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Jelena Dokic shares her pain and new passion

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Jelena Dokic has been many things in her 39 years. 

Once ranked No 4 in the world for her tennis prowess, she has since aced it as a coach, commentator, mentor and author. 

But, what she wants most to be remembered for is being a voice for the voiceless. 

The former Croatian refugee will be in the Hunter region this month to headline the Lake Mac Women in Sport Festival. 

The week-long event also falls amidst annual International Women’s Day, something she is proud to represent. 

“It’s an honour,” she says.

“And, it’s something I’m quite humbled by. 

“I don’t really like to talk about myself, but I do try to raise awareness and speak up. 

“I share my story in the hope of being able to help someone else and especially those people who feel they don’t have a voice, that feel like they’re alone. Just to let them know they’re not alone.” 

Jelena is no stranger to personal battles. 

In her speaking career and through her book Unbreakable, she has been open and honest about the years of abuse suffered at the hands of her father. 

“I have a platform so in a way it is my responsibility to do something with it, I certainly want to do good with that,” she exclusively told the Newcastle Weekly

“I just try and do good and help women and especially young girls, that’s what I’m about, and what I want to be remembered for, that’s what I want my legacy to be. 

“I get motivated and inspired by other women who are doing it tough.” 

Jelena began playing tennis at the age of six. 

Born in war-time Croatia, she became a refugee in Serbia before her family fled to Australia. 

Tennis became her lifeline as she rose through the ranks. 

“I used to look up to tennis players because I grew up in that sport, I had Monica Seles and Steffi Graff, two incredible players and incredible people too, humble and hardworking,” she said.  

“But, as an athlete, your career doesn’t go on forever so your heroes change. 

“Today, I get incredibly inspired by every single person doing it tough, being resilient, getting up every single day and battling through challenges and finding a way to be strong and survive – especially women and young girls. 

“I’ve been inspired by a lot of the women who are brave enough to speak up and share their stories in recent years. It’s not easy to do. I’ve done it as well and I know how hard that is so Grace Tame for me has been an incredible inspiration, and she is one of many.” 

On the eve of her 40th birthday, Jelena says she has learned the value of sport in other ways. 

“It’s important to get young people involved in sport. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to be a professional one day or not, sport is something that really builds character from a very young age,” she said. 

“It teaches hard work, discipline, connections, how to work together, and build resilience. 

“You will go through tough times in sport but that sets you up for life, because you’re going to go through tough times in life, too. 

“Sport can set you up for life, especially when it comes to mental health, there are so many positives about being involved in sports. 

“I think sport has been a lifesaver for me.  

“Even though I went through a lot of tough times through domestic violence and child abuse and mental health issues as well, I still feel sport helped me get through it.” 

Following your passion can also be a form of healing, she adds.  

“You need something that you’re passionate about in your life, whether that’s a sport or not,” Jelena said. 

“It’s something you can connect with people over, and the community, for the rest of your life. 

“As we go through life there will be tough times, it’s inevitable.  

“We’re going to go through difficult moments, through grief and loss. Having that sport, that passion in life, being connected to your community, your club, can really help you get through the tough times. And, I think it certainly helped me.” 

Jelena Dokic in her role as a sports commentator

Almost a decade after retiring from professional sport, Jelena is finding other ways to unwind. 

“I’m so passionate about what I do, and in some ways I’m a work-aholic, that some of my downtime is actually some of the work that I do,” she admits.  

“I see doing events and being able to share my story of survival as my downtime. It helps me on so many levels.  

“Pottery is my new passion as well.” 

Jelena’s first book was published in 2017. Her second book is due in September 2023.

Sharing her story about her domestic violence and bullying about her weight, have all been cathartic for the now-single woman. 

“I’m an open book, and I’ve shared all about my childhood experiences in my book Unbreakable. That was the whole point,” Jelena said.  

“I wanted to be completely open, honest, vulnerable, raw and show people what it looks like. 

“Some of those stories are tough to tell and tough to listen to, but I think the reality of what goes on behind closed doors is even more so. 

“There are such horrifying numbers when it comes to suicide for example. I talk a lot about that because I’ve been there. I’ve attempted suicide.  

“There are nine Australians that take their lives every single day and almost a million world-wide.  

“You’ve got at least one woman a week that dies from domestic violence in Australia.  

“These are some horrifying numbers that we don’t always hear about every day, but we need to raise awareness.  

“For me I was doing that by sharing my story and I believe the more we share our stories the more it brings awareness to it and education. 

“My hope is that people that are going through it will then have more strength, and more hope, to know that there is a way out. 

