hopes she can play softball every day.