KALINDA Howarth was nominated for the NAB AFL Women's Rising Star award after three goals against Brisbane in round three, but she was nearly lost to the game through an arduous mental health battle.
With some help from Gold Coast coach David Lake and head of women's football Fiona McLarty, the forward has found her feet after not making the most of her first AFLW opportunity.
"I probably wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the Suns," Howarth told womens.afl.
Howarth had made representative sides all throughout her junior career and was set to be picked up by Brisbane in the 2017 NAB AFLW Draft.
Everything was great from a footballing perspective, but what lay under the surface was far from that.
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"2017 was the best and worst year of my life," Howarth said.
"Mental health wise it was probably the worst year, but all the achievements and opportunities I got were the best things.
Just before the draft I was in a really bad space mentally. I was in and out of hospital in the mental health ward
Howarth lost her mother at an early age and never dealt with the grief properly.
On top of that, she was having a tough time at school and never reached out for help.
After being taken at pick No.31 by the Lions, Howarth spent the 2018 season struggling to find her place before ultimately being delisted without playing a game.
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"I was not mentally prepared for how brutal an AFLW season can be," Howarth said.
"I wasn't resilient enough and didn't work hard enough when I was there, and I took the whole experience for granted.
"I fell out of love with the game."
The 21-year-old wasn't enjoying the hour long drives to and from training and found most of her bonds with her teammates to be of a collegial nature rather than a genuine friendship.
"All the girls that I was playing with were like my opposition," Howarth said.
"They already had friendship groups and I did find it hard to find where I fitted in the team both on and off the field."
The penny didn't drop straight away, but in December of 2018 the ex-Lion knew she didn't like where she was at as a person, so she started seeing a psychologist and practicing mindfulness.
The 167cm forward joined a lot of her friends at Bond University in the QAFLW for the 2019 season, where she led the competition with 31 goals in 15 games and came in second place in the league best and fairest voting.
The club also put a lot of work into Howarth's development off the field, with the Leading Teams program in particular fostering her leadership qualities.
"That got me back in the right direction and got me to fall back in love with footy," Howarth said.
Lake and McClarty had been in constant communication with Howarth through 2019 in regards to her mental battle and got her to join the Suns in the Winter Series competition, before ultimately giving her a second chance on an AFLW list.
Her approach to football now at Gold Coast is totally different to her first time around with Brisbane.
"I was probably very blasé when I was up at the Lions, but I don't take anything for granted anymore," Howarth said.
"I had to come back here and prove myself, because I didn't do all the right things when I was in Brisbane."
Now, Howarth is filling out her wellness app every day and takes game reviews and recovery seriously.
The young Sun feels like she's on the other side of her mental health battle now and is focusing on how she can make an impact on the lives of others too.
Howarth runs Indigenous mentoring sessions at schools through the Deadly Choices program, as well as running 'tobacco stalls' where she sits out the front of medical clinics and helps people quit smoking.
Fittingly, it was Lake and McLarty who Facetimed Howarth while she was at work to tell her she had been nominated for the Rising Star award after her three-goal performance against the Lions.
With many of her former Lions teammates now alongside her at the Suns, Howarth has found their appreciation of her journey to be fulfilling.
"Having that acceptance and validation from people who probably saw me at my worst, there was no better feeling," Howarth said.