My sports journey began at a young age. In the United States, soccer is the predominant youth sport, especially for young girls. Of course other sports exist like gymnastics and dance, but I had a desire to be outdoors, run, and kick a ball around.

I progressed through the system like most do, playing recreational, then moving into competitive, and finally vying for a spot on the local high school team.

I faced a lot of criticisms over the years. I loved soccer so much. It was all I cared about. I even wrote a report in the sixth grade and again in the ninth grade about how I wanted to be a professional female athlete (something unheard of at the time).

One teacher laughed at my dream and told me I had a better chance at winning the lottery. My mom called these people dream stealers, told me anything is possible, and to never let anyone deter me. Because of my mom, I continued to persevere, regardless of what anyone told me what I could or couldn’t do.

I played two years of soccer for my high school, and it was at the start of my third year—before season tryouts—when one of my teachers told me I should try playing a real sport, like rugby.

This intrigued me, as youth rugby was starting to gain ground in our state. The boys had a team within the high school and regularly told me to come play with them. I did some digging and found there was, in fact, a girls’ high school team in the area.

I showed up for one training, played for twelve years, and never returned to soccer. I excelled quickly in rugby, earning spots on various all-star teams, semi-pro, and national teams in 15s and 7s.

It wasn’t surprising that kicking was a natural occurrence for me, having many years of soccer skills in my back pocket. Kicks for touch, grubbers, wipers, drop kicks, chip kicks, penalty shots, conversions, box kicks from scrum half … you name it, I perfected it. I never saw kicking as a panic move; I saw it as an offensive tactic.

For years, my dear friend Colleen MacNab harassed me to play footy for the local women’s team, as this sport was becoming popular in our state as well. I always shook her off because I reached the semi-pro level in rugby and was excelling in it. But after some coaching changes at my club, I decided I’d finally give this footy stuff a go. I was in love after my first training.

How wonderful and perfect could this sport be? A game based purely on kicking and full contact without pads?

I rose quickly in the footy ranks. It was almost a perfect progression for me: learn the open field play and basics of kicking in soccer; discover my strength and toughness in full-contact rugby; join footy and mesh the two sports together.

I traveled to Australia to play for the USA in the AFL International Cup and made enough of an impact to earn a spot on the All-World first team. I reached the top in my mind, and that was good enough for me.

I decided I pinnacled in my sporting career and made the decision, with my husband John, to start a family (yes, I planned my pregnancy around our club offseason).

In fact, unbeknownst to me, I was six weeks into my pregnancy when I played at the 2014 USAFL national tournament. Not long after we won our fifth consecutive national championship, I came down with awful morning sickness that lasted five long months.

Initially, I fully planned to continue workouts, like running and aerobics, but being able to pull myself together just to get to work every morning was a true struggle.

I gave birth to my beautiful son, Michael, via cesarean, and I can safely say when a woman goes through a pregnancy—especially after giving birth via cesarean—her body will be forever altered. I played in my first game, six weeks postpartum.

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea. For one, I was still recovering from a major surgery, but I also became extremely frustrated with myself. I still had about 15 pounds of baby weight I couldn’t drop; I lost a step in my speed; I had no endurance; I even brought my coach to tears because of how visually upset I was regarding how quickly my athleticism changed.

I never thought I would get back to where I once was; I was once one of the fastest rugby women in the nation, yet here I was crying my eyes out before the centre bounce of the 2015 championship game—I was all out of sorts and devastated at what my body had become.

During the midst of all this emotional and physical turmoil, people were starting to talk about this brand-new AFLW thing — I thought it was impressive but never considered pursuing it. (Although you can probably guess it was always something I kept at the back of my mind.)

Before I knew it, we celebrated my son’s third birthday. I played footy off and on during those first three years of his life, but he was my priority, and I took my motherly responsibilities serious.

In 2018, my son began preschool, and I needed something to keep me busy. I am a stay-at-home mom and own a blooming photography business, but I needed something more. I decided to join the Denver Bulldogs’ board and became vice president.

Almost immediately, I was diligently working to rebuild our women’s team, which had suffered some setbacks, as well as our club culture. Being so involved with footy kept me busy and excited for more developments—I enjoyed the volunteer work.

Throughout all of this, John supported my decisions and encouraged me to really get back out on the oval.

In late summer 2018, I willy-nilly bought a plane ticket to play in a 10s women’s game in Los Angeles — I knew it would be a low-key game, but the desire in my heart to play footy had consumed me.

My friend and coach James Waddell happened to be in Los Angeles, as well, with his mate Cam Richardson who was visiting from Melbourne. James observed me play from the first time I showed up in 2013 until now.

He casually told Cam and me that I had the abilities to have a go at the AFLW, and hey, there is an expansion coming up in 2020. Four new teams mean they need a minimum of 120 athletes.

I literally asked James if he was on drugs, and he coolly replied he doesn’t do drugs and he hadn’t started drinking yet.

James subtly continued with the AFLW talk—an email here, an instant message there. I shook him off over and over, but just like Colleen, he persisted.

He saw the desire in me and finally turned that spark in my heart into a full-blown blaze—a burning desire to pursue any possible path to the AFLW.

To my complete surprise, John agreed to and encouraged me to chase this goal. I immediately began working on skills, fitness and strength following our USAFL national tournament in October 2018.

I enlisted a personal trainer four times a week, and I handpicked some of our Denver Bulldogs men to help me fine-tune skills like the one-handed drop punt, bouncing, and handballs, as well as helping get my 2K time trial to a quicker pace.

Additionally, Cam has been instrumental in talking to his many contacts in Melbourne, and getting my name associated with several VFLW and AFLW team contacts.

I can say with confidence that my speed is back, I’m the fittest and strongest I have ever been (even during my rugby national team years), and my footy skills have even improved too.

I can’t fully express the relief I experienced knowing I didn’t lose my athleticism or my strength or my ability to play a full-contact sport from childbearing.

My constant obsession with trying to get a crack at the AFLW is probably getting annoying with my friends and family, but nonetheless they support what I’m doing and want to see me succeed.

My comrade on the Denver Lady Bulldogs, Anna Thexton, and I talk about what an exciting opportunity this is.

We laugh and say the worst-case scenario is I’ll be extremely fit for the Denver Bulldogs’ season, and I will bring a whole new set of skills and drills I’m learning to our home team.

For me, getting a chance to play in the AFLW isn’t about getting paid to play; it’s about believing in myself and proving all those people wrong who told me it could never be done.

I arrive in Melbourne May 6 and will stay for a month’s time—fully self-funded. I’m thankful John and Michael will be joining me on the literal and figurative journey.

I hope to train, play, learn as much as possible, and maybe get seen. I refuse to leave no stone unturned.

I can live with the fact that maybe I’m not good enough to make the league. But I could never forgive myself if I refuse to try. And who knows—maybe a team will take a punt on this American mom for a season in the AFLW.

If that happens, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be buying that lottery ticket.