AL Andrew Leigh
TH Tayla Harris
TH I reposted the photo with a very blanket statement saying, my hamstring is okay but sexist and derogatory comments aren’t. And I think people, without even knowing what I was talking about, literally agreed. And they just, you know, hear, hear, say it for the people in the back.
AL Good day, and welcome to The Good Life: Andrew Leigh in Conversation, a podcast about living a happier, healthier, and more ethical life. Our society puts a lot of emphasis on smarts, but not enough on wisdom. So this podcast seeks out wise people who can share their insights on passion, grit, love, and empathy. We’ll discuss everything from sport to parenting, and hear the stories of some of the world’s wisest souls. If you enjoy the podcast, let your friends know, so they can share the insights. Now, let’s dive in to today’s conversation.
Tayla Harris is one of Australia’s most successful athletes. She plays centre half forward for Carlton, and has played in the AFL Women’s All Australian team. She is the Australian female boxing champion in the middle weight and super welter weight categories.
But she’s perhaps best known for a photo taken of her on 17th March 2019, showing her a meter off the ground, leg extended. If you’re like most of us, you probably saw that photo and thought it was pretty great. But a small number of people used it as a chance to troll Tayla.
She, for her part, turned that into a teachable moment, even writing a children’s book, More Than A Kick, which came out this year. Partly as a result, 23-year-old Tayla is now one of Australia’s best-known sportspeople. Tayla, thanks so much for joining me on The Good Life podcast today.
TH My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
AL So you’re an athlete. Let’s start with your training. What did you do today?
TH This morning I dragged myself out of bed and I went down to the local footy field and did my running programme that the footy club assigns to us. And that sucked. I don’t like…
AL Is this intervals?
TH Yes, today it was, what did I? Two minutes on, one minute off, half a dozen times and then 30 seconds [unclear] kind of stuff. So more appropriate for a game of footy rather than a long run, so it was on and off kind of stuff, and it’s pretty tough. But I got through and then had a kick of the footy as well with my friends.
And then, came home and had a shower, got a coffee, so that’s been my morning. And now we’re chatting.
AL What do you feel like you’re training for at the moment? It must be strange not quite knowing what your next event is. You don’t have anything in the calendar for boxing matches at the moment, do you? And AFL’s presumably not until 2021 now?
TH That’s right. It’s really hard to maintain that motivation, and I’ve certainly had my ups and downs in terms of motivation. I think everyone has. Every athlete during this time. I think for me, as someone who wants to be the best version of myself, it’s… Whether its next month or next year, I still want to make sure I’m using this time to my advantage and making sure that I’m continuing on with training and whether I have a competition or not, I’m going to be ready for whenever that is.
Whether it’s a long way away or if it’s just around the corner, it’s hard to know. But I’m definitely trying my best to maintain my fitness and make sure that I’m making the most of this time that I’m sure could be seen as a bit stagnant. But I’m definitely maintaining my work load.
AL One of the things I love about your approach to sport is, you’re so incredibly diverse across sports. Over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve been preparing for this interview, I was also reading André Agassi’s autobiography, Open. And his story is almost the polar opposite to yours. Tennis-mad father, forces him into tennis at a young age, never plays anything else, hates tennis all the way through.
You seem to do every sport, and go where you love. And to have been pretty darn good at a bunch of different sports. Is that how you think about sport in your growing up, in your childhood?
TH Yes, I definitely only play because I enjoy it, because I like the feeling of what that sport gives to me and provides for me. I always say, and everyone’s aware in my circle, that the second I don’t enjoy it or it’s not for me, or I’m not getting that satisfaction from the sport, I can walk away. I don’t have any [inaudible] ties necessarily. But I think for me, of course, the person that I am, I want to make the most of the opportunities that I have, and I want to be the best at that particular moment. But in terms of pursing individual sports…
Of course, I’ve got boxing and footy, but if there’s an opportunity that came up for something really random, and I enjoyed it, I’d take it. I like to do what I feel like that particular day, and… I think with boxing, obviously, it being such a unique sport, especially for women, and much different to footy, I suppose it’s hard for people to understand where that’s come from. But in reality, there’s so much crossover and so many things that I can thank boxing for to make me a better footy player. And vice versa.
