I never imagined I’d be in this position: from the football field, to the triathlon circuit and back to footy!
In 2014, after 13 years and 182 games, I decided it was time to hang up the boots. I wanted to continue developing in triathlon to see where it would take me. The lure of a new challenge and the judgement that women’s football had hit its ceiling in my playing time led me to swapping the Sherrin for a TT (time trial) bike!
In those two years I raced eight half ironman distance races, competed at the 70.3 World Championships and ticked two Ironman distance races off my bucket list. Then came the historical announcement that a national AFL Women’s competition would go ahead in 2017, which threw a huge spanner in the works!
Lou in training. Picture: Robert Keeley
A lot of people began pestering me about playing, especially my sister Jo. I didn’t really know if I could do it because at that stage I was training for my second ironman, so my focus was on that. I jokingly said to a few friends that maybe I should pull on the boots, but they just laughed it off with me!
I had also been watching quite a few of the team sports at the Rio Olympics on TV and was really missing that team environment. But the tipping point was watching the AFL Women’s All-Stars match between the Western Bulldogs and Melbourne in Queensland, where I was competing in the Half-Ironman World Championships. I had initially allowed myself to take in only the first half, having to get up at 4am to race the following day, but ended up watching until the final siren.
After that match I knew I had to nominate for the draft. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity! As soon as I nominated for the draft I was ringing my ex-teammates begging people to have a kick with me. I wanted to make sure I could still do it! I had probably kicked the footy once after retiring.
And that’s when the rollercoaster ride started …
At first I didn’t want anyone to know I had nominated for the draft. If people knew then they would also know if I didn’t get picked up. And … that’s exactly what happened! After 3 hours and 145 names – Lou Wotton did not get called out. I thought that draft day and my chances of playing AFLW had come and gone. While I was disappointed, I took solace in knowing that some of my good friends had just had their dreams of playing AFL come true.
But after missing out on selection within a day of the draft I had been contacted by TWO clubs about signing as a free agent. So my dream was still alive!
My journey started at Collingwood with a bang! Within the first 10 minutes of training I had won the club 2km time trial and pulled my hamstring! I felt like I had let Collingwood down, as I felt that they had taken a chance on me. It was hard not being out on the track with my new team mates, but I had to push aside the negative thoughts and focus on what I could do. I worked really hard on my rehab so I wasn’t too far behind the 8-ball when I returned to the track after six weeks.
I was given a boost before the Christmas break, while I was still in rehab, when I was voted into the leadership group by my team mates. It was a confidence booster that my team mates saw leadership qualities in me, despite me not being out on the track with them.
(Pictured Top Left: Lou in preseason training. Pictured Bottom Left: The AFLW Collingwood team. Pictures: Robert Keeley)
There was a lot of well-deserved hype surrounding the start of the season and inaugural match at Ikon Park between arch enemies Collingwood and Carlton. We were amongst it all at Collingwood and the excitement was building!
But Tuesday of the week of the match I received a phone call from the head coach “we have decided to leave you out of the side for this week’’. While I accepted the decision that they had chosen the team they thought best to take on Carlton, it didn’t dissipate my disappointment. I also felt really embarrassed! My aunty was flying from Brisbane to attend the match, my family and friends had all organised to come along, people at work had been extremely supportive and the students at school had been enthusiastically talking to me about it. I felt like I had let all of them down. It was a hard pill to swallow but I knew it was about the team and I needed to be the best possible support to my team mates.
The following week when the coach rang me in regards to selection, I was too nervous to pick up the phone, so I let it ring through. However, once I composed myself I got the news I wanted to hear. My debut match was happening!
Over the next five weeks I got three phone calls in a row that kept me out of the side and two phone calls with the good news I was playing. Throughout the whole process family, friends, work colleagues and students would constantly asked whether I was getting a game.
I am glad I went back to footy. I would have had regrets if I didn’t. It’s been a long time coming and many people have worked extremely hard to get this competition up and running. Whilst I would have liked to have played more matches I am grateful for the challenges this experience gave me and how it tested my mental strength.
Self-doubt can be a troubling and persuasive voice that holds us back. It holds us back from seizing our opportunities. It makes getting started or finishing things harder than they need to be. The key is to stop listening to that voice and start speaking your own!
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” William Shakespeare.
Lou pictured with niece Eve. Picture: Robert Keeley