“I think the more that we hide it, and we don’t talk about it the more we’re silent, the more power it gives to the abusers. 

“The more we talk about it and share, we can all unite in this fight against these things that are affecting so many, especially women and girls. I’m passionate about that. 

“I do that through my book, my talks, my work, and my social media.” 

Jelena has 128,000 followers on her Instagram page. 

Her second book is due in September. 

“It’s all about normalising and destigmatising when it comes to talking about abuse, domestic violence and mental health,” she explains. 

“That’s what I ultimately want to do. I want to normalise that conversation.  

“Body shaming and online abuse is also a part of this. I’ve been very vocal about that too. 

“I think we’ve been focusing on so many wrong things. It really doesn’t matter what size or weight you are, it’s about being a good person, being a kind, generous, empathetic person.  

“Do you put out positivity in the world? It’s got nothing to do with weight.” 

Jelena Dokic

Does she have peace now? 

“I’m strong, I can handle it, I’ve been through a lot but some of the online comments and the abuse can be really harsh. It can trigger people, it can cause a lot of problems, so I think it’s something I’m really passionate about because so many of us go through it,” Jelena said. 

“I’ve always been very competitive I think from a very young age and I think sport has built quite a lot of that strength and character.  

“You’ve got to have this belief, this self-confidence. Never let anyone put you down, for your dreams, your goals, and for yourself, never give up on yourself, that’s extremely important. 

“For a certain part of my life I wasn’t like that because I lost a lot of confidence. 

“When you’re in a domestic violence situation you lose so much of yourself and you’re a shell of a person. 

“I have been able to recover and heal and I know how important it is to not allow others to put you down, so I try to put that message out there. 

“Continue believing in yourself, never let anyone take that strength, that light and that positivity.” 

International Women’s Day throughout the Hunter

Saturday 4 March

  • 9.30am: IWD March (Gregson Park, Hamilton)
  • All day: Women in Sport Festival (Speers Point Park, Lake Macquarie)

Sunday 5 March

  • 10am-2pm: Women in Sport Try a Sport Day (Speers Point Park, Lake Macquarie)
  • 11.25am: SHEsail Ladies 16ft Skiff race (Belmont 16s)
  • 11.30am: WWYW Paint & Sip (Green Roof, Hamilton)

Monday 6 March

  • 7.30am: Women in Sport Breakfast (TINTA Belmont, Lake Macquarie)

Tuesday 7 March

  • 7am: Women in Law Breakfast 2023 (Newcastle NEX)
  • From 9.30am: Hunter Women’s Centre IWD Events
  • Noon-1pm: Empowering Women and Girls in the Circular Community (online)

Wednesday 8 March

  • 7.15am: Zonta IWD Breakfast (Brown Sugar, Warners Bay)
  • 9.30am-11am: Women’s Inspire (LIVEfree Hub, Adamstown)
  • 9.30am-11.30am: Lord Mayor’s International Women’s Day Morning Tea (Newcastle City Hall)
  • From 9.30am: Hunter Women’s Centre IWD Events
  • 10am: Cessnock’s Hidden Herstories (Cessnock City Library)
  • 11.30am: Newcastle Women’s DVCAS High Tea (NWDVCAS)
  • Noon-3pm: Embrace Equity International Women’s Day (Kahibah Sports Club)
  • Noon-4pm: HunterNet 2023 IWD Luncheon (Merewether Surfhouse)
  • Noon-4pm: IWD Panel and UNSA Expo (Park on the Hill, University of Newcastle)
  • 5pm: Hunter Business Women’s Network IWD Event (Newcastle NEX)
  • 5.30pm: IWD Artist in Residence Launch (Brough House, Maitland)
  • 6.45pm: Clare Bowditch and Georgie Winchester (Warners Bay Theatre, Lake Macquarie)

Thursday 9 March

  • Noon-2pm: USNA IWD Expo (NuSpace, University of Newcastle)

Saturday 11 March

  • 1pm-3pm: Lake Mac Women in Sport Expo (Charlestown Square)
  • 2.30pm: Sleapy’s Foundation IWD High Tea (Souths Merewether)
  • 6pm: Launch – Mistress Exhibition (Blackstone Gallery)

Sunday 12 March

  • 9.30am: Women’s Inspire (LIVEfree Hub, Adamstown)

Saturday 25 March

  • 4pm: BASS-IC (Lass O’Gowrie Hotel, Wickham)

Friday 31 March

  • 12.30pm-3.30pm: Gen Collective 2023 International Women’s Day Luncheon (Merewether Surfhouse)

Sunday 30 April

  • 1pm-5pm: Bar Mellow IWD Event (Bar Mellow, Newcastle West)

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