As much as pursuing two sports is time consuming and can be difficult to juggle, I feel like that crossover that they give each other is the advantage that no one else has.
AL Let’s dive into each of them and then come to that crossover. I know very little about boxing, but I’m fascinated to read you saying in a past interview that for you, boxing isn’t about aggression. I remember watching the video of your win over Margarite Butcher and there’s this devastating flurry of punches to her head. Then you do two things. You run over and hug your couch, Faris, and then you go back to check on Margarite. You do seem to have a different attitude to your opponents than a lot of boxers.
TH I think that’s my point of difference, because I’m not there to hurt someone, I’m not there for that. I don’t need that emotional anger. All I am there to do is my job and my coaches assign me a task, and that’s to… Whether it’s to win or to knock out to… We’ve got a game plan, I just need to execute that. That’s how I think about it. And I had a lot of trouble getting over, especially initially that first knock out and that first brutal punch, because it was really tough for me to see my opponent hurt and then continue.
But Faris, my coach, said to me one day when it was my first Australian title fight, he said, do you think for a second that she is going to spare you in order to get what you’re both working for? And I said, well, obviously no, but it’s not the sport. And then I got a bit of a reality check and he said, she’s standing in the way of what you’re working for, and what we worked so hard for. And as soon as he said we, I thought, okay, I better do it then.
And it went from hurting someone more to a target board. If I get her in the stomach, I’ll get this many points, if I get her a couple of times or if I landed a solid punch… All these things in my mind, it’s very technical for me as opposed to emotional. Or violent.
AL What’s it like to take a big hit to the head in a boxing match?
TH It’s not ideal. It’s a bit of a shock to the system for a second, but I suppose that’s what training’s for. You do sparring in order to understand that feeling before you get in the ring. You always want to be able to understand what that feeling is before you actually get out in front of all your friends and family that come and watch you.
For me, though, during the fight, it’s not as if I dwell on that particular punch that got me. The second it happens, I’m over it, and I’m on to the next one, and I kind of think, okay, well that means I have to get her twice now, because she’s got me once. If that makes sense.
AL Yes, I guess that goes back to your point about it not being about violence and aggression for you and more a kind of… Almost the way you describe it, it feels like you think of it like a video game. They got more points, you’ve got to get some more points to get them back.
What’s it like though to actually knock someone out? You said it wasn’t for hurting someone, but that’s a lot of hurt when someone gets knocked out.
TH It is, and the first time I ever knocked someone down, I actually tried to pick her up and catch her and then I noticed everyone in the crowd was going, what are you doing? Don’t do that, kind of thing. And then I stood back into the neutral corner and then I had to come back and finish the fight. But I think with boxing, of course, you’re giving everything to that particular event and that fight, and so you’re beyond exhausted. Your body is at the absolute limit and I suppose when you can have that opportunity to finish the fight, it’s a relief.
It’s not just knocking your opponent out. It means you’ve won, it means you get to stop. It means you don’t have to push any further. It means you might… The risk of you getting hurt or knocked out or loosing is zero because it’s all over. There’s so many things that go through your head. The only thing that doesn’t go through my head is that I’ve intentionally hurt her. It’s the game. She is across the ring with every knowledge that this could happen, as I am.
AL How do you deal with opponents who don’t take that sort of attitude? Opponents who bring a whole lot of anger and aggression into the ring?
TH It doesn’t change my outlook at all. In the weigh in, which is sometimes a bit tense, I’m always smiling, and I’m very prepared to say good luck and all the best. Then when we walk out to the ring, and I’m smiling and waving at my friends, I’m having a good time. And if my opponent isn’t, that doesn’t matter to me. That tells me that she’s a different… Going about things in a different way. And whether it’s a good or bad thing, there’s no [unclear] either way.
But for me, if I’m not smiling and having a good time, then that’s not good for me. I love it. I love the sport, I love the fact that I’ve worked so hard to get here and all my friends are here to support me, and I feel great. My coach’s right by my side, and he will be there win, lose or draw. I feel very fortunate to be in the position I am. I love it, I enjoy it as opposed to feel the need to be all angry. Some people do, for sure, and that’s how they operate. But for me, that’s not how I operate.
