Amy Pejkovic is an allround super human. She is an elite sportswoman, a university student and a successful model. But Amy is so much more than that. She’s kind, she’s generous, she’s warm, she’s insightful and she’s a survivor. We talk all about her athletic achivements, the modelling industry and how she bounced back from brain cancer.
Amy on highschool and her highjumping career
Sophia: First I want to ask you, what do you feel about high school? What were you feels about highschool?
Amy: I didn’t really like highschool. I did get a bit of bullying. I’m not sure why.
Sophia: I would never suspect that.
Amy: I think it was more because of modelling. I’d just started modelling. I was a really awkward looking child. I had the worst awkward stage. I used to get bullied. It wasn’t severe but it was enough to make me not like highschool.
Sophia: So you went to St Leos and the highschool experiecne for you, was it just something you had to do to get out and to start life?
Amy: I wanted to drop out in year 10. But then my Mum said no. I didn’t get an ATAR. But I still finished highschool. I still got an HSC but not an ATAR. School wasn’t for me. Because I had alot of athletics stuff on aswell. My priorities were athletic and not academic. But in a way I do kind of regret it. I wish I’d put a little bit more into academics.
Sophia: With your athletics when did you start being sporty? Were you always sporty?
Amy: I started jumping when I was 10. High jumping’s always been my thing. I started off with sprinting just at school carnivals I’d always be running and then when I was in year 4 or 5 my primary school PE teacher, because I didn’t do highjump at the athletics carnival because it’s health and safety or something. My PE teacher said, well you’re tall and lanky you can go represent the school for high jump because you’re tall. And it just went from there. I went through to State and came equal first.
Sophia: So you were just naturally really good at it? Or did you have to practise to be really good at it.
Amy: I kind of just went along to the carnivals and just jumped. I enjoyed it and I’ve always been really competitive so at the time it was more fun. Something new and exciting.
Sophia: So you did pathways, was it frustrating seeing your friends graduate?
Amy: Yeah, everyone was finished and I was like, “dammit I’ve still got more to go.” But then when I was doing my HSC at school I was finished my exams in the first two days which was great. I was training 6-7 times a week. Pretty much every day. Friday and Saturday off. Because I’d do double sessions so morning and afternoon.
Sophia: Were there days were you woke up and just went “fuck that”?
Amy: Yeah. Well, when I was younger it wasn’t too much like that. I just did it. But lately it’s been…especially now I’m at uni. I didn’t think it was going to be so hard. I did three subjects and I failed one because I didn’t go to the lectures. They had pop quizzes. And everytime I went they didn’t have it and everytime I didn’t go they had it. So I failed by about two marks because it was worth about 15%. I realised I actually have to do work. I never went to lectures. I never did the readings. I just go to exams and cram. I don’t know how the people at college do it.
Sophia: Do you party?
Amy: Not so much anymore. I’m over it now. When I was 16 I didn’t go out too much because I’d have training the next morning and I had to prioritise.
Sophia: Was training always a priority?
Amy: Always. Always training. Instead of doing school sport I’d leave and go train with my coach.
Sophia: Did people get jealous of your athletic ability in school?
Amy: I think so. Maybe a little bit. At first it was a bit of jealousy and then they became a little more supportive they thought it was cool when everyone started to grow up a bit. I remember I got a Sports Scholarship offer to PLC and I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go to an all girls school. Because I remember in primary school there was a group of girls who I would get bullied by. And they were just horrible. I can’t remember what they said but I remember how I felt.
Sophia: What would you say is your best sporting achievement so far?
Amy: It would be when I went to World Youth in 2009. That was in Italy. It was up in the mountains. It was an epic track. This green track and mountains in the background. It was insane. I came 2nd. World Youth is under 18s. I went over as a 16 year old, came 2nd. And I was the only Australian medal at that Games.
Noone expected it would be me either. Because there are alot of athletes who are very disciplined and focused and you’re there to do a job and that’s it. But when I’m in that environment I’m still very bubbly and giggly. I try and take the seriousness out of it because otherwise I psyche myself out and get really nervous and I’ll just blow it. Even when I was competing I was walking around trying to talk to other girls and they would just brush me off because they’re focusing. Mum would say that I’m off in lala land but then as soon as I’m called for jumping it’s just silence. It’s bizarre. I never noticed that until she said it.
