Meet Murdoch Athletics Captain: TJ Callas

TJ Callas is your Captain. At just 20, he is pursuing a double major in Cyber Forensics and Information Security as well as minoring in Screen Production. TJ is working full time as an intern (Graduate Reporting Engineer) with Empired LTD, a casual retail team member with Super Cheap Auto, training six days a week as WA Athlete (State and National Representatives) and is the Sports and Athletics Captain of Murdoch University. Hailing from Guinea, West Africa 9 years ago TJ has come a long way. As a youth, he was faced with many traumas relating to language barriers, racism, and his own mental health. He says, he owes his success all to his sports and athletics. Today TJ is working hard on his own Athletics Program dedicated to helping youths overcome their trauma. I decided to find out more.

Hey TJ, give me a run down on your involvement in athletics.

So basically I’m a 100m and 60m sprinter as well as a long jumper. My best for the 100m is 10.54, 6.86 seconds for the 60m and 7.20m for the long jump. I train 6 days a week. I am also a Level two Athletics Australia coach with WA Little Athletics as one their coaches for Little Athletics Programs for Schools (LAPS) teaching and demonstrating the fundamental skills of athletics at all levels of athletics discipline which includes running, jumping and through as well as train the Murdoch Vikings Athletics team.

How well did Murdoch Vikings do in the Uni games last year?

We did really well. Last year Murdoch was represented in nearly all event disciplines. Every athlete made it to the final, placing us in the top four or five). 9 out of 13 Athletes made it to either the final or semi-final of his/her competition events. Overall we won 3 medals (two gold and one silver) and we broke a 32 year old record.

What is the main goal for your athletics?

I am hoping to qualify and compete at the Commonwealth or Olympic Games as a 100 meter sprinter. I don’t believe in excuses I believe in results, however with work, uni and training full time it’s very hectic, but I take every opportunity that comes. This is why I tell myself that “I will persist until I succeed”. It does not matter how or when I get there, all on my mind is to make it to one of the games one day by God’s help.

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When did you start using sport to overcome your trauma?

When I first came to Australia I didn’t speak English well, so I used sport to help me learn the language, meet new people and becoming more confident in myself. At that time I didn’t know what depression and anxiety were. I used to get bullied, and when I went through puberty I started to feel insecure about myself at times. When I was in year 8 I encountered racism, as I was the only black kid in the whole school during that time. So to overcome this I started to hang around people who did sports and I associated myself with them. I found when I was doing sport I just focused on what was in front of me instead of worrying about people or other things in my life.

You have a dream project that you’re in the process of creating.  What’s it all about?

Sports Assisting Youths (SAY) is a project I am developing alongside NFP to help youths of this generation grow stronger so they may face their everyday fears and overcome trauma, with the help of athletics. The aim is to have a facility that includes an indoor gym, swimming pool, basketball court and an oval. The facility would be available on a 24/7 basis to anyone who might at any moment be experiencing traumas in their life and cannot see a way out.

What is your goal for this project?

I want to ease the amount of suicide rates among youths. Today too many youths harm themselves due to depression, anxiety and lack of confidence. Reflecting on myself, I once suffered from depression but with the use of sport, it has helped me overcome the many failures, breakdowns, and traumas in my daily life.

How can people help your project or follow your journey?

You can find me on Social Media here:

Facebook Page:     

Instagram: @tjcallas

SnapChat: t.callas  

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Interview & Photography by Harry Cunningham

James Ahern

James Ahern is a local men ace. There’s no doubt about it! When not studying Geology and Geochemistry at UWA, he’s at the local skate parks or places where obvious signage says he shouldn’t be, skating under the leniency of his sponsorship with GMTA Skateboards, or on one of his own painted boards. We met up with him for a quick bout of verbal diarrhoea, where he discussed the public perception of skaters, his involvement in local youth arts festivals and living in France.

Do you think that there are public grudges and negative perceptions against young people who skate?

Yes, definitely. I think the public kind of look at skaters in the same light as graffitists and drug dealers a ‘menace to society’. It could be to do with the fact that they see some skaters hanging out at spots or parks drinking or smoking or perhaps even making graffiti and think; ‘What a waste of time. These kids should be in school or have jobs or do something productive with their time rather than skating and chilling’.

Skate parks are only the training grounds for what lies beyond; anything other than skate parks.

What they don’t know is that some of those skaters are probably studying, or they do have jobs and alot of skateboarders don’t graffiti or smoke drugs. The reason people see skaters in the same light as all other frowned upon groups of people is because skaters stick to the street just like graffiti artists or homeless people. Lots of skateboarders become friends and hang out with these other ‘street rats’ because it is inevitable we share the same grounds. Skaters try and look for ‘natural’ things to skate pieces of architecture or a ledge out the front of a business building or a handrail down some stairs at a school; anything in the street. Skate parks are only the training grounds for what lies beyond; anything other than skate parks.

Describe the nature of your sponsorship with GMTA Skateboards, such as what it means to you as a skater to be supported in that way, what you think you can do for GMTA as a stakeholder in their business etc?

Well the reason I skateboard for GMTA initially is because everybody associated with the company are my friends. Some friends I see more than others but in a whole GMTA is a big family with family values. As they say Great Minds Think Alike and that is what the company stands for. It is based in Perth and most of my good friends in Perth support GMTA by buying their boards and product and keeping the company alive. GMTA is a company which is consistently improving the public image of skateboarding, along with the skate coaching and clinics, they have a website which is updated semi-often (laughs), with news and clips and photos of what has been happening in the Australian and mainly Perth skate scene. It is really good to be a part of a company which aids the progression of Australian skateboarding.

What involvement have you had with other young skaters in Perth/Fremantle? ie Volunteering, the Norfolk Lanes Festival etc.

The GMTA Skateboards ‘ringleader’ Ben Bowering is being really productive and helped out many people associated with GMTA (the team; me and my friends) to become skateboard coaches and legally teach skateboarding to younger groups of people. We have been taking young birthday groups at times, or organising clinics within festivals and things like that.

On your recent trip to Europe, did you go skating? If so, was it different in any way/and how?

Skating there is more about having fun, not doing the hardest tricks but skating obstacles which are more challenging to do things on.

I went to France at the start of May until the end of October in order to meet heaps of people, go skating and learn French. I lived in Toulouse for 2 months and then in Bordeaux for 3 months and it was amazing. The skating is so much diferent and so are the spots. Skating there is more about having fun, not doing the hardest tricks but skating obstacles which are more challenging to do things on. In Bordeaux I hung out with a group of people who mainly skate during the night. That was the first time I had actually gone skating and filming in the streets at night.

How does it feel to be skating with well-known Perth skaters now, having grown up with them as role models?

It’s honestly amazing. And it’s so fun as well. There were times when I would be at the skate park with some Fremantle highup-there skaters and be too afraid to try tricks to save being embarrassed in front of them. Sometimes I wouldn’t even go if they were there (laughs). But now, having grown up around them and progressing around them I find it so fun to have heated sessions with these people. Being around people who I looked up to when I was younger has taken my skating to another level. I guess I couldn’t ask for more, being in the position I am in right now, having the opportunities that I have had and working at the skill of skateboarding every scar and shin bash was worth it!

Originally Published Metior 1, 2011

Words by Sonia Tubbs