AL Do you worry about the long-term risk of injury? We’re only learning now about… More and more about concussion risk and certainly as they dissect the brains of older boxers, things don’t look great. Are you aiming to keep that career relatively short, or are there ways you can protect against that long-term damage to your precious brain?
TH I worry about the risk of damage more so in footy, to be honest.
AL Really? Okay.
TH With football, of course, you’ve got knees and elbows coming from all directions and it’s… I feel worse physically after a footy game, as in beaten up, than I do after a boxing fight.
And I think women’s boxing is a little bit different. Of course there’s studies and things, but it’s fact that there’s not as many knockouts and there’s not as many high punches to the head. Everyone’s got the same brain, but in women’s boxing it’s not so… Well, obviously, there’s not as many studies, but it’s just fact that these blows aren’t as powerful. But on a footy field, if someone’s going full speed and knees you in the head, that’s the same. Men or women.
And then not only brain injuries, but you’ve got knee injuries, you’ve got… I’ve got some shoulder things that I have to deal with at the moment, and I’m 23. And I wonder, is that going to be the rest of my life? Am I going to have not great shoulders? To answer your question, I think, I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t agree with this, or wouldn’t consider this, but I do think football more likely to have long-term injuries than boxing.
AL That’s so interesting. Let’s move on to your footy career. You were the only girl playing for the Aspley Hornets as a kid, at a time when presumably a whole lot of your classmates were doing netball or ballet or many of the more traditional women’s sports. What attracted you to AFL?
TH My dad played football, my uncle played, my cousins played. It was a thing to do. My brother was playing under 7s, and I was there, and I joined in, and I was 5 years old. That’s how it started, and I never stopped. It was one of those moments where I was there and joined in and had fun and kept doing it. My parents encouraged me to do whatever I enjoyed, so I was fortunate enough to have support, not only from my family, but then the footy club, the team, at the time was boys.
The team of boys welcomed me like anyone else and there was no difference for me in gender, especially when I was young, growing up. Because the footy club was so inclusive and accepted me for who I was, and that was female, of course, but even my personality. I was pretty confident and happy to get involved in [unclear], so I think I was fortunate to have landed at that particular footy club, which is the Aspley Hornets.
And I still love the Aspley Hornets and I still am in contact with a lot of people there. Whenever I go back to Queensland, I visit all the time. That’s how it started and it never stopped.
AL You couldn’t have been born at a better time in terms of the AFL Women’s League taking off. What prompted your move into that much more senior level of footy, and then to make the switch from the Lions down to Carlton?
TH It’s just how it happened. I couldn’t believe that timing for me. I turned 18 and then this brand new league happens. I was the minimum age to be involved, so I was excited and it sounded great. There was no pre-existing league, so it’s hard to know what I was signing up for, but I [inaudible] ambitious and it sounded like a great idea, and I had nothing else to do. I was looking forward to being a part of something new and exciting, and I knew for a fact that it was going to be able to allow young girls to see what they can be.
I grew up assuming I was going to play men’s AFL, and then got a reality check at 14. Then this came along not too long, probably two years later, the idea of it, and then the actual league came, and I was first to sign up. I was really excited to be a part of something so great. And then my move to Melbourne was one of personal development. I wanted to challenge myself and move out of home, and not only down the road. I couldn’t go home for cooked dinner. I wanted to be able to learn to live and…
Of course, people aren’t going to understand that, yes, I was playing footy and I happened to end up playing for Carlton and I’m glad I did that, but I moved because I wanted to challenge myself, because I wanted to try new things. I wanted to live… Well, obviously, [inaudible] with money [inaudible] a lot of normal people would be moving around. It was a move that I felt like I wanted and I needed and that’s how it unfolded.
AL Yes, there’s many great things about Brisbane, but I don’t think anyone would ever argue that it is more AFL-mad than Melbourne, so clearly you’ve gone to the heart of the sport. You got a bit of harassment at that time, right, from some of the Brisbane fans? How did you react to that, because you would have just been a teenager at that point?