Mum has been at every single comp since I was 10. She’s my coach now aswell. She wasn’t an athlete but I think she found an interest in it when I started jumping and she wanted to support me. She’s gone and done a degree she’s going back to uni to do sort of Sports Science. At ACP. She’s going back this year to do more.
Amy on being diagnosed with brain cancer
Sophia: Now I do want to touch on a pretty serious topic with you. A few years ago you were hit with a major obstacle. You were diagnosed with a brain tumour. When did you know something was wrong?
Amy: I think mid 2011 I started to get frequent headaches sort of once a week. I thought, “well maybe my neck’s out.” I just took panadol. I’d just get on with my day. Then I started a new gym program and what Hayden was telling me to do was…we’d be in a boxing ring and one of the guys I was training with would have to be on all fours and really hold his position. Then I would hook my hands underneath him and I would flip myself over and back over. It was a drill for high jump. The first time I did it I kind of lost balance and had to run to the bathroom to throw up. And I was like, “what is that? Maybe I didn’t have enough for breakfast? Did I eat the wrong foods?” It would just keep happening. It was really bizarre but I never thought anything of it. I thought, “well I was flipping myself upside down, maybe I can’t deal with being upside down again.”
Then it was more frequent so I would just be at training running and I would have to go throw up. And I was like, “am I that unfit?” I just couldn’t understand what was going on. The headaches became more frequent and more severe aswell. I’d take panadol and they wouldn’t go away. It would take a few days for it to go away but then it would come back again. And I was just feeling sick all the time. Every single day I was feeling nauseous. And then Mum decided we’d go to the GP and see what they say. I told them my symptoms. I was losing balance aswell. I still kind of do it when I walk through a door frame and I lose balance and smack into the doorframe. It was really annoying.
The GP said it was a middle ear infection. So they gave me medication for it and the medication didn’t do anything. And then Mum took me to see someone else. We went to a Sports Physician. And then he also said it was middle ear and then mum said “no, it’s not.” Mum always says it was mother’s instinct. She knew it was more than what they were saying. She went “no, that’s not it.” And then everything went downhill from there. I remember I was meant to compete one weekend and I was feeling horrible. For about two weeks I would wake up every morning with this headache. It was like my head was pulsing. I’d run to the bathroom and I couldn’t throw up so I’d just be dry reeching. The best way to describe it would be someone’s stabbing you in the back of the neck and dragging the knife forward. That’s the best way I could describe it.
It was so painful and this went on for two weeks. I’d sit in bed for 20 minutes and wonder when it was going to hit then I’d run to the bathroom. And then I’d feel better as the day went on and then I’d feel the same way the next day. I was supposed to compete this one weekend. Mum said, “come out and see how you’re feeling you might be able to jump.” And I just went, “nup.” I went up onto the grass hill (at Homebush), put my towel down and just lay in a ball. I just couldn’t move. That’s when it clicked with Mum that there was something very wrong. She told me after the diagnosis that she thought it was a brain tumour. She’d kind of always had a hunch that it may have been because when she was younger her uncle died of a brain tumour. And for some reasons she remembered the symptoms. She kind of knew but didn’t want to say it.
But it was also my 19th birthday a few days after. My birthday’s on the 1st (of February). My boyfriend at the time organised a surprise brithday for me on the 4th. And I was feeling so sick at this party. Mum said, “if you’re still feeling ill in the morning we will take you to the hospital.” I remember I’d only had two drinks. I woke up and I ran to the bathroom and threw up again. We went to the ER. I was sitting waiting with a vomit bag but I’d run to the bathroom. I didn’t want to throw up in a bag in a room full of people. We told the nurse my symptoms and then they got me a scan. I thought it was all a bit of fun. I thought, “oh I’ve never had a scan before it’s kinda cool.” But I didn’t think anything was actually going to be wrong. It’s one of those things that you don’t think will happen to you. We were just waiting. Did the scans. I hate the sound of those MRI machines. I hate them now.
And we had our own waiting room. I had a room. My Mum was in there and my friend Demi was in there aswell. Then this Asian nurse came in…I can see it all. I was lying there facing the door, watched her walk in and she got to the end of the bed and she said “it’s a brain tumour.” Then I was like, “what?” I didn’t know how…it didn’t register. My Mum and the nurse were standing side by side, they put the scans on the lightbox and I just remember seeing, between their two heads, the scan of my brain and there was this big white hole in the middle of it. I started crying. I burst into tears. Mum aswell. Then my Dad came in not long after and he was crying. It was so emotional. There wasn’t anyone to check the scans so my Mum contacted one of her friends to look at the scans to determine what it was.
