My father Jeff is my hero.

I have never really been a person who has ever thrown that word around lightly; I’ve always reserved that honour for the many public service men and women who operate our hospitals, protect our streets or educate our future leaders in the classroom.

But these past 18 months have made my realise how heroic my dad truly is.

For those who mightn’t know, my family and I were dealt with news no family should ever have to hear.

Dad was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease – neurodegenerative disease that causes progressive weakness in your muscles; you gradually find it harder to move, speak, breathe and swallow.

The news struck me straight away, as our family neighbour had suffered from MND during my childhood, so I knew immediately what was to come and the long-term health impacts.

It wasn’t until Dad’s battle though did I come to learn how MND really is one of the cruellest diseases in the world.

Caitlin Cooper

It’s just not fair that anyone has to go through such degenerative change in health.

We’re all rallying behind Dad as best we can.

It goes without saying my perspective on life has completely shifted – and I’ve had to make a number of significant changes to my work-life balance.

The girls in the W-League are tremendous athletes, and all of them are amazing role models for their respective communities.

They deserve all the success that comes their way, both on and off the field.

But unlike my W-League teammates, who are able to rest and recover after a normal day of training, my day begins when I put my boots away and return home to help care for Dad.

Even on game-day, when the rest of the girls are able to let their hair down and celebrate after a win by hitting the town for a team dinner, or simply look to hang out and console each other after a loss, my downtime from soccer is very much spent with my family or caring for Dad.

At times, I can understand if my W-League teammates feel distant from me because I can’t socialise with them the way they do with each other, but the truth is even that there is no place I’d rather be than with Dad at this point in my life.

Of course, I do have my tough days.

On those days though, when I’m struggling to juggle club and national commitments with the Matildas, or it simply feels like the odds are stacked against me, I only have to think of my Dad and what he is going through to find the strength to keep moving forward.

When I wake up in a sluggish mood, I know it pales in comparison to what he is feeling and going through – and at times I really am left to assume because he hides his pain from us.

He never leaves on that he’s upset or feeling down, because he wants to be strong and positive whenever he is around us – so it’s only right that we do the same for him.

So I see to it that everything I do is for him – I just want to make him smile and help contribute to his positive energy, because I don’t know how long he has with us.

You always hear people say “live every day as if it’s your last” – it’s not until you go through something like this, can you truly appreciate what that means.

I certainly hadn’t, but do now.

Another big change for me is that I now embrace decisions that go a long way to making me happy.

Because life is too short to be wasting your time sweating on the small stuff.

Which is why, as tough a decision as it was to leave the Western Sydney Wanderers, I knew that for football reasons the change to Sydney FC was right for me.

Caitlin Cooper

It wasn’t easy – there were many sleepless nights, as most recently I had been captain of the Wanderers for four seasons, and had shed blood, sweat and tears inside those four walls.

Moving on was one of the hardest decisions I know I will have had to make in my career, but on a personal sentiment, outside of simply being the right fit for me, Sydney FC has always been my father’s team.

Even when I would play against the Sky Blues, I knew deep down a strong part of him always cheered for his beloved team!

So knowing he won’t have to wear two jerseys under his shirt anymore is also a nice feeling.

On top of club football, Dad is also a key driver for my national ambitions with the Matildas.

I’ll never forget the sheer joy on his face when I told him I had made the travelling squad to head over for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Football means so much to him, so for me to be part of the Matildas squad in recent years has given him plenty to cheer about especially during these hard times.

With his health being the way it is, it would mean everything to me to have my dad watch me at the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup.

If that opportunity was to come, and he was smiling back at me from the grandstands, I’m not sure how I would react in that moment.

I get emotional just thinking about it. There would no Olympic gold medals, FIFA World Cups or international finals, that could top that moment for my Dad and I.

Caitlin Cooper

However, I know I still have a lot of hard work ahead of me if I am to achieve my main goal of being selected for the Asian Cup – and only I can make it happen.

That’s why every day, I wake up with a relenting appetite to jump over any hurdle that attempts to derail my football.

My standards on the training field have improved, and my preparation leading into every game is immaculate.

I have nailed everything down to a fine art.

It’s all about developing elite habits through persistent repetition – making success and high performance a constant norm in my daily routine.

It’s an arduous process, but given the recent success of the Matildas, I know I can’t leave no stone unturned, as cracking into the national team is a hard ask for any player at the moment, especially those working themselves back in.

It’s simply what is required if I want to be boarding the flight to Jordan come April.

The way I look at it though, if it happens then I’ll be over the moon because I would have known what it took to get there.

And if it doesn’t, then that’s okay too – because at least I’ll be content knowing I could not have done any more.

Caitlin Cooper

Caitlin Cooper is an Australian female soccer player for Sydney FC in the national W-League competition.

Caitlin is a member of the Australian Matildas, playing primarily as a defender.