TH Yes, there was a few people not too happy with my decision. I was 18, 19, and it was very confusing. For me, I’d played for that footy club for literally six or seven games, or something like that. It baffled me how passionate… In a good way, I was amazed about how passionate people got, and I took it as a complement, because you don’t ridicule or you don’t harass someone if you don’t… If you want them to leave.
Obviously they enjoyed my contribution and then I was going, they were angry about it. It was full on. There were some pretty brutal comments made from some die-hard fans. But as I said, I took it as a complement, because you don’t do that if you don’t care or you don’t think anyone is much good.
Of course, if you think they’re not good, you let them go and say good riddance, but this wasn’t the case. I was quickly told by a mentor of mine that that’s the outlook I should try and have and I agreed. So that’s how I went about it.
AL Yes, there’s an old stoic philosophy line that there’s two kinds of criticisms. There’s true criticisms for which you should say thank you and think about whether you should change your behaviour, and then there’s false criticisms, which should be ignored. I’ve always liked the philosophy, but I’ve found it very hard to put into practice all the time in my own life.
AL That was, of course, a precursor in some sense to the reaction that came from your terrific, the terrific photo of you taken by Michael Wilson against that Western Bulldogs match in 2019. Take us through the events of that day. How the photo was taken and what the reaction was afterwards.
TH Yes, that was, it seems like a lifetime ago, but it wasn’t too long ago, a year and a half, I think. It was something that was completely unexpected, completely unwarranted, and I couldn’t have prepared. Obviously I played footy that week, and went about things as I normally do, and I happened to kick the footy right around the 50 meter line and that was Michael’s line of sight. It worked out perfectly with that photographer-athlete combination. I did my normal kicking routine and kicked the footy, and the photo he managed to get was…
Obviously he’s an incredible photographer, but it takes a lot to frame it the way he did. All these sort of things can be credit to Michael, and I will be in awe of his ability. And then of course he uploaded that online and, rightfully so, said check out this photo and many people did. And then 7AFL, which is a very popular Facebook page but renowned for some pretty nasty comments, I suppose, from people who follow the footy.
And then that photo when up on 7AFL and there was a lot of disgusting comments. Not only sexist, but misogynistic and violent as well, and disturbing. And then I saw it, I was around the comments. I reposted the photo with a very blanket statement saying, I can’t remember my exact words, my hamstring is okay but sexist and derogatory comments aren’t. And I think people, without even knowing what I was talking about, literally agreed. And they just, you know, hear, hear, say it for the people in the back, kind of thing.
And then I guess other people recognised what was happening on 7AFLs post and then there were screen shots and it went crazy. I didn’t expect that at all. I posted it and had dinner and went to bed like not much happened. And then the next morning, it was crazy. My phone was going crazy and I was on the news, and my manager Alex was ringing and telling me to get up and get ready, we’re going on the radio.
I thought, this is crazy. I’m tired, I’ve just played footy. I’ve got training tonight. But then so many people had shown their support and I felt a bit of responsibility and I went on the radio that morning with Daniel [Inaudible] and my coach at the time, so it was… Of course, I trusted him and he asked questions and prepared me before hand as well, but asked questions that were not going to make me uncomfortable but allow me to have a platform to speak.
And I did, and I just spoke honestly and as I felt. There was no script, no one told me what to say and no one told me what to do. I spoke as I thought was the right thing to do. And of course people clearly agreed and they felt represented and they felt empowered. That’s when it got legs and it took off. Because not only was I speaking on behalf of myself, but I was speaking on behalf of women and men who have women in their lives who are affected by this kind of vitriol. It was an amazing thing to watch unfold.
It was pretty crazy to be in the middle of it, but now I look back and I can appreciate that the support that I had was the only reason that I was able to get through it the way I did, because I has these amazing people all around me. Had my back and would pick me up if ever I was down and… Unbelievable. I always look back on it and I think how lucky I am to have the support around me that I do.
AL You’re lucky to have the support, but I think we’re lucky that you decided to turn that moment of horrible bile into something which shaped the conversation for the better. Do you think it was that experience coming out of the Lions that made you willing to talk about what was going on, to name the vitriol and to ask the club to stand with you? Because I understand initially a lot of the senior people were backing off. 7 took the photo down, Carlton weren’t keen on people speaking to the press. It was really you that turned that around.
