Inspired by helping women in her local community gain confidence around their body image and exercise, Laura Thompson, in conjunction with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service in Preston, Victoria, created #HerTribe, a sixteen-week exercise program for local Indigenous females of all ages and abilities.

“I wanted to create an environment where women could come together, feel safe and confident and be able to get fit together,” said Thompson.

121 women enrolled in the free course, which challenged participants over the course of two hours, once a week, through a range of fitness activities from gym to indoor cardio, running, walking, weights, boxing and stretching.

Many of the women had never participated in physical activity on a regular basis, or for a number of years, and had to overcome a range of fears to simply turn up to their first session.

“My voice said I didn’t think I’ll be able to do this because we were told it’s going to be full on,” said Aboriginal elder, Ruth Pinkard. “I feared being judged by my height, weight and age. But I have done levels that I didn’t think I could do and other people thought I couldn’t do.”

Marayne Muller saw the program advertised on Facebook and overcame enormous anxiety to sign up. “Pretty much one quarter of the way through, I was addicted. It gave me a sense of purpose and helped break down the barriers in my head. I went from someone who was pretty adamant that I didn’t want to be here anymore, to someone that was able to dream.”

For others, the supportive but challenging environment has given back a sense of identity and helped them regain good health.

“This mob has helped me to keep out of hospital. I was thinking I was too old. I suffer from asthma and I thought the younger people would laugh at me trying to keep up with them. But they were very supportive,” said Maureen Moore.

Added Lisa Thorpe, “it’s given me the ability to participate and to find out who the real person is, without being a mother or a daughter. I come here as Lisa.”

Women acting as a role model for each other, has not only provided inspiration, it has also given each participant a sense of kinship in a supportive environment where they can strive to be their best.

Richmond Football Club is a proud partner of VicHealth’s This Girl Can Victoria campaign, celebrating women who are all kinds of active.

VicHealth research reveals that worrying about being judged stops many women from being physically active. In fact, 41% of Victorian women feel too embarrassed to exercise in public.

Which is why campaigns like This Girl Can Victoria and programs like #HerTribe, are so important. Empowering women to be active whenever, wherever and however they choose – in a supportive environment – is critical.

“From the moment I came into the environment they had created here, I found it especially amazing the variety of people. They had aunties and elders and kids, and I’m a young person, so I just loved the environment they created where everyone was welcome,” said J-Mara McDonald.

Marayne Muller sums it up perfectly, “I thought I can’t get involved because everyone was better than me. But I guess, when you have amazing people around you – and women – that’s when we can start breaking that down.”