If it wasn’t for AFL Women’s, I’d probably be swinging bats in Japan, under arrest in the US or throwing balls from a wheelchair. Allow me to explain.
I’m a country girl who was born in Western Australia to a beautiful family of New Zealand descent. We lived on a farm and I had an upbringing full of outdoor activities and family love.
‘The world is your oyster,’ Mum would always tell me. ‘Work harder than the rest and you can have anything you set your mind to,’ she would say.
My Dad would always show me this by his actions.
Though I was thrown into many sports, baseball was what I excelled most in. They played it down at the local club. What started as T-ball ended up with me competing against the men, or the boys as they have now become in my life. I just tried to throw the ball as hard and fast as I could when I was competing against them.
My ability to throw probably derived from my brother. As country kids, you entertain yourselves any way you can. We had two sheds 20 metres apart, and we used to throw honky nuts at each other from the rooftops (They’re large gumnuts about the size of a golf ball. They’re a real Westie thing, the good old honky).
So my brother and I were almost at war. Occasionally a rock would come flying past along with the nuts. But it actually helped my baseball.
My mum, seeing how I enjoyed baseball, paid for private lessons. But I think it’s fair to say that men had driven me to the heights I had reached. The ladders that I’ve climbed were because of them, and especially my older brother. He was a bit of a reckless one, and I had to beat him.
Eventually, my baseball reached professional level. I couldn’t play AFL with boys from the age of 14 and up because of health and safety reasons. I played females for a while in a women’s comp, but felt I wanted more as an athlete.
I wanted to be the best at whatever I could be and travel the world playing a sport I loved. So I ended up playing baseball. And when I was 17, I left my hometown, my family and friends to play in the fields of my dreams.
BULLETS AND BRAS
I travelled around the world playing for the Australian women’s baseball team, and won a silver medal and a couple of bronze medals at World Cups, as well as numerous National Championships.
I loved it so much – countries, cultures and camaraderie. I was living the dream.
At our World Cup in Venezuela in 2010, a Hong Kong player was shot in the leg by a stray bullet. We heard a local scream ‘Gun! Gun! Shooting!’ and the next minute we were escorted into a bunker. The tournament was actually on an army base for security reasons already, but they moved the games to a different venue after that!
I still wanted a new challenge. I wanted to grow my skills, understand new concepts and gain personal growth from different codes.
My throwing arm from baseball came in real handy in quickly learning the skills of a quarterback in the NFL game. I ended up as the quarterback for Sydney, the New Zealand national team and the Chicago Bliss team in America’s LFL, which was awesome!
I wanted to be the best at whatever I could be and travel the world playing a sport I loved.
Playing quarterback for the Chicago Bliss was a great experience except for the utterly disrespectful manner in which the struggle for equality was received.
Though many women before me had addressed the issue with the LFL board, it seems that each attempt had made no impact. I found myself alone in the revolution to change the exploitation from money-making ‘sexy’ mules to respected professional athletes.
It took me years of learning, failing to speak and enduring to find my voice. I was going to use it to fight for me and other female athletes’ honour as professional athletes. I thought the players were being exploited by not getting any pay at all, and so I suggested to the players that they should strike with me.
The players however chose not to, out of fear of consequences to their careers.
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
The nature of this organisation and the players’ institutionalisation was most disheartening. The stance of the owner was shared by the managing bodies of the LFL league. I was even put under arrest due to the possibility of breach in visa mandates!
Though they had changed the name of the league from Lingerie Football League to Legends Football League, they had really changed nothing.
I coped through the time at LFL by finding the positive. I chose to see it from a totally different angle. I learned to appreciate the fans. I think the LFL lifted a lot of insecure men who don’t really get to speak to women much.
They felt they could come and not only be in the same proximity as athletic, beautiful (to each to their own) and approachable strong women, but relate to us through sport. They loved having a chat. It was quite gorgeous in that regard. They were often shaking in their boots just having a conversation after the game. To them, we were Xena!
I choose to look at the positive in everything. Progress cannot be achieved by driving a negative thought. You have to take something positive from every situation; and I suppose that attitude flows into my sport and my life as well.
A huge part of why I’ve been successful over so many different codes is because of this outlook that I have. There’s power in positivity.
I felt I could change LFL from within. I was hoping to empower the players; creating awareness, a union of sorts to activate change. I provided the data for the players to understand that they were worth more and should be paid as professional athletes. Their efforts make the organisation a significant income.
