NOT MANY kids go to a birthday party at the local skating rink and love it so much they begin competitive speed skating at age six.
Even fewer leave school at 16 and move to Europe to compete on the international circuit.
Western Bulldogs forward and the 2018 NAB AFLW leading goalkicker Brooke Lochland hasn’t followed a traditional path to footy, but she told womens.afl she's glad to be here.
"I definitely like the team sport a lot better. You’ve got 30 mates with you at every training session, and when you’re having a bad day there’s always someone that’s going to pick you up, whereas individually you’ve just got yourself," Lochland said.
That supportive team environment became vital for Lochland in 2019 when she broke her leg in a pre-season match, requiring surgery and sidelining her for most of the season.
"I’d never been in rehab before, I’d never had any major injury," she said.
"Even through my skating career I’d never had anything that stopped me from competing or training really, so it was a new experience. I knew that I’d come out a different person and learn a lot from it."
Lochland was coming off a spectacular season in 2018, playing in the Bulldogs’ first AFLW premiership as well as winning the competition's leading goalkicker award.
The injury blow was devastating, though she managed to return for the last three matches of the season.
"It’s isolating, you’re obviously doing everything differently to the group and you can’t be out there on the track with them," she said.
"You feel like you’re missing out in a sense, but that’s just the reality of it and you just have to stay positive for your teammates. They’re really good at getting around the rehab girls … there’s always someone that’s looking out for you."
The club is facing a period of transition leading into the 2020 season, with head coach Paul Groves departing Whitten Oval to return to teaching, and captain Katie Brennan and 2019 best and fairest winner Monique Conti both signing with expansion club Richmond.
"It’s obviously a sad time, [Groves] has been there for three years since the beginning of it all … but he needed to do it for himself and for his family, and he’s leaving having accomplished a premiership," Lochland said.
"We’re moving forward pretty quickly though, the club are going to find the best person to come in and lead us into the next season."
The on-field losses of spearhead Brennan and star midfielder Conti (who won the best-on-ground medal in the 2018 premiership) are significant, though Lochland is confident the club will benefit from an injection of young talent.
"Obviously it’s a reality that we were going to lose players, but we take that as a compliment – clubs want our girls. It just means that we’re going to get four or five of the top-10 picks coming into the club and we’re going to have to rebuild a little bit," the 28-year-old said.
"We’ll get some new fresh faces into the club which is exciting. Those young girls are going to give all of us a run for our money."
Lochland had surgery in June to remove the plate inserted into her leg at the beginning of the year. She hopes to recover in time to play a few VFLW games for the Dogs, but has her eyes firmly focused on the AFLW pre-season.
"This is the time where we need to really put in the hard work to come into pre-season firing and ready to go," she said.
While she would love to see AFLW players employed full-time, Lochland has found an off-field home for her passion for exercise and fitness by working as a gym manager.
"I really love the fitness industry, you get a lot of reward out of it. I don’t see myself doing anything else. I’m sure you’d get everyone saying that they’d love to [play AFLW full-time], but I don’t know if it will happen in our time," she said.
"I guess that we’re just really happy that we can play some part in the young girls now eventually being able to be full-time athletes – that’s the ultimate goal for the competition."