Jennifer Star, a postgraduate Education student at UNE, was chosen to represent the entire Oceanic region in the lighting of the cauldron at the 26th Summer Universiade in Shenzhen, China.
Jennifer was one of the five international athletes, representing more than 8,000 competitors from 152 countries, who lit the cauldron during the Universiade’s opening ceremony last month.
The Universiade, an international university sporting competition held every second year, is second only to the Olympics as the largest multi-sport competition in the world. Its aim is to promote peace and cultural exchange among the world’s youth through sport – an aim that Jennifer Star shares, having moved to India in 2009 to develop her charity Tara.Ed.
Tara.Ed works to improve cultural links between Australian and Indian schools, to offer practical training for Indian and Australian teachers, and to provide resources to rural schools in India.
Jennifer decided to develop skills for her work with this Non-Government Organisation by studying for a Graduate Diploma of Education at the University of New England by distance education. “I’ m always travelling, and I needed a university that was flexible and suited my travel,” she said. “UNE is well known for its distance education, so it was a natural choice.”
“When I moved to India, I thought that I’d have to let go of judo,” she said. “It took me four months to realise that I couldn’t possibly survive without it. I ended up with the Karnataka State Men’s Military team. In Australia, an elite athlete has a team: a coach, a physio, training partners, a sports psychologist and training facilities. In India, it was just me.”
Some of her challenges included dietary deficiencies, power cuts, heat, and lack of resources – especially for women. “I didn’t just have to fight on the mat; I had to fight stereotypes, injuries, facilities, and motivation,” she said. “But somehow I actually made it, and I was a better athlete at the end of it.”
She believes that “sport is all about the journey – not the destination”. “If you focus on getting it right in training, you’ll get it right in competition,” she said. “So make every session count. There are times when it all comes crashing down, but I have a great network of people who support me in my various roles and work really hard to make the way easier for me. It’s not hard to excel when you’ve got people cheering you on from the sidelines.”
Jennifer Star (pictured here competing in the Shenzhen Universiade) has been competing in judo for 16 years, and in international competition for seven. Her achievements include gaining bronze in the 2005 Youth Olympics and coming ninth in the 2009 Universaide in Belgrade.
“I still have a lot to do both in Judo and with Tara.Ed,” she said. “I’m just incredibly lucky that I have the opportunity to pursue the things I love.”