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Mount Gambier jockey Geoff O’Loughlin stages surprise comeback at 48


Geoff O’Loughlin weighed 56 kilograms and had just 2 per cent body fat when he “struggled” with his weight not being light enough.

He’s not crazy. He’s a jockey.

Things could have been different had he chosen to take growth hormones and play professional soccer in England as a child. Instead, he kept his height and set his heart on becoming a jockey.

O’Loughlin, based in Mount Gambier in South Australia, rode 431 winners in his 22-year career.

Had he weighed less, he could have recorded more wins — a common story in the industry.

“My weight was just spiralling between race rides because you don’t race consecutive days … it got too hard towards the end,” he said.

A man wearing a black riding helmet and high vis jacket sits on a horse in a stable.
Geoff O’Loughlin says he retired from racing when the sacrifice outweighed the reward.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

When O’Loughlin retired in 2010, he weighed 56 kilograms. At the time, the top weight allowed in handicap races was 57 kilograms, leaving the Mount Gambier jockey a narrow window within which to compete.

Now a decade later and a couple of kilos lighter, the 48-year-old made his return to competition racing last week at the Penola Racecourse.

No-one was more excited than his wife, trainer Belinda O’Loughlin.

When the two raced together they achieved a success rate of 23 per cent winners and 43 per cent placegetters, one of the best strike rates in country Australia.

“I’ve put a lot of jockeys on since Geoff retired … (but) Geoff… he’s one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever had,” Belinda said.

A woman stands with a horse smiling, a man in a bright green jockey racing shirt stands next to her.
Geoff O’Loughlin was an apprentice and Belinda a strapper when the couple first met.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Boiling baths, long runs, one meal a week

Belinda recalls the decades in their relationship when Geoff would eat just one meal a week.

They would go for dinner with friends before a race and Geoff would ask to be picked up 5 kilometres down the road.

“And he would jog three quarters of the way home wrapped in great big thick jackets,” Belinda said.

The jackets were to help Geoff sweat more weight off before race day. There were lots of ways he did that.

“Public holidays made it hard in the country because the gyms would close so then you’re restricted to having hot baths to lose the weight,” Geoff said.

“I got to the stage where I thought I best … join the real world and get a job.”

A young man in a yellow racing jumper rides a horse around a grass track.
Geoff O’Loughlin on a winner in 1998.(Supplied: Geoff O’Loughlin)

Older, wiser and lighter

Geoff still has a three-days-a-week labouring job while he eases back into racing. He credits his job with helping to get his weight down.

“It’s constant movement, you’re just on the go all day,” Geoff said.

Belinda added: “He’s lost a fair bit of muscle bulk being older (as well) … he’s still able to maintain a reasonable diet.

“Hopefully this time around it will be a lot better for his body, it won’t be as stressful.”

The biggest stress is the nervous energy associated with getting back on the track.

“There was a fair bit of ribbing at first,” Geoff said.

‘I’ll have to prove myself again’

Although Geoff retired as a jockey, he always remained in the industry.

On top of full-time labour work, he has been helping his wife train their horses most mornings.

“There’re days where it’s hailing … and he’s soaked and he has to go in those wet clothes to work and then work an 8-hour day,” Belinda said.

“He’s never not worked for me, he’s been tireless.”

But, while he enjoyed his time “on the other side of the fence”, something was missing.

A large commentary tower stand next to a white set of stands next to a country racecourse.
The stage for Geoff O’Loughlin’s first race since returning from retirement, Penola Racecourse.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

“There’s no better feeling than going full throttle on a thoroughbred in amongst a field; it’s a thrill that only a jockey’s going to get,” Geoff said.

That said, he is not expecting an easy ride as he returns to the racetrack.

“I’m by no means at my age thinking I’m going to step back in and all of a sudden I’m riding five or six days a week,” he said.

A silhouette of a woman walking a large horse in paddock with a cloudy sunrise behind them.
Belinda O’Loughlin almost gave up training when her favourite jockey, her husband Geoff, decided to retire.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

‘I missed him so much’

No-one is more excited about Geoff’s return than his wife, because she wants to “be able to share it with him again”.

“I got into training because it’s something Geoff and I did. I’m glad that coming back to race riding he’s got a chance to get those rewards back.

The sun rises over a quiet dirt race track, spreading colours of pastel blue, pink and orange.
Geoff has continued to help train Belinda’s horses most mornings, often before heading off to work.(ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham)

Their relationship aside, Belinda appreciates the determination Geoff brings to the sport.

