Keeping it safe on and off field


A passion for health, fitness and helping young people make better life choices are some of the key drivers of Emilea Mysko’s decision to pursue a PhD at Flinders University.

The mother, veteran and Invictus Games athlete spent eight years in the Australian Navy as a medic before being medically discharged in 2015, leaving her to forge a new path in education and health sciences.

Now Emilea is an inspiring scholarship recipient and budding researcher dedicated to exploring the role of parents as role models for their children in youth sports.

Her pathway to a PhD has involved many challenges including learning how to juggle life as a mother and a student. But the “disciplined and structured” nature of her time in the navy has since served her well.

“When I was medically discharged from the navy, I had a lot of medical problems that I had to manage, so I couldn’t go straight into a job,” she says.

I had a small child at the time; my daughter was three years old. I was navigating motherhood as a single mum who, at the time, had just left an abusive relationship … but I didn’t want to just sit there and do nothing.

“I already had a passion for health and fitness, and through my time as a medic, I saw a lot of stuff that could have been prevented through different health behaviours or different ways of life.

“I wanted to get into education, I wanted to help young people develop better life choices and health behaviours … that’s when I found Flinders which at the time had an Education and Health Sciences double degree.”

Emilea Mysko is a recipient of a PhD Enterprise Scholarship funded by Flinders University and the Sammy D Foundation.
Emilea has not only proved her academic abilities but her athletic prowess and mental toughness as well.

In 2018 and 2022 she competed in the Invictus Games, an international multi-sport event for wounded, injured or sick servicemen and women.

“I was about halfway through my degree and I was injured, I had just undergone my sixth surgery on my foot, so life was quite challenging,” she says.

“I was referred to the Invictus Pathways Program which got me on the path to cycling and adaptive sports and really changed my mindset … the military had said that I was broken but there were still things I could do. It gave me a goal.”

Competing in cycling, seated volleyball, wheelchair basketball, rowing and powerlifting Emilea had also participated in the Warrior Games, a similar event held in the US for injured or ill service personnel and veterans.

In total she has scored three gold, five silver and two bronze medals.

“Just being around other veterans was really good, especially initially because I had really cut that part of my life out and isolated myself from the veteran community and people in general,” Emilea says.

“It gave me a pathway to reintegrate into not only the community, but the veteran community. Now I'm a big advocate for veterans and getting them active again, or at least integrating with others.

“It just gave me that platform to not put myself in a box and know that I can still achieve things. I can still do things even though it might not be the direct path that I had originally hoped for.”

Emilea’s strength and determination was also reflected in her studies. Her tenacity caught the attention of award-winning researcher and Flinders senior lecturer in sport, health and physical activity Associate Professor Sam Elliott who convinced her to apply for Honours after finishing the undergraduate degree.

Harbouring a love for research and a drive to make change in the behaviour of parents at youth sporting matches, Emilea completed Honours and went on to apply for a PhD, later gaining a PhD Enterprise Scholarship with the Sammy D Foundation.

Parents' behaviour at youth sporting matches can have a big impact on how children behave. Image source: Getty
The scholarship allows her to engage with the foundation during a 60-day internship with Associate Professor Elliott and CEO of the Sammy D Foundation, Brigid Koenig.

Associate Professor Elliott says the major benefit of university and industry funded PhD research is a closing of the gap between research and the needs of industry.

“Emilea will emerge from her PhD training with excellent research skills in qualitative and quantitative research and have extensive 'on-the-ground' experience working with the sport and not-for-profit sector in South Australia and beyond,” he says.

“In a nutshell, the benefits are simply described as being job and industry ready.”

Emilea’s PhD research involves evaluating and redeveloping the Sammy D Foundation’s Violence Prevention and Positive Role Modelling program called Monkey See, Monkey Do.

The program aims to change sporting players’ attitudes towards violence and to educate parents, coaches, and officials about the impact of inappropriate sideline behaviours. 

Sammy D Foundation CEO Brigid Koenig says the Monkey See, Monkey Do program has reached more than 7000 participants in the last four years across a number of sports.

“The partnership with Flinders in research and evaluation and welcoming Emilea into our team is helping guide our program and offer us a deeper understanding of the impact of both positive and negative behaviour of parents around youth sports,” she says.

“(It will) ultimately support the Sammy D Foundation to realise our aspiration to help children live their best life free from violence.”

Sammy D Admin