TH Yes, I think in my nature, and the way that I was brought up, was to speak up for people and, of course, myself. If I believe something, I will push it to the ends of the earth. I think it’s… The most important quality to have is that confidence in yourself and what you believe in. And I think that’s purely what I did. I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I thought it was the wrong thing, so I talked about it.
And I think given the platform and the media that surrounded the scenario gave me the perfect… The microphone, or the megaphone. I was, stop it. Stop it, I don’t like it, basically. And then of course other people reached… Well, as soon as I said anything, people reached out and said, you’re helping me. That’s all I needed. I’m happy to stand in the firing line and deal with everything, but as long as someone is being affected in a positive way, or I’m helping someone, then that’s all I need. I’ll happily continue to push forward and…
For the rest of my life, I’m going to have people say smart ass comments, or make criticism about the statue, criticism about my whinging, and whatever. But these people, they don’t get it and they’ll never get it. So they can be left behind, but if you want to join this movement and this change, and this better society, then get on board. Because it’s not stopping, obviously. How powerful was that one scenario? Imagine the next big thing that happens. It’s going to be a [inaudible].
AL You’ve casually mentioned the statue there, but it is pretty darn impressive to have a bronze statue of yourself, then aged 22, unveiled in Federation Square. What’s it like to see a statue of yourself?
TH It’s crazy. I still can’t wrap my head around it, but all I can do is be very aware from the start the statue is not… Yes, I happen to be in it, but it’s about the scenario, it’s about the people. It represents hundreds of thousands of people that were, that felt represented, that felt empowered during the whole saga, and I think if… And I know for a fact that young girls go up to that statue and take a photo with it and say, that’s going to be me, or I’m going to stand up for myself, too. Then it’s perfect.
But if anyone thinks that it’s for my footy ability, then you’re silly, because I’ve done nothing. But that particular scenario, it’s emulated in that particular photo. That’s the logo, essentially, of the movement. It makes sense. If you think about it in not such a narrow-minded way, it makes total sense why it’s appropriate, why it’s powerful, why it’s necessary.
AL Right. And I think of it as being about sexism in sport, in the same way as the statue of Peter Norman is about racism in sport. We don’t have a statue of Peter Norman because he picked up silver in the 200 meters in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, it’s because he stood for human rights alongside Smith and Carlos. Those symbols are really important, particularly at a time in which we’re having conversations over the other statues that might not always represent the most enlightened old blokes from past eras.
TH Absolutely. I think statues are an incredible thing. People get so angry about Peter’s medal [inaudible] bronze but it’s much bigger than that. It’s a statement and it’s not cheap. Big industries, big businesses, they believe it. And in my case, it was NAB who made the statue happen. And NAB is a well-renowned bank that backed people and organisations that are doing the right thing for change, for women, for race, for everything. So I think it’s pretty telling if you’re brave enough to do that, then you deserve the recognition.
AL Has it changed the way in which you behave in public? Do you feel as though you’ve got less space to let your hair down now than you did five years ago? People are looking to you as a bit of a role model?
TH Oh, definitely. Five years ago, I was 19, so of course I’m human, I was having a good time. But I think these days, as a… Not even after this particular incident. The second I ended up in Melbourne and was… Not that I wasn’t when I was playing for Brisbane, but I think the media and the attention that came around the fact that I was at Carlton, and Carlton being a big club. It’s not a just a logo, it’s a incredible place. The people feel is their home and they feel so passionate about, and they feel so protective of.
So the second I mess up, it’s not only messing up at Tayla, it’s messing up as Carlton. I took that on board very literally and I made a super-conscious effort to make sure I’m never seen in a bad light, or never caught up in anything that is untoward. I just don’t want to. I feel like I’ve got to… I’m too passionate, I’m too committed to the cause of trying to do good things that I don’t have time to get caught up in anything not so good and… Not saying I would do anything bad, but there’s so many scenarios that people can misinterpret.
People can take a photo and you blink for half a second, and then all of a sudden, someone makes up a story about how that interaction was. It’s just crazy. You have to [inaudible] and if you don’t, you’re naïve.
