lifestyle

Liz Cambage: "I've received some massive sponsorships and I've never taken my clothes off."

Liz at the “I Support Women In Sport Awards”.

 

I first met Liz Cambage a few weeks ago, at the I Support Women in Sport Awards.

You probably recognise her name – after all, she’s one of the most well-known Australian athletes.

On a global level, she’s also one of the highest paid female athletes in the world. And that’s despite the fact she plays women’s basketball, which goes woefully under the radar in Australia.

Currently, she plays for the Australian Opals, the Tulsa Shock in the Women’s National Basketball Association in the United States (WNBA) and the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in the Chinese Women’s Basketball League. She also took part in the London Olympics, helping the Opals win a bronze medal with an 83-74 win over Russia.

The first thing you notice about her? She is tall. 203cm tall, or six foot, eight inches. Which makes her rather perfect for basketball.

The second thing you notice? She is so incredibly nice. Warm, friendly and so, so keen to chat about the sport she’s so passionate about. When I asked to interview her, it was a Monday afternoon and she was flying to China on the Wednesday morning. On the Tuesday, she’d spend the day at Melbourne Cup.

“We’ll make it work!” she promised me. “Call me at around 10am!”

And so we chat in the car, while she drives to the races. She tells me all about her start in basketball, which was almost inevitable given her height – after all, she was already six ft tall at the age of 10. And while she admits that she absolutely hated it to start, her mum encouraged her to play, in order to make new friends.

“I started in a very basic team and then got picked up and started playing for a very competitive club,” she says. From there, she made it to the top junior club in Melbourne – the Dandenong Rangers – and then accepted a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport, playing for their team during the 2007-08 season.

From there, she also moved to playing for the US and China teams. Understandably, she spends quite a bit of her time overseas. And growing up as an only child means that it’s incredibly challenging to leave her family behind when she goes.

“I’m a mamma’s girl!” Liz Cambage laughs. “It’s hard being away and long distance gets very tough. Skype helps a lot! I just try to stay in contact the best I can. I’m very lucky that they get to come visit.”

Liz

Not that she gets a lot of time to spend with visitors. During the season, she does several fitness sessions every day – if it’s not basketball, it’s running or pilates.

Off-season, she tries to take a break from basketball and does a lot of running with a running coach. “To get strong for the next season,” she explains. “But no day is the same!”

These days, basketball experts reckon she’s the next Lauren Jackson (another incredibly well-known professional basketball player). I ask Liz if she feels any pressure, being compared to such a successful player.

“To be honest, it’s pretty annoying being called that,” she admits. “Of course it’s flattering, but we’re very different players. We play completely different positions. There’s a lot of pressure in general – in the end, I just have to be me.”

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I ask her about what it’s like being able to earn a living from basketball, considering that so many Australian female athletes need to work and study to supplement their sport.

“I was just sitting down with the Legends Football League!” she tells me (previously the Lingerie Football League). “I was saying how much I hated it, especially how they go about it in the United States – it’s just disgusting for females. Here in Australia, they’ve really changed their uniforms and the girls are actually big and strong, they’re athletes. But in America it’s just sex on a field, you know – objects on a field.”

“As a basketballer we are so blessed,” she continues. “I’ve met so many athletes, male and female, that don’t get recognition for their sport. But I couldn’t even tell you how we begin to make it better. It’s a bit of a worry.”

So how has she managed to get to the point where she is so well-known in the Australian sporting world?

“In the world we live in today, it’s all about who you are and what you wear,” she tells me. “I think everything comes down to marketing – if you’re not putting your image out there, no-one is going to see it. When I go to events, I take all my teammates along and just try to get them out there – that’s what it’s about. You’ve just got to get out there.”

Liz at Melbourne Cup this week

She makes a point to add that it’s not about sex sells when it comes to female athletes. That’s not the key. “It’s about personality,” she explains. “Yeah, sex sells, but I’ve received some massive sponsorships and I’ve never taken my clothes off.”

And what advice would she give to any young girls hoping to get involved in competitive sport?

“At the end of the day, it’s all about doing what you love and what makes you happy,” she says. “Whatever it is – give it your all, give it your 100%.”

But the number one, absolute key? Balance.

“Growing up, my sport took over my school,” she tells me. “I just passed. I would love to go back and balance it more.”

At the moment for Liz, studying is really hard – “when you’re always travelling overseas, you never know where you’re going to be or what you’re going to be doing!” – but she hopes to get back into it when her schedule slows down a little bit.

For the moment, she’s off to China to play for her team in Beijing, and then she will travel all around China playing for other teams. She’ll be there until the end of February, and then return for world championships.

Best of luck, Liz. We can’t wait to see what you do next.

And in other sports news…

Former Matildas player, Leena Khamis is back in the game after recovering from a knee reconstruction. She delivered the exciting news that she will be playing for the Sydney FC W-League team for the International Women’s Club Championship this month in Japan. ‘The knee is good and I am looking forward to the trip to Japan,’ Khamis said. This Sunday, Sydney FC open the 2013/14 W-League season against Melbourne.

One of Australia’s most ‘decorated’ footballers, Heather Garriock, has recently secured the captain armband of Western Sydney Wanderers. Not only is this her first season in the red-and-black, it’s exactly twelve months since she gave birth to her daughter Kaizen. Garriock believes motherhood has had a positive effect on her game in making her a lot calmer and aware of her potential role model status. Whilst she enjoyed her downtime during the birth of her daughter, she’s looking forward to getting on the field.

The Hockeyroos’ exciting year begins later this month with the Finals of the FIH World League taking place in Tucumán, Argentina. The 2014 women’s hockey national senior squad, development squad and junior squad have been selected. A group of 23 athletes will make up the senior squad with a further eight in the development group.

National Junior Coach Craig Victory will oversee a 27-athlete junior squad that has been extended to included individuals up to the under 23 age bracket. The national development and national junior squads will continue to play a critical role in supporting the senior squad. This gives the athletes exposure to international hockey and opportunities to develop as part of a pathway into the senior group.

Speaking of the Hockeyroos – they won the Oceania cup last Sunday afternoon in a very dramatic way, with a sudden death shoot-out victory over New Zealand, after their final finished 2-2. It was apparently an amazing performance from the Hockeyroos, who earned Australia a first Oceania Cup title since 2005.

Have you seen anything in women’s sport this week that you want to talk about?