What happened after that? It’s all a blur. I went into ICU. I was in there for a day or two and they basically came in and checked my eyes and squeezed my hands to make sure everything was working properly. Where mine was located was at the brain stem, down the bottom. It was blocking off the fluids from my spine to my brain. So apparemtly if we didn’t go in when we did I probably would have died a few days later. (The surgery) was a few days after. There were drips and stuff coming out of me to reduce the swelling of the tumour and they told me that if something was to go wrong they would have to drill a hole in my brain to release the fluid. I thought, “this happens in the movies.”
You hear this on the news. It never happens to you. Then I was in hospital for five days before the surgery and there were people in and out. When I was in ICU (when I was first diagnosed) I remember lying there and my sister came in with her boyfriend at the time just red-faced crying. My uncle and my grandparents. I remember my boyfriend coming in at the time, and this was at the stage when I had shit coming out of me, he walked in and was crying and just had to walk out. It was too much. My surgery was on the 10th of February.
Sophia: Holy shit.
Amy: This is the anniversary period. It’s full on.
Sophia: It must be so encouraging that something so fucked up happened to you and you’ve been able to survive it.
Amy: It’s upsetting seeing it all but then it’s so good that I can be here.
Sophia: Did you go through chemo after the surgery?
Amy: I didn’t have chemo. The tumour was benign luckily. It was 5cm in diameter. The surgery was 7 hours. I remember going in and waking up. I remember when I was going in. I was supposed to wake up around 6(am) but I woke up earlier. I couldn’t sleep. Then my Dad came in and my boyfriend came in. I was being wheeled down to the surgery room and then I remember the surgen came in, Dr Dandy…and through the whole stage of being in hospital I didn’t have one negative thought. It was never “shit I could die.” It was “oh i’ll be fine, i’ll get through it.” There was so much positive energy. I had so much support and love. Everyone was just so positive. So I feel like that got me through it aswell. There was never any doubt, it was always good energy.
But when I was waiting to go into surgery and it was Mum, Dad and my boyfriend the surgeon came in and said you have to sign this form basically to say that if something did happen the surgeon and the hospital isn’t at fault. And I just went, “holy shit.” It was the best signature I ever did. And they gave me a teddy bear and certificate; a bravery certificate. I said bye to Mum, Dad and my boyfriend. And I was like, “this could be the last time we all see eachother.” That’s when it hit me. This could be it. And then I remember being wheeled in to the aneasthetist.
When I was going into surgery, obviously they drug you up, I rememeber getting one needle and I felt kind of nice. Then I had another needle and I went…what! Apparently I was talking smack about giraffes. I was so loopy and then they gave me a mask and then I was out like a light. They said it’d take four hours, it took about seven. Apparently the surgery went smooth.
Sophia: So you were doing motivational speeaking for the cancer council, what did you tell them.
Amy: I’d basically tell them what I’m telling you. My story and what I went through and how I have put it behind me and haven’t let it consume me.
Amy on body image and modelling
Sophia: I want to develop the blog into something more. Where I can meet interesting women who are inspiring and successful and talk to them about this stuff, particularly body image. My body image in highschool was just horrible. How is that for you in the industry?
Amy: I love it but it’s very hard. You have to have very thick skin. I remember when I was, I think 14 when I first started, I went to a casting for swimwear and I remember getting changed and hearing her (the designer) say, “oh, she won’t be good. She doesn’t have a bikini body.'” I was 14. My Mum drove me to the casting. I sat in the car and started crying.
Sophia: Are you joking me? Fuck off.
Amy: I was so upset. And being in the industry, you just compare yourself to all the girls. The nice plump lips, perfect skin, tanned skin.
Sophia: Every woman experiences that. Every woman feels like they want to look like someone else. But now I just go, fuck it. I’m going to be 5ft 4 for the rest of my life. I’m Greek. I’m going to have this body. I can’t change my body shape. I needed a role model to show me that I should just love my body. That’s what I’m trying to be.
Amy: See there are some things you can’t change. Like you can’t be any taller. I can’t make my skin any darker, I’m naturally fair.
Sophia: Who’s the best client you’ve worked for?
Amy: Definitely Adidas. It was so cool and so much fun. They were all really cool to work with. Everyone was from somewhere in the world. Most of the Adidas people were from Germany. It was a really good environment. It was so different to shooting here. I don’t know why or what it was.
