5 minutes with incoming Chair of Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness, Jane Spring

5 June 2023
Advice from an esteemed non-executive director
Spend five minutes with celebrated sportswoman, disability activist, alumna and 2024 SUSF Chair Jane Spring as she answers our questions about her life as a public sector leader and becoming an influential member across government, education, health, and sport boards.
Jane Spring on the Quad grounds in a yellow and black striped blazer.

As a former champion rower and wheelchair basketball player, Jane currently chairs the Disability Council of NSW and will become the University of Sydney Sports Foundation Chair in 2024. Her dedication to University sport has been honoured through the naming of the perpetual Jane Spring Scholarship awarded annually to a rower who is a student of the Elite Athlete Program.

Jane is both the first woman and the first person with disability to chair Australia’s leading university sporting body since the merger of the historic men’s and women’s sports associations in 2003.

Can you tell us how you got involved in so many board positions?

As is the case for many people who serve on boards, I have been drawn to positions which align with causes I’m passionate about.

I was first elected President of Sydney University Women’s Rowing Club in 1986 at a time when I was heavily involved in the sport, rowing intervarsity from 1986 to 1988. I ended up holding that office until 2010 – many years after an accident had left me paraplegic and unable to compete.

My accident meant I had insights and experience which proved valuable in my board roles with Western Sydney Local Health District, Wheelchair Sports Australia and NSW Combat Sports Authority.

Currently, I chair the Disability Council NSW and am on the boards of Royal Rehab, Paraplegic Benefit Fund and Venues NSW. To nurture my ambition to see as many female athletes reach their potential as possible, I’m the Co-Chair of Minerva Network in NSW which provides meaningful mentorship between women.

What advice would you give to individuals who aspire to serve on boards or contribute to governance in their respective fields?

My advice is to get involved, because we all have a responsibility to contribute, but understand what you are committing to and the knowledge, skills and experience that the specific Board is looking for. Serving on a Board gives you a unique perspective to provide insight into a number of issues – but ask plenty of questions before you put yourself forward, it may be a huge impost on your time that you aren’t prepared for.

What initiatives or changes would you like to see implemented to create a more inclusive work environment for people with disabilities?

Before my accident, I hadn’t given much thought to the barriers that people with disability face. When I returned home from hospital and rehabilitation, I was genuinely surprised to find that many shops, community and government services weren’t accessible to me. Inclusion and empowerment begin with making sure everyone has access.

Looking back on your career journey, is there any advice you would give to your younger self?

My advice to people starting their career journey is to put your energy into doing what you love. Don’t compromise on that score. I believe that if you are doing what you love, you will do your very best job – not just for yourself, but for people who need your help and for the wider community. Being invested in our careers is a wonderful gift that keeps on giving, so my advice is to make it count.

As the newly appointed Chair of Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness, how do you hope to contribute to the future of University sport?

I can say honestly that sport has been responsible in no small part for the person I am today. Competing at an elite level in rowing and then my transformative introduction to wheelchair basketball provided me with personal highs and memories that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

I was very fortunate that (former Paralympic wheelchair basketballer and international coach) Gerry Hewson turned up very early in my time at Royal North Shore Hospital. As soon as my broken ribs and back were sufficiently healed, we started throwing a basketball back and forth, even from bed as I recall. Gerry drove me to weekly basketball training sessions at Mount Druitt where I learnt a lot from other players, especially as I travelled and competed in the NSW Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team in 1991 and 1992.

As Chair, I have a responsibility to foster a love of sport from the elite level to the grassroots and the recreational. There is incredible power in the bonds and networks that are formed in sport, and I truly want more women to understand what men have known for so long about how important these relationships can be.

Making sure our sports program is inclusive, welcoming and empowering are key goals as I look forward to starting this role in 2024.

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