This article was published on 21 February, 2018
For Western Bulldogs player Brooke Lochland, understanding what it means to be an elite footballer stems from her previous sporting career as a world-class inline and ice skater.
Instead of gliding across the ice at high speeds scurrying for position on roller-blades, Lochland now sprints, tackles and marks on football ovals across Australia.
The 26-year-old is one of many AFLW players who has switched sporting codes, emphasising that the demands of an elite individual sport made her transition into football forgiving.
“I had trained to be a professional athlete for a long time,” Lochland told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“I understand what it takes to be at the top of a sport, so that really helped me transition across from skating.”
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the midfielder/forward, as she has openly admitted to struggling with her skills initially and adapting to the rigours of playing a sport that involves plenty of physical contact.
Her skating career began at the age of four — after joining her local inline skating club in Eltham — and continued 18 years later in the lead up to the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
After reaching the national inline skating squad at age 13, Lochland partnered up with her coach Desly Hill, who she eventually followed to Holland after completing year 10.
It was there where Lochland first jumped on the ice to try speed skating, an entirely different sport which, she pointed out, was confronting at first.
“At 16, I literally had to hold onto the wall in ice skating,” Lochland explained.
“It became a huge challenge for me personally and it felt like I was back at square one all over again.”
Despite the early difficulty, Lochland achieved a top-five ranking in ice-skating at the World Cup.
Jumping on the ice was only for the winter months and she trained up to six hours a day to meet the elite standard expected by the athletes.
But after missing out on a plane ticket to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Lochland parted ways with the sporting career she had devoted half her life to.
“You miss some parts of it,” Lochland added.
“You miss the people and the traveling — I did a lot of years of it and I’m grateful that I was able to. It’s always devastating after putting in so many years of hard work, but I knew that I did everything I could to qualify, you’ve just got to move on and grow.”
Moving on meant that Lochland quit her career as an ice skater and returned home to Melbourne to be closer with family and friends.
It was during this period of her life that her mother was stricken with a terminal illness.
Lochland admitted that she went through a difficult headspace and felt that she couldn’t continue skating in Australia.
“I knew that I wanted to play another sport, I definitely wanted to try a team sport after being in an individual sport for so long,” Lochland said.
Cue the remarkable switch to Australian rules football.
Lochland had previously played football as a junior before deciding to focus on her skating career, nevertheless she is overjoyed to be kicking the Sherrin again.
“I’m really happy I came back home and found footy, somehow it just fell into my hands and I’ve always loved the game so I’m pretty lucky.”
Standing at only 159cm, Lochland’s height — which was ideal for her previous sport — meant focusing on certain strengths attained from skating.
Speed and endurance were her underlying traits during her skating career and they’ve been the cornerstone of her transition to the AFLW competition.
It’s Lochland’s success across the different codes that pushes her to encourage younger girls to test themselves with multiple sports and see where it takes them.
She believes dual-sport athletes have something totally different to bring to a team, a whole range of strengths that are unique to other sports.
Off the field, Lochland works full time at the The Ridge Health Club, a gym in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. Acknowledging it was something that she wasn’t accustomed to when training for the Olympics.
“We didn’t have to work, I was able to train for more than six hours a day and had plenty of time to recover, but, with football, you work during the day and train at night.”
After becoming a key member of the Bulldogs outfit, she played every game in the inaugural AFLW season in 2017, the 26-year-old has no regrets about leaving her skates behind.
“To be in the position I’m in, I’d never thought I’d get the opportunity to play football at the highest level,” Lochland said.
Having reached the highest level of women’s football in such a short amount of time, the sky’s the limit for the rest of Lochland’s sporting journey.
The ‘Triple Threat’ series is an initiative of the partnership between the AFL Players’ Association and La Trobe University. Stay tuned as La Trobe sports journalism students help tell the stories of some of the game’s most talented athletes.