This article was first published on The RiotACT.
This is a continuation of a series to discover what makes Canberra special to all the incredible people who call Canberra home.
Anyone who supports football in Canberra recognises the name, Michelle Heyman. She is a well-known and adored person in the Canberra football scene, having captained Canberra United in the W-League and has represented her country at the Asian Cup, World Cup and Olympics. Not only has she scored more goals than any other player in the W-League, she has worn the Green and Gold jersey an amazing 60 times for the Matildas, amassing 20 goals at international level.
Her list of accomplishments goes on and on but Michelle is more than just a talented and gifted footballer. She is a positive female sporting role model who has been helping raise awareness for mental health.
She is the first to admit she sometimes gets a little lost in her identity, but her vision of who she is has become stronger as she has aged. Michelle doesn’t want to just be known as Michelle Heyman, the footballer. She has bigger goals on the horizon.
Name: Michelle Heyman
Occupation: “Besides Canberra United, I recently got my first ever full-time job off the field. It’s with an organisation called ‘WithYouWithMe’ and is very different from running around on the field, but it is still around sport. I am helping athletes transition out of their sport, so it is a bit like a recruitment agency to help athletes find jobs. It has been a good change and it’s very exciting and its cool to finally do something other than running around on the field, so it is going to be good for my brain.
“You never know when you are going to get an injury or when your career will end, so we just try to make sure they are on the right path so when they do retire, there is another career for them. It was mainly for military veterans and now they have noticed that athletes have the same issue. They are tackling unemployment in Australia, which is great.”
What age did you realise that football was the career for you?
“It all started when W-league started and my passion changed from playing for fun to playing professionally. I think when I got told by the national team coach at that time that I had a good chance to play for Australia, my whole mindset changed and I became more focused and did as much as I could to be a professional footballer.
“I didn’t really have another career in mind, I just always wanted to be an athlete. I played every sport growing up and I was playing rugby union at the time and touch football. I have always been very busy with sport so I was just hoping to be able to be a professional athlete in any code. So when soccer jumped at me and gave me an opportunity, I just ran with it.”
Why did you come to Canberra to play football?
“I came to Canberra for a new change. I was keen to start something new and to get out of my comfort zone. I was playing with Central Coast Mariners before I moved to Canberra, and then the Mariners folded and they financially couldn’t afford to keep the team, so when that happened there had to be a new change for me. I was contemplating going anywhere but United offered me a contract and I never looked back. I was very happy to move to Canberra because it is close to my family home, so my parents could always come to games.”
You have been quite open about your battle with anxiety. What steps did you take to help manage it?
“I just needed to open myself up to how I was feeling. I am very lucky to have my manager, Cade Brown, who is a big advocate for mental health and he always gave me the encouragement to talk about it because it is not good to hold anything in. So for me, to have a good role model in Cade, and him being by my side constantly, I wanted to speak out and to share my stories because I can help others. For me, it was opening up about who I am and then hoping that I can help someone else while doing that.”
What is one bit of advice for young women?
“It is a big struggle for younger women, and for me personally I didn’t have anyone to look up to at that age who was a woman. All the athletes that I looked up to were male, so for me, if I can be that role model for the younger generation, then that is more rewarding than playing in my eyes.
“The advice that I always give to anyone is to always be true to who you are. Sometimes things don’t go your way and sometimes people don’t accept you for who you really are, but you can’t hide in your shell. Everyone is here for a reason and everyone is special and everyone has a voice. I just want to encourage and help people to grow that within themselves and to make sure they are confident because the more confident you are in life, the more successful you are going to be. We all want more powerful women in the world.
“So for me, I just want to show them and guide them in the right direction because I am lucky that I have a lot of great role models around me who are helping me at this point in my life and they are very successful women, so it is nice to have their support and listen to their stories and grow from them. So I am hoping by sharing my stories that the new generation can grow in the right direction.”
What do you love about Canberra?
“I love being a part of Canberra because it does feel like a family to me. It is really nice to be able to go anywhere in Canberra and feel welcome. I love the amazing restaurants and cafes. Being able to be like a true local and be able to walk around and just be comfortable with myself, that feeling that I am known and loved is a great feeling that I have in Canberra. Because Canberra is a lot smaller than Sydney, I think for female athletes and for myself personally, it is great to be able to walk down the street and have a conversation with any stranger about football. Everyone knows everyone in Canberra and it’s just a happy place.”
Why are you an ambassador of Callida Consulting?
“Callida have helped me with everything since I moved to Canberra. They were my first ever sponsor and the first organisation to back me and they never ever needed anything from me. They were solely there to help and support me. Their values are to support, help and encourage others, so for me, being a part of the Callida family means more than anything. They have been here for me in the tough times, and especially being a female athlete, I wasn’t making much money, so for them to be able to support me so I could train, help me go to the gym, help me pay for my injuries and things like that means a lot to me. They have always been a big supporter of my football.
“Now it is my turn to give back to them and I try as hard as I can to rep their brand with the love that they give me and just make sure that I am there for them whenever they need. They are the best and so family orientated that I get invited to all the Christmas parties and get to be a part of everything. It is really nice to have conversations with the staff and meet their families and kids because what I love about my life is being a part of a family. So to have them as an extended family makes me very lucky.”
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