Red Carpet Youth Award nominees

KICKING GOALS: Alyssa Kupa, Zach Pearce and Jayden Murphy. Pictures: MARK JESSER
KICKING GOALS: Alyssa Kupa, Zach Pearce and Jayden Murphy. Pictures: MARK JESSER

They are shouldering care for a sick parent, tripping the light fantastic on stage and kicking goals for people with disabilities ... SOPHIE BOYD meets the incredible teens nominated for Wodonga's youth awards.

A “normal” day for Jayden Murphy is not what you might expect for a typical teenager.

He was just 16 when he became a full-time carer for his father, who has severe arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder and has had surgery to remove brain tumors.

Then, just a few months later, Jayden was dealt another heart-breaking blow with the sudden death of his mother.

Jayden, 17, is one of about 30 young people nominated for Wodonga council’s annual Red Carpet Youth Awards.

Now in its ninth year, the awards will take place on July 28, where winners of the nine categories will be announced in front of about 200 people. 

Jayden is excited about the gala awards night but says it is tough to see yourself as eligible for the Young Carer and Endurance and Persistence awards.

“I don’t think I deserve to be awarded or rewarded for things I’ve gone through; lots of people go through things, everyone handles it differently,” he says.

Being a young carer for his father, Mark, obviously has its challenges.

There are many rewarding moments. But it has its limits.

“I can’t go out and do things as much as I’d like but it’s worth it,” Jayden says.

“It helps Dad and he needs that.”

As a carer Jayden takes care of the cooking, cleaning and household shopping, while also helping his father up and down stairs.

Although he shoulders a lot more responsibility than most teenagers, Jayden doesn’t feel very different to his peers. 

There are certain things you learn to live with. After a while it becomes normal – every now and again I look back and wish I’d done this or that but you don’t take notice after a while.

Jayden Murphy, 17.

Less than a year ago, Jayden’s mother Donna died suddenly.

“It changed a lot,” he says. “It was very unexpected and it made me realise I need to not take people for granted.”

When his mother died, Jayden took time off from year 11 and considered dropping out of education completely.

That was until he heard of Wodonga TAFE’s VCAL course. 

Three days a week Jayden spends four hours on buses, travelling from his home in Dederang to TAFE and back.

He says returning to education is one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

“I feel I’ve become a lot more confident,” he says.

“School was never really something I enjoyed but when I come here I can be my own person.”

Dancing through the pain 

STANDING among the countless dancing awards of fellow nominee Alyssa Kupa is a special kind of souvenir that’s testament to her resilience.

There on her bedroom shelf sits a fragment of ankle bone that speaks of her determination more than any trophy could.

At 16, Alyssa – whose mother Sandy calls her “medical child” – has already suffered seven broken ankles, countless sprains and numerous torn ligaments. 

Mrs Kupa says Alyssa has endured a host of medical issues, from kidney to heart problems. 

Despite everything, she says Alyssa remains grittily determined.

She’s training four times a week, dancing in competitions and volunteering to teach younger dancers at Border Danceworks.

She hits life hard, she just keeps going.

Sandy Kupa, Alyssa's mother.

“She comes home from teaching all lit up and the students love her.”

After some time away from dancing, Alyssa restarted classes in 2014.

But in 2016 she was forced to stop dancing again for six months after having both ankles reconstructed. 

Even with time off, she was still named in the top 10 VET dance students at Wodonga Senior Secondary College.

“I knew I’d dance again,” Alyssa says. 

Despite having “moonboots” on both feet and being unable to dance, Alyssa opened her team’s first post-surgery competition by cartwheeling across the stage. 

Mrs Kupa says Alyssa has also had many undiagnosed breaks as a child with her bones breaking across the growth plate, meaning X-rays were unclear.

Alyssa had a centimetre of bone removed from her body as it had broken off completely.

Plastic was inserted to extend the bone and Alyssa had to learn to walk correctly again, according to Mrs Kupa.

Every time Alyssa takes to the stage her body is filled with pain. 

“When the adrenaline is going it’s fine, it’s more when I stop, I’m limping off stage,” she says.

“(But) I just love it – on stage I feel great.”

A voice for the voiceless 

FROM kicking up their heels on stage to kicking goals on the field comes fellow nominee Zachary Pearce.

The 18-year-old is a “legend” on the football field as an umpire in local AFL matches and head of the Wodonga Bulldogs Jets all abilities football team.

Zach, who has a mild intellectual disability, has been nominated for an Advocacy and Action Youth Award for his promotion of people with disabilities.

While some people can’t speak for themselves, people need to speak out and say what’s what for them.

Zach Pearce, 18.

A post on Zach’s Facebook page stating children with disabilities just wanted what everyone else did – to be accepted – reached more than 25,000 people.

He believes it is a very important message and hopes to continue to broadcast his sentiments on the issue.

“It’s good to have a platform through the awards and to get out there more,” he says.

Zach isn’t just talking the talk when advocating that people with disabilities can do anything.

He proves it every weekend on the oval. 

He’s a familiar face at local football matches, having previously completed some work experience for the organisation.

Zach says officials were supportive when he first approached them to become an umpire.

And there’s nothing better than being out on the ground as a boundary umpire.

“I like that I get to be involved in the game and I’ve certainly made a lot of new friends,” he says.

“It also keeps me fit – I really enjoy it.”

Across nine youth award categories, 92 young people were nominated, with 30 selected as finalists.

The awards feature young people making a difference, excelling in their chosen field or putting others first.

The categories include: the Individual Community Service Award; Sport and Recreation Volunteer Award; Young Carer Award; Apprenticeship/Traineeship Award; Endurance/Persistence Award; Advocacy and Action Award; Music and Performing Arts Award; Visual Arts and Media Award; and Youth Ambassador Award.

The awards are organised and run by a committee of seven young people from local high schools, with the support of Wodonga Council’s youth services and events officers.