AFL has given me a lot over the years. It’s given me a sense of self, a platform to keep fit and healthy, a competitive edge and a range of friendships and relationships I may have never been exposed to otherwise.

As a young girl who just wanted to play footy, I was so thankful that the boys in my neighbourhood treated me like one of their own. The fact that I was the girl was never an issue for them.

They were really supportive of me wanting to play and I was never exposed to the stigma of AFL being just for boys.

I have always been thankful for the group I started playing football with and more so the boys who became more than teammates – they became great friends.

There’s one of my teammates in particular that became more than a teammate or a friend, someone that taught me a lot more than we ever could’ve expected when we first took the field together. His name was Daniel.

Daniel and I played together at the Wallan Junior Football club where we first became friends and shortly afterwards selected the same high school which we would eventually attend together.

We were the same age, enjoyed the same past time activities and of course he was just as big an AFL fan as I was so it was no surprise we hit it off.

We were young kids who had the world ahead of us and we never shied away from expressing and making the most of our youth.

We would muck around at lunch time, meet up at parties and laughed constantly when we were together, as all young kids do.

I never realised at the time how lucky I was to have someone in my life who always supported me, encouraged me and roughened me up too.

This all came to a halt in 2012. We were 15 at the time, still young with a lifetime ahead of us.

In October 2012, Daniel was involved in a backyard accident that saw him rushed to hospital in a serious condition.

Sadly, the severe head injuries Daniel sustained resulted in him passing away, surrounded by his family and loved ones on October 10 2012.

I remember getting the message that Dan had passed away. I remember every detail of those following days.

There’s some things that don’t leave you. This moment was one of them. I cried, I struggled to sleep, I struggled to make sense of things, I was in disbelief.

At 15 nobody teaches you how to deal with one of your best mates passing away.

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Nobody teaches you how someone can be here one day and gone the next, and nobody can prepare you for when the time comes for you to learn these cruel life lessons.

I haven’t been the same since that day. Death has a funny way of teaching you about life. This is what I learnt.

When you’re so young and you’re so naive, how do you grasp the fact that life can be taken away from anyone at any stage? It was the first time that I had to grasp that term – that life wasn’t a guarantee anymore.

Daniel’s passing changed my entire outlook on a lot of things in life.

The first time we met was through footy, I had given a lot of commitment to the sport and suddenly it became a battle of continuing to play the sport I love, or running away from anything that reminded me of Dan and the events that had occurred.

The first time I wanted to run from the game was on the eve of my second Grand Final at the national carnival.

The Grand Final was going to fall six months from the day of his passing.

I really didn’t want to play. The night before I went into the Coaches room and said to my Coach Paul Groves from the Western Bulldogs, “Look, don’t put me on the team. I can’t do it… I don’t want to play.”

He was so great with supporting me and just said, “Look, let’s not make any decisions tonight. You’re going to have a big night. I know it’s going to be a tough night. Go to sleep. Wake up tomorrow. Let me know how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking. I won’t make any decisions. I’m not going to take you out of the team tonight. I’m going to wait until we see how you feel.”

And then the next day I decided the right thing to do was to play. I had an opportunity to honour someone who had given me a world of care, support and courage.

So I did it. I played that day and I’m very glad I did, and I’m very thankful that Paul sort of gave me that little bit of push to play.

Then on Dan’s one year anniversary, I was over in New Zealand representing Australia.

He wore number #1 on his guernsey for the local club, so I decided to wear the same guernsey number while playing the game we loved in New Zealand.

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It was the first two significant dates that he’d been gone and it showed me that playing football was the right thing to do and it was a good way that I could pay him back for everything he’s taught me in life, without Dan even really knowing it.

Six years from Dan’s passing I’ve had time to sit down and reflect on the person I was, the person I’ve become and the person I want to be.

I’ve had time to grasp the concepts that I was forced to learn by losing someone I cared so much for while I was so young.

Before losing Dan, I didn’t believe that death can happen to anyone and I believed that the people in my life would be in it for years to come. But now, I’ve learnt to be a little more grateful with the people surrounding me, for the support networks I have and for the aspirations I have for myself.

I learnt how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away from you. I’ve learnt the importance of telling someone you love them and making sure you give your Mum and Dad a kiss goodbye.

I’ve learnt the importance of keeping the people who make you feel loved close to you and knowing when the time comes to put yourself first. I only want to spend time on things that matter to me in life, I don’t want to be caught up in all the sour things.

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I don’t have forever and neither do the people surrounding me so I have vowed to always make the most of whatever time I do have with them.

Dan taught me a lot during life with his big smile and his cheeky ways, Dan’s also taught me a lot through death, a lasting impact that he will never know he’s had on me and how much he’s taught me about the importance of love, friendship and creating my own happiness.

It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday routines of life and to lose sight of what’s important to you, but sometimes all you need to do is sit back and take in all the little things that you have, take a walk outside or call a close friend.

Don’t forget to tell someone you love them, let your mates know they’re special or take some time out to learn about yourself. Life’s special, we have to make the most of the time we have but we can’t take it for granted.

Dan taught me that.