O'Hea and Thwaites named joint winners of the Sarah Tait Spirit Award

Tonight the Sarah Tait Spirit Award was presented for the first time ever to joint winners, Jenna O’Hea and Caitlin Thwaites at the 2020 Victorian Institute of Sport Awards. 

Like the Award’s namesake, O’Hea and Thwaites were recognised for being inspirations in life as well as in their sports and both are fantastic role models to athletes, both past and present. It was a tough decision for the judging panel and they were impressed by the athletes’ exceptional work to raise awareness for athlete wellbeing. 

Thwaites’ glittering 18-year career reached a dazzling finale in 2020 when she helped the Vixens to a very special Suncorp Super Netball Premiership. This included making the transition to goal attack and demonstrating great work ethic off the ball. 

When the Melbourne Vixens relocated to Queensland, Thwaites’ well documented previous struggles with anxiety and depression helped her not only overcome the challenges of being in the hub but also inspired her fellow Vixens at a time when personal wellbeing was paramount. 

She has spoken publicly about mental health issues and has gone further to explore topics including inclusion, diversity and anti-violence campaigns. She now feels it is her responsibility as a role model to support the greater good and to give back to the community and to the sport. 

Thwaites is an Australian representative in two sports (volleyball as well as netball) and while that aspect of her life is coming to an end she continues to help and motivate young people with her contributions to the Netball Victoria Talent Academy, Bushfire Relief Appeal, Lifeline and the Confident Girls Foundation. 

“The impact which Caitlin has on team culture is immense. Always ready to lend a helping hand to teammates or provide an ear to listen. This support has extended beyond the border as she has continued to reach out to training partners in Victoria who did not travel to the Queensland hub,” Andy Farrow, VIS Netball Performance Lifestyle Advisor. 

“It is an absolute honour to receive this Sarah Tait Spirit Award. It has been an incredibly tough year and for me personally. It has taken the support of so many for me to get through an incredibly hard but very successful season. I would like to thank the VIS, Melbourne Vixens, Netball Victoria, my teammates and my family for all the support they provided not only to our team but especially to me personally,” Thwaites said. 

2020 has been an extraordinarily difficult year for elite athletes but it was even tougher for Australian Opal’s Captain O’Hea who broke a wrist during the WNBL season and worked really hard to return to the court for the Finals. 

Although the Southside Flyers had been the best WNBL team all season their two narrow finals losses only motivated the skipper to work harder in preparation for Tokyo, where she was due to lead the Australian Opals. 

When COVID sank those plans Jenna threw herself into the new “iso” training regime and was a huge inspiration for not just the players in the Australian squad but for other VIS athletes who she often reaches out to. 

O’Hea is passionate about raising awareness of and support for mental health. Through her initiative of personally wanting to donate $100 to Lifeline for each 3 point shot, this was then picked up by the 8 WNBL clubs and the WNBL organisation raising $15,000 and, thus demonstrating an impact beyond herself to the community. 

O’Hea is a well-liked regular around the VIS gym and a huge supporter of the other athletes around her. She regularly posts congratulations messages to other VIS athletes on her Instagram when they achieve success and posts mental health messages with links to Lifeline and other support means. O’Hea is also a regular with VIS Sports medicine, utilising the physiotherapy service and working closely with Lead Physiotherapist Steve Hawkins on her wrist rehabilitation. 

“It is an honour to have Renae Ingles present this award and an even bigger honour to share this award with Caitlin. 2020 has been a rough year, so to win this award is extra special this year,” O’Hea said. She continued to thank VIS Physiotherapy Lead Steve Hawkins and VIS Strength & Conditioning Coach Ben King for their help this year. 

“I’m currently in the Queensland hub for the WNBL trying to win a championship just like Caitlin and the Vixens. And I hope 2020 can be the year for all of us,” O’Hea said. 

The Sarah Tait Spirit Award, named after the late rower Sarah Tait, was presented by 2019 Award winner former netball star Renae Ingles and Dr Larissa Trease, Sport & Exercise Physician and Medical Advisor to ASADA. Dr Trease was formerly the Chief Medical Officer to Rowing Australia and worked closely with Tait.


The 2020 Victorian Institute of Awards digital celebration is running over three days from 23 November-25 November, and was continued today with the Open Universities Australia Performance Lifestyle Award. 

You can visit our VIS Awards Hub here for more information.

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