Cathy Freeman – By Vincent Lam 10G
Born to Cecelia and Norman Freeman, Catherine (better known as Cathy) Astrid Salome Freeman was born in Mackay, Queensland on the 16th of February, 1973. Interestingly, Catherine means ‘pure’ in Greek, Astrid means ‘star’ in German and Salome means ‘peace’ in Hebrew. Cathy had three brothers and a sister; her brother whom died recently in a car crash in 2008, and her sister who was born in 1966. She suffered from cerebral palsy and died in 1990 at the age of 23.
“I was always surrounded by expectation from the very first race I ran as a 5-year-old.” – Cathy Freeman
Cathy Freeman was born a runner. From a very young age, she loved running around with her brothers, finding that she did not only enjoy running, but that she was extremely good at it. At the age of five, her parents divorced. This was due to Norman being an alcoholic; during the times that he drank, he became rowdy and abusive; this put a great strain on his marriage between his wife and his relationship with his children. After he moved to Woorabinda, his children visited him once a year in Christmas time. In 1979, a man of the name Bruce Barber came to live with Cathy’s family as a lodger. In the same year, Cathy’s mother, Cecelia was married to him. The children were upset and angry with their mother’s decision, but at that time, they were unaware of just how crucial their new stepfather would be in shaping and furthering Cathy’s future athletic career.
“Since grade one at school people looked at me and thought, oh gosh she can really run, she’s a natural.” – Cathy Freeman
At the age of eight, Cathy demonstrated her sprinting prowess in a school athletics championship; she easily came first and won a gold medal in the 80m sprint. Regardless of the fact that she clearly had come first, due to racial discrimination from white Australians, Cathy was forced to watch as the white girls that she had beaten were awarded medals for the place that she had rightfully won. Quickly recognising the talent that his stepdaughter had, Bruce watched his stepdaughter and commented on the fact that she looked like a little champion racehorse whenever she ran. It was at this time, that he decided to start coaching Cathy to further her running skills. However, being rather poor and having absolutely no idea how to coach his stepdaughter, he wrote to several state school sporting officials requesting assistance in helping his stepdaughter develop her marvellous talent. He and Cecelia sacrificed a great deal for Cathy and her siblings, and tirelessly went on fund-raising ventures for their daughter Cathy to be able to compete in athletic carnivals all around the country. It was then, at the age of 10 that Cathy began to dream about becoming the world’s most renowned female athlete with an Olympic champion’s title.
It was in 1987 that Cathy won an exclusive scholarship to Fairholme College; a prestigious boarding school in Toowoomba. There, she was only one of three aboriginal children in the entire school population of over 600 girls. Later that year she was specially selected for an International Athletics Exchange tour of the United States; there she learnt about the rewards which a successful athlete could reap. These rewards included a high level of self satisfaction, material rewards such as medals and trophies, and the respect and love of her people and her country.
In 1989, Cathy won another scholarship; this time to Kooralbyn International School; a school with a small population that is renowned throughout Australia for producing successful students in mainly areas such as sports and athletics. There she was professionally trained by the coach Mike Danila. During this period of time, her strength as a sprinter increased dramatically; her efforts being proven after she had graduated from high school and moved to Melbourne with boyfriend Nick Bideau at the age of 18. From Melbourne, she flew to Auckland to participate in the 1990 Commonwealth Games. Her 4 x 100m relay team came first.
From there, Cathy continued competing at all the major athletic events around the world placing very nicely against her competitors; no matter what background they came from. In 1991, she was awarded the prestigious ‘Young Australian of the Year’ award due to her being the first Aboriginal woman to achieve highly in the competitive world of sport and that she was also the first Aboriginal woman to bring home a Gold commonwealth medal (at this stage she had not competed at any Olympic games). She was a symbol for all Australians to look up to, showing that no matter who you are, or what background you come from, aim high, and you will achieve your very best.
From here, Cathy went on to perform extremely well; here are a few of her gold medals that she won on the international stage, in the years to follow:
1994 Commonwealth Games (Canada) – 1st 200m sprint, 1st 400m sprint.
1996 IAAF Grand Prix Final (Italy) – 1st 400m sprint.
1997 World Championships (Greece) – 1st 400m sprint.
1999 World Championships (Spain) – 1st 400m sprint.
In 2000, Cathy competed in the Sydney Summer Olympics and was also made the very first competing athlete to light the Olympic flame at its opening ceremony. During this competition, she made her greatest achievement to date; she won the gold medal in the Olympics. Her dream since being a young child had come true.
After this event, she began preparing for the 2004 Athens Olympics, but after a long thought-out decision, Cathy announced her retirement from professional running on the 15th July, 2003.
Since then, Cathy established the Cathy Freeman Foundation in 2007; this foundation was created to help give struggling indigenous children in Australia an education equal to everyone else in Australia, and to bridge the education gap between indigenous and non-indigenous children. Currently, Cathy’s putting in tireless hours into working towards a brighter future for these children, with most of their efforts being put into a place called Palm Island. Due to how geographically isolated it is, children living there are unable to effectively get a good education, and people living there are hard-pressed to find work. This foundation seeks to change this, and make the children of Palm Island the leaders of tomorrow by providing them with education and the opportunity to chase their dreams.
I find Cathy Freeman an admirable sportsperson because, despite the fact that she had had a troubled upbringing, and was from a disadvantaged family, she was still able to persevere, train hard, and achieve her dreams; she did so when she came first at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. She has also taken time out of her life, to give back to her community, so that others, like her, can live their dreams too.
“You got to try and reach for the stars or try and achieve the unreachable.” – Cathy Freeman