AL I’ve been reading you 2020 book More than a Kick: Footy, the Photo and Me, to my 11-year-old son, Theodore, as bedtime reading. He’s been loving it. Do you feel… There’s a lot about your training, there’s a lot about your cross training, but there’s also a lot about social media. You’re pretty active, particularly on Instagram, putting your photos out there. Is this the book that you wished had when you were going on to social media?
TH I’m glad Theodore likes it and I hope he continues to enjoy it. Yes, for sure, I definitely wish that some of the advice in that book, not only from myself but from Patty Kingsley, who’s the CEO of Alwatch [?]. She gives some really realistic and important advice. And also for parents as well. It’s so important to understand this world, and you can’t turn a blind eye. Social media is what it is. It’s a beast, it’s not…
It’s great, for sure, but it’s also awful in some ways. If you don’t protect yourself and your kids, you’ll open yourself up to some very dangerous things. As much as it shouldn’t be that way, it just is. So I’m very realistic, and I think a book like that, if I can help a kid or a parent or anyone get through a particular scenario, then please read it and the effort was completely worth it, because it’s…
I often am in a love-hate relationship with social media, obviously because I’ve seen the worst, but I’ve also seen the best. People message me and say some lovely things, or message me for advice, or message me to let me know how their footy game went. And I know that me messaging back and saying, oh, that’s awesome, well done, that’s going to make someone’s day. Or week, or year.
That’s how I think about social media. I’m very cautious of it, but I’m also very aware that it’s an incredible way to have access to these people that you look up to. And fortunately I am one of them to some people. And that’s a role that I don’t take lightly.
AL You have a section at the end of the book called Cliques, in which you talk about some of your tips for managing the online world. [Unclear] has to be relevant for anyone listening, particularly parents. I want to ask you about a couple of them. You say you try not to measure your life against other people’s posts. How do you do that?
TH I, you might notice from my social media life, I just play sport. What I’m doing, what I feel like. I’ve got my dog on there. It doesn’t matter if I’m all sweaty, if I’m all looking a bit bothered. I think it’s so important to actually show people. And I have social media, obviously, to be able to share what I’m up to. But so my friends can see who are interstate. So my family, for the people that I met overseas and I thought were interesting people, so I can keep up with what they’re doing and they can do vice versa.
Social media’s taken a bit of a turn that I don’t love, and that is that competition between yourself and others. I don’t think it should be like that. I think everyone should see each other’s stuff and think, oh, cool, that looks like fun. Maybe I’ll give that a go one day, or supporting each other as opposed to that competition. Because it’s not healthy. Of course, I could orchestrate a photo and look like I’ve got the best life ever, but it’s not real. And you have to understand that some people do do that.
Some people create an engineered version of their life, and it’s not necessarily the case. And I think it’s also the other way round. Some people show, or don’t show, their real life, and it’s concerning, because people want to help each other and you don’t allow them to unless you let them see where you’re at and what you do.
AL Where do you draw the line between negative comments that you’ll engage with and moments where you’ll delete a comment or block the person?
TH It depends on what mood I’m in, but swearing, that can go, and anything nasty or hurtful, that can go. You block straight away. Really no problem. If people are… If I can tell that someone’s genuinely confused or has an opinion about something or someone that is not necessarily hurtful, but just a bit uneducated, then I’m happy to go back and shed some light for them. And depending on their reaction, whether I engage any further.
But there’s been plenty of times where I’ve gone back to someone with, not necessarily a smart ass comment, but matter of fact. And they’ve come back, either a direct message or commented and said, thank you for helping me understand that, I just didn’t know. And I think that’s a really important thing, not to look past. Not everyone is bad, not everyone is trying to be hurtful. They’re just not educated.
And that’s because this conversation, this world, AFLW, women’s sport, it’s new, it’s coming and there’s going to be a lot of people who aren’t necessarily across it as I am and you are and other people who have been involved for a lot longer.
AL Do you worry that you end up spending too much time on social media? These technologies are set up to be addictive. They’re designed by people who know an awful lot about addictive behaviours. Do you find yourself getting sucked into them too readily?