Sophia: Where did you shoot for them?
Sophia: Stop it. Did they fly you there?
Amy: I flew Premium Economy over. We had lamb shank and fresh fruit.
Sophia: So Adidas, London. How long do shoots last for?
Amy: Adidas was a two day shoot. There are some all day shoots. David Jones was an all day shoot.
Sophia: Is it awkward modelling? Do they tell you to pout?
Amy: Sometimes you can feel really uncomfortable because there’s a lot of people watching aswell. The Adidas crew watching the shots there was abut 20. There’s about 20 people watching me do it. You kind of have to block it out which can be pretty tough. But I’ve had really good experiences. I’ve never worked with sleazy photographers. I’ve never had anyone touch me in wierd places.
Sophia: What is it like, with modelling, just being appreciated for your looks?
Amy: I’ve actually never really thought about it like that. I know that when you go to a casting they are just basing you off what’s in front of them. What they can visually see. But then in recent years I have noticed that they like to ask you some questions and get to know you. They tend to want to work with girls who have more going for them, that do several different things. I think that’s really good.
Sophia: Do you feel like the modelling industry is still very thin orientated? Is that changing?
Amy: Yeah it’s definitely changing. They don’t want stick thin girls anymore. They want strong women. They want girls that have muscle, that have curves. That work for their bodies not starve themselves to be thin. But still quite slim and toned.
Sophia: Do you think that adds more pressure?
Amy: I mean I’m sure there’s plenty of clients who still just want thin. Editorial based is still very ‘thin’. That’s just not my market.
Sophia: Please tell me you’ve never been told to lose weight.
Amy: No. I’ve never been told to lose weight. I’ve heard of stories about girls being told to lose weight. Apparently at some of the agencies overseas, every time you go in they measure you.
Sophia: That makes me want to cry.
Amy: At castings sometimes they do take your measurements. Apparently the agencies tend to lie on your card. No model is generally what it says on their card.
Sophia: That’s so random. It’s such a strange idea to put someone’s size on a card. Couldn’t you just see someone and go, “yeah you suit our brand, we’re going to shoot with you” and just not give shit? I have a friend who was a model and I asked her a few weeks ago if she’d let her daughter be a model. She said that she loved it but she wouldn’t let her daughter be a model. I thought that was really interesting. Would you?
Amy: That’s a hard question because I don’t know. If she really really wants to do it I probably would but then I would be like my Mum. She was in the modelling industry. She didn’t want me to do it. But I was a stubborn child. I thought it would be fun. I started when I was 14. I didn’t start booking big jobs until recent years. Now the sports luxe thing has started and clients are like, “oh you’re a high jumper? Cool. We can do a story aswell.”
A lot of jobs I do I’ll tell my story aswell. Alot of jobs I book because I’m an athlete, like David Jones. My Mum would take me to castings and wait for me in the car and she’d do work whilst she was waiting for me in the car. She’s pretty cool. She’d come to shoots aswell because she’d want to make sure everything was okay. She was protective but everyone always loved my Mum being there because she’d bring food and stuff. At that time you’d hardly get fed but it’s really good now. They order whatever you want. If I wanted a burger I could get one if I wanted to.
Sophia: So do you feel that you want to model long term or is that something you do on the side?
Amy: I’d like to model long term. Putting athletics and the modelling together has created a bit of a profile for me. It seems to be working. It’s hard balancing it. With uni aswell. Modelling’s always last minute. They won’t let me know until the night before so sometimes I have to cancel on people. It’s the way it works. When I flew to London I found out two days before I left. I needed to get my hair done. I had to get a spray tan. I had so much to do.
Sophia: With modelling, do you ever notice people who try hard to be thin?
Amy: Once I have. I was at a hair show and there was this girl, very very thin. And she pulled out a container just full of lettuce leaves. She was just eating lettuce leaves. I’ve seen that once.
Sophia: I have alot of hope inside me that the industry’s changing. It’s trying to diversify. Trying to get different body types and ethnicities. When I was growing up it was the late 90s early 2000s and that was the Kate Moss era when she was stick thin and it was just all wrong. I think it’s important for us all to call it out and say it’s not okay to make yourself something else for someone else. And that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. Because I never had that. I never had a positive body image role model. We can be that change. We’ve just got to start it.
Stay tuned for Part Two coming soon….