Kickin' with Klatt: The One at the SCG

As I sit here on my 14 hour flight back home, listening to Spotify and trying to get some sleep, it all keeps running through my mind. With sore muscles serving as a constant reminder that I just played an entire game of footy with no rest the day before, it's hard not to keep thinking about it. Add to that the fact that I just played on the historic Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in front of what got up to an estimated 6,000 people before the GWS Giants and the Sydney Swans took the field, and you can see why it's all still racing through my mind. 

One relief is that I am no longer the bundle of nerves I was when I arrived on Thursday, which kept riding me all the way through the game on Saturday. Thursday night's training left more to be desired after my mediocre performance on stiff plane legs and little sleep; needless to say I was ready to get more touches on the footy the next day.

Before I could get to Friday training though, it was time for yet another media appearance, this time for the newspaper the Daily Telegraph. Kim and I met at the SCG for the photo shoot, and changed into our respective Giants and Swans kits. As it turns out, I was wearing one of the men's jumpers, as the women's jumpers hadn't arrived yet. That thing was tight enough to make it difficult to get on and off, and I feel like it must be just painted on that Giants player; to make him harder to grab in a game, I know, though I suspect they may be trying to show off some muscles in that thing. 

During my interview with the GWS media, I told them that they had one of my favorite players, Phil Davis, who I try to emulate in the back line. After the media manager got over the shock that an American knew of any AFL players, he proceeded to introduce me to Phil himself! I was a bit star struck, I'll admit - it's hard not to be, when a tall guy, my age, who looks like a model, who also happens to be one of my favorite players, is standing right in front of me, having a little chat before his training. I felt like that emoji smiley face, with hearts in my eyes.

After getting over that lovely surprise, and watching the Giants training on the SCG, it was time for the first training with my own team. After a car ride discussing the future of women's footy, I got to meet all the girls, many of whom had traveled from Canberra and elsewhere, and we discussed strategy with the coaches, and worked on it on the field after. The AFL put us all up together that night, and after a team dinner and a bit more strategy talk, it was time for some beauty rest before the big day. Adrian Pavese, our head coach, was kind enough to give me a pep talk when I sought him out for some pre-game advice, as I felt that some of the game was going to be a mental battle for me. I was afraid that I wouldn't be good enough to support my weight on the team. As an outsider expected to keep up with girls who had been training in the academies for months, I had my doubts. But Pav promptly knocked those out of my head, telling me to trust in my instincts and just play. The rest would come from there.

Then, the big day arrived. After team breakfast and the drive to the SCG, we were let into the locker rooms. It started to really hit me then, the significance of it all. We were the first women to represent GWS, the first women to play on the SCG. And you couldn't have found a more deserving bunch of women than these. They had each worked their asses off to get here. And they had made me feel like I was a part of the team, that I belonged with them, and wasn't just the token "Miss America" (as I had been dubbed a few times). They were an amazing bunch of women, and as I looked around the room, I realized in that moment that I was ready. I wasn't playing for myself - getting a spot for the game in June honestly wasn't even on my radar. I was playing for them. We were all playing for each other, and would leave our hearts on the field before we backed down. 

We ran onto the field to the GWS team song, and I will never forget the excitement of that moment. It was time. Game on.

The game is now a bit of a blur to me. I played all over the field - I suspect they wanted to see where my skill set fit best, as they didn't know much of my playing style. I was happy with my performance. When manned up in the backline, not a single one of my opponents got a clean mark when I was on them to spoil. And when I played on-ball in the final quarter, I intercepted a mark and made a disposal that ended in a beautiful passage of play down the field to a goal. I also had a few sh*t kicks and found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. But mistakes happen in a game of footy, and overall I am happy with my performance. I played footy the way I know how to play. Not only that, but I was happy for Kim's amazing goals. Never would I let it happen if I were on her (wink wink), but if anyone was going to score against us, I was glad it could be her. 

While the end result wasn't in our favor, and while I was of course disappointed in a loss, I couldn't help but just continue to be in awe after the game. I had just played on the SCG. We were making huge strides for women's footy. I had met some amazing teammates. And I was one of the first American women to play in a women's AFL match. All in all, there were better things to revel in, rather than stewing over a loss. 

Not only that, after, I got to watch a real live AFL game on the field I had just played on. Some of which was from the AFL box, after meeting the CEO of the AFL, Gillon McLachlan, no big deal. I was with some of the people who would be directly involved in helping women's footy really happen, and it was exciting to hear where it's all headed. 

Now, sitting on the plane, I'm still just reeling from the weekend. By far, this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life so far. It was a first for women, a first for Australian players, a first for Americans, and a first for the teams we represented. I couldn't be more proud and humbled to have been a part of it. 

As far as what's next, well, there's several things. First things first, I need to take what I learned from the game, from the coaches, and from my teammates, and get to work to improve my footy. I have a long way to go. But I found a new passion that day. I already knew I loved the game - obviously, as I've flown across the world twice in the span of two months just to play. But now I know one thing that I wasn't sure of before. I would, in a heartbeat, drop everything and move there to play this game. I'm young, single, have no major obligations where I live, and love this game more than the comfort and security of my current way of life. More than anything, the women I was playing with and against have inspired me to work to be the best I can be, if only to try to be a better teammate. This weekend started some friendships and bonds that I've only been able to forge through footy, and this makes me want to pursue it to the furthest extent that I can.

I only found out a few days before the game that all the women playing were vying for a spot on the state team, to play another exhibition game in June. So that wasn't even on my radar. I'm not sure if I will be chosen, and even if I am, it will be a more difficult decision than these past trips, as it becomes more and more of a financial burden, as well as an inconvenience to my job. Because now, I have to change my thinking. I need to save my money so I can support myself while living abroad, rather than continue to spend it making trips out for one single event. If given the opportunity to go play in the next game, I would have to think long and hard, because I have a bigger goal now. Not one single game, but hopefully many. I just have to find a way to make it happen. 

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