Dear young Chelsea,
Ever since you can remember, AFL has been a big part of your life.
As a kid you spend every weekend with the fam down at the local Safety Bay Stingers footy club. Mum’s the team manager, Dad’s the boundary umpire and your brother’s the assistant coach.
For years, you happily volunteer in the club’s canteen serving the hungry spectators mounds of chips smothered in gravy.
Although you’ve been kicking the footy in the backyard with your bro for ages, you get your first taste of what it feels like to play the game when you’re 10 years old.
The coach of the under 11 boys team is low on players, so he asks if you want to have a go.
Mum is initially opposed to the idea, but eventually relents after some convincing from the coach and your look of desperation.
The reception is anything but warm. Without seeing you play, the boys on the opposing team laugh at you, just because you’re a girl.
Eager to prove yourself, you pick out the most vocal opponent and pin him for holding the footy and you’re awarded your first free kick. It feels good.
That game makes you realise that you have the makings of a great player and you’re hungry for more.
You start to play regularly with the under 11 boys team, but you’re bummed when junior footy ends for you at 14, just because you’re a girl.
Thankfully the club gives you the okay to make the jump from junior boys to the open women’s comp.
Prepare yourself, the experience tests you physically. Some days you line up against fully grown women, who are well into their 20s and 30s.
At high school, the coach of the girl’s footy team becomes someone you remember as a pivotal influence in your sporting journey.
They appreciate your talent, energy and passion for the game and they help you foster that belief in yourself.
Remember that time when you first played with your school team? You were sitting on the bench when some of your teammates were telling the coach to give the newbie a go.
“You need to put Chelsea on!” they said.
The coach takes a chance on you and gives you a run. You feel at home on the field and boot three goals to round out a nice victory for the team.
Stay focused because your footy journey is not always filled with rainbows and skittles.
There are lows, but pay attention. These moments help you stay grounded and remind you of what you want out of life.
Throughout your life in footy, you cop a fair bit of flack. It makes you feel down and question if having a passion for footy means there is something wrong with you.
You hear comments like ‘get back in the kitchen’ or ‘you kick like a girl’, as well as a lot of external noise about whether or not women’s footy is ‘marketable’ to spectators.
At 17, you have another major setback. You break your ankle pretty bad playing footy and spend your 18th birthday in a wheelchair.
You hope it isn’t a football-ending injury. It isn’t.
In 2013, you’re selected as the third overall draft pick to the Melbourne Football Club for the women’s AFL exhibition series. AFL – let that sink in.
In 2014, you don the Melbourne jersey again for the second exhibition match of the year.
This game is a bit harder to get to. This is the first game Gran Rose will miss. She was always your biggest supporter.
You surprise yourself with how well you play. You take fourteen marks and score two goals, and you’re named best on ground. Gran would be so proud.
Throughout these achievements, one of the most valuable things footy teaches you, is how to be a great leader.
On and off the field your teammates come to you when they’re down. You are the person they want to confide in. You are the one they seek out for support.
This is challenging at times, but you recognise that being a leader is a privilege and that if you can help just one player in a positive way, that it’s all worth it.
You hear a lot of noise about the construction of a professional women’s footy league, but it seems too far away for you to put your life on hold.
You reconcile that you’ve had some great wins in footy, but you’ve hit the ceiling.
You pack up in search of a new adventure and head to Newman, in the Pilbara, to live and work in a remote mining town.
There you run a community program to teach young kids the basics of football and netball and discover a passion for education.
But the itch to play footy professionally never goes away.
Finally, in 2016 you get the call about the creation of the AFLW. You pack your bags and head to Adelaide.
As co-captain of Adelaide with Erin Philips, you guide the Crows to the first-ever AFLW premiership.
Holding the trophy is surreal, so dreamlike that it feels like you’re in a Rocky movie.
After the close of the inaugural season, it all seems like a blur.
You are voted the ‘Most Courageous’ by your AFLW peers in 2017 and 2018, and you take out the 2018 Crows Women’s Club Champion award after what is described as your ‘near perfect season’.
Wow, just wow.
Beyond the field, the AFLW affords you incredible opportunities.
You become a role model to young kids, the female role model you never had growing up.
You align your passion for mentoring and empowering young people, by becoming an Ambassador for youth campaign, The Line.
With this newfound platform you are able to talk about the importance of leading with respect and equality.
Young Chelsea, grab a hold of this opportunity with both hands and acknowledge that you are doing more than just kicking a footy.
You are paving the way for the next generation of young girls who share your passion, helping them believe in themselves and just give it a crack.
Be proud of what you’ve accomplished, celebrate and savour it.
You are telling girls just like you, that there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with them, so hopefully next time a girl squares up against the boys in junior footy, the team’s initial reaction isn’t to laugh, but to just get on with playing the game.
Chelsea Randall is a proud ambassador for The Line campaign. The Line is a national, evidence-based campaign for 12 to 20-year olds that encourages young people to develop healthy and equal relationships with a view to preventing violence against women and their children.