Tiffany Cherry remembers watching the Moscow Olympics on TV with her mum and brother. At eight years old, she was hooked on sport, and she knew she wanted to be part of the action one day, to be right in the thick of it. ‘I suppose it’s what a little kid believes Disneyland is before you go there: that’s what the Olympic Games was to me. Friendliness and happiness, and everyone having a great time.’
And so began Tiffany’s dream to represent Australia on the world stage. She worked her way up through Little Athletics, and her chosen event was the 400 metre hurdles. She’d think about each race, and how she’d pace herself. ‘I loved the obstacles, and working out the strategy for how to get over them,’ Tiffany says.
While she made it to the top eight hurdlers, nationally, Tiffany realised that she wasn’t going to make it as a professional athlete. She also had to accept that while she wasn’t good enough, some of her friends were. ‘Training with someone who is your peer, but who then takes off in a direction you can’t keep up with – that can be hard. I had friends who became world and Olympic champions and represented Australia – they became the catalyst for me to keep striving, for a different way to reach my goal.’
Determined to pursue a career in the sports industry, Tiffany completed a Bachelor of Applied Science and became a physiotherapist. She was one of the first females to work in the inner sanctum of a football club when she became Richmond's first female physio. ‘Mum always told me I could be anything, so I didn’t think about being the first. I was qualified to do the job, and I’d also experienced being an athlete. But I kept getting asked what it was like being a girl in the male changing rooms. I thought it was such a stupid question. It’s like asking a male gynaecologist what it’ s like delivering babies!’
‘I kept getting asked what it was like being a girl in the male changing rooms. I thought it was such a stupid question. It’s like asking a male gynaecologist what it’ s like delivering babies!’
Tiffany had also been writing for Australian Runner Magazine and freelancing for The Age and gradually a sports journalist career path emerged in radio and TV. ‘I was always passionate about sport, and without being conscious of it, I was also passionate about people’s stories. It’s only a few years ago that I realised I’m actually a storyteller. Everything I do – presenting, producing, being a journalist – is about inspiring people through storytelling – being the conduit for other people’s incredible stories.’
After a few years, there was another first. This time, though, she had to work hard to make it happen. In 2002, Tiffany became the first female AFL boundary rider when she joined the new Fox Footy channel.
‘I was very naive when I started in sports journalism. I thought everyone was just fabulous. Then I was told I couldn’t work in football because I hadn’t played the game. But because of my background, I knew how to explain in layman’s terms what injuries had occurred. I saw that as an opening, and that I could make something of it. It was very hard to convince them but my persistence paid off. I just didn’t give up. I’d jam my big toe in their door over and over again.’
As her career as a journalist developed, Tiffany reshaped her goal of making it to the Olympics. She would go as a presenter, and no one was going to steal that dream. She brought to the table all her experience and drew on the traits of a good hurdler – persistence, being able to strategise, resilience. In 2012 she hosted the London Olympic Games for Foxtel.
‘Achieving that goal after all those years was unbelievable – when I sat back and reflected, it was the journey that was amazing,’ she says. ‘That was the wonder of it all – the trials and tribulations, the people I’d met along the way. Everything that makes life worth living. It’s true, what they say, it’s the journey that counts.
‘My dad would say to me, “Before you walk through your next door, just take a look back.”’
Behind the TV screen, Tiffany found some things increasingly difficult to deal with. ‘In television, so much politics goes on and you can’t really control that. Often a way of potentially controlling it – or lessening the impact – is to fall into line with what’s going on. I wasn’t prepared to toe those political lines.
‘In the early days of being involved in sport, I thought it was important to be part of the boys’ club. Then I saw the double standards wherever I looked.
‘In the early days of being involved in sport, I thought it was important to be part of the boys’ club. Then I saw the politics of it all, and the double standards wherever I looked.’
‘As I get older, I understand a lot more about people and why they act in certain way and a lot of it is about their own insecurities. You can’t control that. So it comes back to staying true to who you are. I’m now a lot more aware of how people behave and how that can affect me, but only if I choose to let it.’
Tiffany has a young daughter, and feels positive about the opportunities Vivienne will have, to be who she wants to be. She is loving the impact of girl power, evident in the success of the inaugural AFL Womens season. ‘I think in the past women were perhaps pitted against each other, and we’ve probably spent too much time comparing ourselves because there were limited opportunities for us to achieve in male-dominated areas. But girls are really starting to unite and that’s incredibly powerful. It’s now a real sisterhood of helping each other.
‘Of course, there’s still a long way to go. I look at some of the criticism of the female players – things like “I don’t like how their ponytails swing” – and I feel sorry that so much of that opinion is shaped by the pressure to conform. But I love that these players prove it’s more than OK to look strong. I love the message that AFLW women are healthy, strong, fit.’
Tiffany completed an MBA just after having Vivienne, in order to understand the business of sport. She’ s formulating her next step and knows she wants to smash any ceiling.
‘Some people would say I overthink things sometimes, and there’s an element of truth in that. But when I hear “hurdles”, I say “Give it to me.” That’s just who I am.’
What do you admire most about yourself?
My never-give-up attitude. Ever.
Do you compare yourself to others?
I tend to compare myself when I'm not as confident in that given situation. It’s always good to remember that while others can give you a barometer, what you can achieve and how great you can be, is completely up to you. Comparison often takes the fun out of life.
What’s the biggest barrier you’ve faced in achieving your goals?
I thought for a long time it was other people's perception of me and the limitations they attached to that, but I've come to learn it’s more about the voices inside my own head and allowing or not allowing those to limit my achievements. Overcoming those voices took a lot of energy, proving that I was capable; in hindsight, I should have ignored them and trusted myself more. That would have made the journey, in some instances, a lot more enjoyable and far less taxing, mentally and physically.
Have you been influenced by other people’s opinions?
I've been influenced both positively and negatively by other people's opinions. It's important to limit the number of people you seek advice from, and keep it to people you trust and who you know to have your best interests at heart. Others are likely to judge you based on their own insecurities and often it has little relevance to you.
I was never afraid of being judged by my peers, but too often I sought their approval. People will judge you if they want to. It's something you don't have much control over, so best to ignore it!
What advice would you give your teenage self?
I would share with my teenage self the power that comes from ignoring the comments and opinions of most people and trusting your gut instinct, because it is almost always right. I would also encourage her to strategise – make a decision and quickly understand all outcomes before acting. But never wait too long.
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