TH No, I don’t. I consider a big part of it, unless I’m actually laughing at funny things, I consider it as a job as well. Obviously, I have the responsibility to [inaudible] as a footy player and a boxer and I allow young people to see my content, and they might get inspired by it and things like that. I see that as my job and I’ll dedicate the appropriate time to that. I’m not really someone who spends overly, or too much time, on social media. I feel like I’m probably quite normal in that sense. Or quite measured, I should say.
AL I have to ask you about your tattoos. What’s with them? Why do you have so many, and what are your favourites?
TH I have tattoos because I like them and I basically do what I want. My favourite, oh there’s too many. I’ve got a lot of them.
AL Tell us about some of them, then. What’s on your knuckles?
TH On my knuckles is the words, or the word, oxymoron, and I feel like that probably represents me a little bit, and the way I go about things is, I suppose, pretty straight forward. But I am someone who does care a lot and who’s quite considered in my approach to a lot of things that… Talking about footy, I probably go about things in a aggressive, it would seem from the outset, manner, but in reality, I’m doing that for my team.
It’s hard to explain, but it’s a word that I resonate with. And then I’ve got a couple of other ones that are basically just designs. I’ve got Judge Judy portrait, and it says, only Judy can judge me. There’s a couple.
AL And some references to your family in there, too?
TH Yes, I’ve got a few. I’ve got a mother-daughter symbol that [inaudible] circular shapes that wrap around and look like a mother and daughter. And then I’ve got Mum and Dad’s handwriting on my wrists, and Dad’s side says, always here for you, love Dad. And Mum’s side says, love you always, Mum. In their handwriting, which I think is quite cool.
AL Did either of them have any hesitation about writing that out so it could be a tattoo?
TH They didn’t know.
AL You tricked them into doing the tattoos?
TH I did. But they don’t mind. Dad has a big tattoo on his arm and back, and Mum has one on her lower back, so she can never say anything, and neither can Dad. That’s basically the way I got.
AL I love it. Tayla, just to wrap up, let me ask you a couple of standard questions I asked all my interviewees. What advice would you give to your teenaged self?
TH Take things on. I was probably quite hesitant or reluctant to try new things. Even so much so like food. I was pretty, not very adventurous with food. Now that I’ve lived in Melbourne and I’ve got these amazing restaurants all around me, I have to. I have to try all this great food and all these amazing cultures or cultural foods and cuisines. In all aspects, try things, and give things a go. And if they don’t work out, that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a learning experience.
I definitely have done that since moving to Melbourne and I think the first step for me was deciding I’m going to move. And then I just went with it. I went all in and I decided I’m going to always do this. I’m always going to do what I think is going to be good for me, but also it might be challenging, but I’m going to do it, because it could be great.
AL And how’s the acting classes going in amidst lockdown? Are you keeping them up?
TH It’s hard, because it’s not the same. I would much prefer to be seeing people in person and I’d love to work on that in real life because it’s already hard enough over a screen. I need that real human interaction, which will come. I’ll keep working on that and I’ll get there eventually.
AL What’s something you used to believe but no longer do?
TH That failing was a bad thing. I think it’s something that… For example would be, Carlton lost the Grand Final against Adelaide last year, but [inaudible], but there was no way in the world had we have… Had things have gone differently, our season wouldn’t have unfolded, or our group wouldn’t have been as tight-knit as it is now, and I think that’s one example. Failing, it’s scary for sure, but it’s not bad.
It’s something that you have to consider as something that’s productive and something that’s helpful, as opposed to deteriorating or… It’s difficult, but it’s not going to ruin you, if that makes sense.
AL Yes, it’s so hard to refocus and turn failures into opportunities, but if you can do it, it’s such a superpower.
TH It is, and it’s to your advantage. If you can manage to do that, because so many people can’t, and so many people struggle to. As an athlete, or anything. If you can manage to do that, you are… You’re doing really well for yourself.
AL Tayla, when are you most happy?
TH When I’m with my dog.
AL Whose name is Beans?
TH His name is Beans, yes.
AL And what’s Bean’s favourite activity? Is it going for a run with you?
TH Yes, he runs. He loves to swim and I love it, until he stinks, and I have to wash him.