“If he’s made a mistake, he’ll take that blame upon himself … he’ll own it,” she said.

“I’m definitely looking forward to him coming back and riding for me.”

Back in the saddle

Their horse Runbro may not have been a placegetter at Penola on Tuesday, but the O’Loughlins were not too worried. They have found the winning formula before.

Either way, Geoff is just happy to be back.



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Ricki was one of Australia’s first out transgender sportswomen, the treatment she got may surprise you


In the early 90s, Ricki Coughlan graced magazine covers, made newspaper headlines and appeared on TV talk shows.

The unassuming gym manager from Sydney’s south became an instant celebrity — and it was because she was one of the first out transgender women in Australian sport.

A transgender woman on the cover of ITA magazine from 1993.
Coughlan was on the cover of ITA magazine in 1993.(Supplied)

“When people talk to me about being an icon, a pioneer and all of these things, it’s kind of odd to me because back in those days, I didn’t think there would be anyone following me,” the former middle-distance runner says.

“And my main concern was that people were thinking I was a cheat of some kind and I felt that my honesty was being questioned, and my commitment to women’s sport was being questioned.

Ricki is now 62 and still runs every day, sporting her trademark plaited pigtails and baseball cap.

But the running coach barely registers a second glance from passers-by these days, a far cry from the attention that surrounded her when she was outed.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Ricki Coughlan on ABC TV’s Live and Sweaty in 1992

‘I am sex change athlete’

Ricki’s first introduction into the sport and exercise world came after she transitioned in her early 20s.

She started by going to a weight training gym, then became an aerobics instructor, and eventually she discovered running — competing at club and state level in the 800 and 1,500 metres.

A woman runs down an athletics track.
Coughlan competed at club and state level in the 800 and 1,500 metres.

“I hadn’t told anyone about my story and my past because this was already like 10 years old by 1991, and I’d really moved beyond that and it wasn’t a thing in my life,” she said.

“Now and again I would think, well would there be a problem if someone found out about my past while I was racing?

“I thought maybe some people might think it wasn’t good, but I didn’t think it would become the affair that it did.”

Ricki believes someone leaked some of her personal medical information, and soon word spread around the local athletics community that there was a transgender woman competing.

That’s when her quiet life in the suburbs became national news.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran a story stating “female athletes in NSW are gathering a petition and have vowed to fight to prevent a transsexual from competing in women’s events during the domestic season.”

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Ricki fronted up to Athletics NSW and Athletics Australia, who cleared her to continue competing domestically.

If she wanted to compete at a higher level, that would have been a matter for the international federation, but by her own admission she “wasn’t going to be that good”.

But there was still a desire from the media and the sporting world to uncover her identity — so she decided to tell her story publicly.

The front page of the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
Coughlan’s ‘coming out’ was splashed on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph.(Supplied)

“If you were transgender, my understanding was that you would just melt into society and never be seen or heard of again and you would just get on with your life.

“And now all this intimate information about my life was coming out and the whole world was going to know it, and I didn’t know how the world would accept me.”

Ricki’s ‘coming out’ was splashed on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph, as the story proclaimed ‘I am sex change athlete’.

The reaction from her fellow athletes and the general public shocked her.

“I thought I was going to experience oppression and shaming and marginalising and othering, and it was completely the opposite.

Has Australia gone backwards?

When Ricki reflects on her experience, it was overwhelmingly positive.

But nearly 30 years later, she feels the situation is worse for the current crop of transgender sportswomen, like former AFLW hopeful Hannah Mouncey.

“I had a different experience to Hannah Mouncey in that I was shaking hands and signing autographs for a couple of years, and Hannah Mouncey was defending her existence and her identity,” she says.

A woman on a running track on a headland.
Coughlan’s experience was overwhelmingly positive, compared to that of her peers today.(ABC News: Amanda Shalala)

“It’s become full of assumption and it’s become full of parties defending rights and arguing their rights above the other.”

Ricki is careful to point out there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

“We still don’t have a big enough body of facts for any one group to be able to say unequivocally, ‘This is fair or unfair’. And so I think at this time we are best to start from a position of inclusion.”

Ricki knows how much it means just to participate.

“Some of the greatest days of my life were when I was competing in just interclub at Sydney athletics field through those late-80s and into the mid-1990s,” she said.