I then quit the league challenging the owner of LFL, Mitch Mortaza, to pay us! I was hopeful that the players would stand up for themselves too. I was wrong. I hope the tables turn one day for them.
I found myself alone in the revolution to change the exploitation from money-making ‘sexy’ mules to respected professional athletes.
Then the League officially suspended me so that they could bury the true issue.
Following this, I formally quit the league and returned home to find other means to play at a professional level where I would be recognised and respected as a professional athlete.
There were positives. We did win the Championship, and I made some lifelong friends. Though I won’t be going back to Chicago to play, I’ll go there one day to enjoy the company of my beautiful friends who live there.
And then along came AFL Women’s.
AT LONG LAST, FOOTY
I had always dreamed of playing AFL at a professional level in my hometown and country. Then it came three years earlier than we all expected! We’ve already seen significant improvements from an athletic perspective in just a year. Massive progressions are yet to come, I’m sure of it. But god, I’m glad it’s here.
There is something so special this season in AFLW. I can see and feel the excitement once again. It is so nice to see the faces of our young players as they embrace the energy of a stadium filled with fans of AFLW!
It is so gratifying to see the veteran players getting to experience this feeling before it was too late for them. I feel blessed not only to witness this but to be part of it.
It is thrilling to see the rise in popularity of AFLW justifying the hard work of so many, and to play in front of our devoted, beautiful fans, family and friends.
We’re very malleable, us females. I suppose it’s because we’ve always been deprived of opportunities that we don’t take them for granted.
I wasn’t quite sure if I was seeing things wrong or if both my legs were actually broken. Unfortunately for me, they were! Eight years ago, I attempted a jump on my motorbike, once again emulating my big brother. I had to beat him.
I was wheelchair-bound for three months, and it was uncertain whether I would be able to play professional sport again. To walk, to run was now the new challenge.
I had actually been hoping to go and play in the world’s only women’s professional baseball league in Japan when the accident happened. It was a Sunday and I was meant to fly out on the Wednesday for some exposure and trials.
Still, it could have been worse. I could have been a paraplegic.
Recovery gave me reflective moments that helped me put things into perspective and priority. I have never shied away from hard work, always kept my fulltime job and sacrificed much to further my professional athletic pursuits. But I realise that everything I’ve achieved has only been possible because my family and friends have shared in carrying the weight.
Last year, I finally got the plates extracted. I was back to the wheelchair for another three weeks.
I wasn’t quite sure if I was seeing things wrong or if both my legs were actually broken.
It was surprisingly fun. I got myself a hand cycle that I rode around a lake near the Swan River in Perth to maintain fitness. Training in a wheelchair, I stayed strong, positive and inspired. I was even offered a position in the team with the Rebound Western Australian Association – a group which helps people with physical disability to rebound from adversity.
I had every intention of coming back to play the second AFLW season, and here I am. Back in it! I’m someone who always finds a way.
Now we are at the business end of the season where every game, every point, and every decision can affect the chances of finals. We find ourselves with everything to play for as the games are getting fierce and the entertainment value is spiking as the crowd are gathering.
And now it all comes down to this weekend. If we win and other results go our way, we can still make the grand final. Exciting!
ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
Sir Isaac Newton famously said: ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’.
I have had the privilege and fortune to have met many giants of sport in mind, soul and skills along my journey so far. This time I find myself surrounded by a team of Giants.
We climb higher, because a giant is never far behind to hold you up, and another to push you higher. The girls are growing together and closer than ever. I am honoured and grateful to play alongside players of such great calibre, skills and ethics as Courtney Gum, Cora Staunton, Amanda Farrugia and Alicia Eva. I am excited to see the heights we will reach together.
Under the watchful, considerate eye of our head coach Alan McConnell, we have been able to grow significantly as a team and become better not only as representative sportspeople, but as human beings. I look forward to our growing unity.
I come from a proud warrior family heritage of honour. Both my parents served in our country’s military. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our families, friends and fans. You are our heart and the reason we are lucky enough to be on that field in front of you. You are our Giants, whose shoulders we stand on to make our mark in our beloved game.
To be one of the fortunate few to play on the field of dreams is something I will be grateful for as long as I live. When I am on that field, I will earn my place.
Kia Kaha Giants. Kia Kaha Mana Wahine (Stay strong, strong women.) It seems our time is calling us, let us answer it together. Go Giants!
Jacinda Barclay - Contributor