AUSTRALIAN basketball great Lauren Jackson has spoken of the challenges and opportunities facing regional sportsmen and women.
The Opals champion and three-time Women’s National Basketball Association MVP was the keynote speaker on day one of the Sport in Regional Australia Conference in Bendigo.
The conference, convened by La Trobe University, is designed to offer a 360 degree view of Australian sport in a regional setting.
Jackson, who is yet to take to the court for Canberra Capitals during the current Women's National Basketball League season, spoke of her sporting journey from growing up in the New South Wales town of Albury, to her ascension to the world stage of Olympic Games and stints in the United States, Korea, Russia, Spain and China.
The four-time WNBL MVP told of the financial and travel hardships faced by aspiring athletes like herself in pursuing their dream to represent their region and state.
Jackson said her own basketball dream would not have been possible without the unconditional support of her parents Maree and Gary Jackson, both of whom played in Australian national basketball teams.
She spoke of the "huge burden" on her parents driving her the 12-hour and sometimes more round trip to state training camps and tournaments in places like Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong.
"It's a huge commitment for volunteers and family members trying to get us to all these events," Jackson said.
"It's definitely harder for kids from regional areas to succeed.
"There's also that financial burden on families."
Jackson, who has been sidelined with a potentially career-ending knee injury sustained in China in 2013, encouraged aspiring young athletes from regional areas to first and foremost enjoy their sport and have fun.
"If you want to be a great athlete you need to practise, but you need it to be fun," she said.
"I think the important things for parents is to support and not pressure them, but enable them to be the best they can be in whatever field they want to be."
In a candid one-on-one discussion with former journalist and now senior lecturer in communications and media at La Trobe University David Lowden, Jackson told of being bullied as a child, despite being over six foot by age 12.
Through her Twitter account she has been vocal in speaking out against bullying and a raft of other cultural and social welfare subjects.
Jackson, who won Olympic silver with the Opals in 2000, 04 and 08 and bronze in 2012, said she had not given up on representing Australia at a fifth Olympics in Brazil next year.
But she conceded that would not be possible if she was unable to return to the court with the Capitals during the current WNBL season.
She will resume training with the team this week.
I want to be able to make a difference and be something other than a basketball player.Lauren Jackson
Having returned to build her dream home and live in Albury, Jackson is already planning for life beyond basketball.
She is in the process of attaining a university degree in gender and diversity studies at Macquarie University, with an eye to one day studying and practising law.
“I want to be able to make a difference and be something other than a basketball player, " she said.