“I just hope that women will continue to be able to go out and participate in their sport, do their best and enjoy the experience.”

This story is part of a women in sport series called In Her Words. Head over to ABC iview to watch all episodes.



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Women’s football squad surprise teammate with hearing impairment by learning their club song in sign language


The members of a Brisbane QAFLW team have secretly learnt to sign the club song in Auslan as a way to surprise a teammate with a hearing impairment after a recent win.

Yeronga South Brisbane Devils player Jamie Howell is profoundly deaf and plays in specially designed head gear and a cochlear implant.

“It’s a beautiful language and I thought, this is how we can really be that inclusive club,” team captain Mia Walsh told ABC Radio Brisbane.

Ms Walsh and Ms Howell both work at Deaf Services — Hear for Kids.

They bonded over a love of sport and before long Ms Howell joined Yeronga Devils.

“I know she was quite terrified about joining a team sport. This is her first major team sport,” Ms Walsh said.

“She’d only ever played one AFL game before, but I knew she’d be amazing at it.

“We brought her on down and we were right — she is fantastic.”

Women wearing black and AFL uniforms stand on an AFL field. One woman stands in the foreground smiling.
Ms Howell is profoundly deaf and plays with a cochlear implant.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

Ms Walsh said other members of the team started thinking about how they could better include and support Ms Howell.

“I spoke to one of the other players in the leadership group and said, ‘I’d really love us to try and learn some Auslan’,” she said.

With the help of an interpreter to translate the club’s song, the team used a video to learn to sign.

“And the next time we won a game, we would just belt our club song out with Auslan as well and surprise her.”

That is exactly what the team did.

Clearly touched, Ms Howell signed “thank you, thank you” to her teammates.

Auslan ‘shouldn’t just be for disasters’

Last summer’s bushfires and the global pandemic have resulted in Auslan interpreters becoming a common sight on TV screens at daily news conferences.

Ms Walsh said she would like to see interpreters at celebrations and events as well.

“It shouldn’t just be for disasters … maybe it’s something that could become a bit more mainstream,” she said.

Some events already include Auslan interpreters, but they are not yet commonplace.

“It’s so expressive and so physical,” Ms Walsh said.

She said the Yeronga club now hoped to teach the men’s and junior teams to sign as well.

“I think the kids would really get around it.”



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Australian News

Brisbane AFLW squad surprise deaf teammate by learning their club song in sign language


The members of a Brisbane AFLW team have secretly learnt to sign the club song in Auslan as a way to surprise a deaf teammate after a recent win.

Yeronga South Brisbane Devils player Jamie Howell is profoundly deaf and plays in specially designed head gear and a cochlear implant.

“It’s a beautiful language and I thought, this is how we can really be that inclusive club,” team captain Mia Walsh told ABC Radio Brisbane.

Ms Walsh and Ms Howell both work at Deaf Services — Hear for Kids.

They bonded over a love of sport and before long Ms Howell joined Yeronga Devils.

“I know she was quite terrified about joining a team sport. This is her first major team sport,” Ms Walsh said.

“She’d only ever played one AFL game before, but I knew she’d be amazing at it.

“We brought her on down and we were right — she is fantastic.”

Women wearing black and AFL uniforms stand on an AFL field. One woman stands in the foreground smiling.
Ms Howell is profoundly deaf and plays with a cochlear implant.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

Ms Walsh said other members of the team started thinking about how they could better include and support Ms Howell.

“I spoke to one of the other players in the leadership group and said, ‘I’d really love us to try and learn some Auslan’,” she said.

With the help of an interpreter to translate the club’s song, the team used a video to learn to sign.

“And the next time we won a game, we would just belt our club song out with Auslan as well and surprise her.”

That is exactly what the team did.

Clearly touched, Ms Howell signed “thank you, thank you” to her teammates.

Auslan ‘shouldn’t just be for disasters’

Last summer’s bushfires and the global pandemic have resulted in Auslan interpreters becoming a common sight on TV screens at daily news conferences.

Ms Walsh said she would like to see interpreters at celebrations and events as well.

“It shouldn’t just be for disasters … maybe it’s something that could become a bit more mainstream,” she said.

Some events already include Auslan interpreters, but they are not yet commonplace.

“It’s so expressive and so physical,” Ms Walsh said.

She said the Yeronga club now hoped to teach the men’s and junior teams to sign as well.

“I think the kids would really get around it.”



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