Welcome back, Sharni

dsc_0775Sharni Williams with her famous gold

Batlow was covered in a festive display of green and gold last Saturday, with residents breaking out the balloons and streamers in a show of welcome for Olympic gold medal winner Sharni Williams.

The action centred around Batlow Technology School, where the rugby sevens co-captain was welcomed into the newly named Sharni Williams Hall.

The event showed that despite her accomplishments and international acclaim, the returning champion is as down-to-earth as ever.

“How good’s this? You’re in the Sharni Williams Hall!” she laughed.

“I’m kind of lost for words, seeing my family here, my sister…This is what it’s about, this community feeling – sharing this gold medal and sharing this journey with everybody. Raffle tickets, loads of wood…we’d sit out there with a cake stand and it’d be freezing like it is right now but it wouldn’t matter, because we’re a community.

“We’d want to get somewhere, we’d want to be able to inspire the kids and let them have something to dream about. Well, this dream has been made. This is where the gold medal started and this is where it’s come home to, to Batlow.

“Everyone in this community has worked so hard for this, and I’ll never forget it.”

In an emotional speech, Sharni teared up as she thanked her sister Taylor for her love and support.

“You are number one to me,” she said. “I’m so proud of the person you’ve turned out to be.”

Fans, friends, and family lined up across the quadrangle to congratulate Sharni and take a photo with the homecoming hero and her famous gold medal. They then headed into the Hall for an official ceremony, before driving through town and finishing up at the RSL Club for a well-earned dinner.

Batlow Technology School captain Connor Jeffrey says Sharni’s achievements have put Batlow on the map.

“Through your climb to the top of the Rugby world, you have shown what a Batlow girl can do, and you have inadvertently tackled inspiration into the hearts of young Australians,” he said to the BTS alumni.

“I have no doubt that somewhere across our Great Southern Land there is a little boy or girl picking up a football and dreaming of what it would be like to represent themselves and their country in the Olympics because they saw you playing your heart out.

“That plaque has been placed outside the Sharni Williams Hall to remind those entering that great things are possible, as long as you never stop believing you can do them.

“Batlow: known for apples, and Sharni Williams,” he concluded.

Young rugby player Polly Roche is one of those kids Sharni has inspired. She spent the afternoon tossing around a bright green football with her brothers – a football recently signed by Sharni.

Her mum Sarah, who coaches the local Rugby team along with her husband Jack, says Sharni’s success has had a big effect on Batlow’s aspiring sportspeople.

“It’s not often you see an Olympian in your home town!” she said. “It’s just great for [the kids] to see where they can end up.”

Sharni is well-known in Batlow as an all-round sporting superstar, having found success in cricket and hockey before focusing on Rugby at age 20. She also worked full-time as a mechanic up until two years ago, funding her dreams of sporting glory.

It was over a month ago that Sharni led the Australian women’s team to a 24-17 victory over New Zealand. The historic game was the first time the rugby sevens had been included in the Olympic line-up, making the Aussie girls the inaugural champions.

Now Sharni’s brought her medal back to where it all began: Batlow.