AL What’s the most important thing you do in your life to stay mentally and physically healthy?
TH Foster friendships and relationships and family members, and making sure that you’re there… Or making sure that I’m actively listening to my friends, to my family and making sure that they know that I’m willing to do anything for them and going to make sure that I can be that person if they ever need. And that’s something I love to do and be. I think that’s something that I do.
AL And the physical activity must be pretty critical to your mental wellbeing as well, I imagine. Do you train twice a day?
TH Yes, twice at least a day but it’s not necessarily training that’s structured. I probably, especially at the moment, I’m doing what I feel like doing. I do enjoy exercise and I enjoy activity, so whether it be actually running, boxing or footy… It could be random things like rock climbing or swimming, or skateboarding, or anything. Or bike riding. I consider all of that training.
And all of that is as impactful as a super-structured programme. Which works for some people, but for me, I’ll tick the boxes of my jobs and my training that I need to get done, but in terms of cross training and things like that, I think it’s one of the most important things to adopt into your routine.
AL Do you think you’re going to be able to stay with that extraordinary breadth of cross training as you get more and more successful? Or are you going to have to go to a narrower, more repetitive, perhaps slightly more boring programme?
TH I refuse to. I’m going to continue to do things the way that I do. I’m going to continue to explore training methods and… I genuinely believe that that’s my advantage, and that’s my point of difference. I feel like the reason that I can jump the way I do is because, when I was younger, I would… Every time I was at the shopping centre, I’d jump up and try and touch the shop sign. Or I wakeboard and water-ski a lot because of how I grew up and I think that that helped me with my balance a lot.
And I love to, not anything crazy, but I like to, I used to like to go rock climbing a lot. And I think that helps me obviously with my upper body strength. It’s too boring to just do things over and over and over again. But if you have these other outlets, then it gives you a point of difference that no one else has.
AL Do you have any guilty pleasures?
TH Yes, I love chocolates and I’m not opposed to ice cream and things like that. I struggle a lot… Well, not struggle, but it is a challenge, for sure, when I have to cut weight for a fight. I lost about 10 kgs for a fight last year and I’m not overweight, so that was pretty challenging for me. It was so challenging that I became obsessed with it and I became so dedicated to the cause. And I always make sure that I reach that goal, which was to be at the same weight that I was at boxing.
And not only did that weight division mean that I could be a two-division Australian champion, but also it’s an achievement. To manage to be that weight is a very important, incredibly hard thing to do, but the discipline required is amazing. So now I know that not only can I be that disciplined with food, but my body can function on that lack of energy. It’s amazing. I got to learn so much about myself, about my body, when I went through that experience.
AL Yes, fasting gives you a different attitude to food, doesn’t it? That sense, not that you must have it, but that it’s nice to have. Finally, Tayla, which person or experience has most shaped your view of living an ethical life?
TH Definitely obviously the kicking photo opened my eyes to a lot of amazing things in society, but also some pretty confronting things that go on and things that need to be addressed. And I feel like my push allowed these to be fast tracked, even a little bit, to becoming a more equal society and a more respectful society. But there’s a long way to go, that’s for sure, but I’m definitely committed to continuing to stand up for myself, to stand up for people who don’t necessarily have a voice.
It allowed me to realise the resilience that I have is there and it’s strong and it’s burning. So I’ll continue to utilise that. And acknowledging that it’s not easy. What I did was not easy. People don’t just stand up in front of a press conference and talk about uncomfortable situations, but I did it. I’ve ticked that off and I can do it again. And I’m prepared to do it again.
AL Tayla Harris, boxer, footballer and role model, thanks so much for taking the time to share your wisdom on The Good Life podcast today.
TH My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me, and take care.
AL Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Good Life: Andrew Leigh in conversation. If you enjoyed this discussion, I reckon you’ll love past interviews with Sue Reed, Kurt Fearnley, and Ellen Broad. I have a new book out at the end of September. It’s called Reconnected. It’s co-authored with Nick Terrell, and you can pre-order it on the Black Ink website now.
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Next week, we’ll be back with another inspiring guest, to discuss living a happier, healthier, and more ethical life.