When Courtney Ugle’s home-life fell apart, she says joining her school's AFL competition helped keep her going.
“I’ve said this plenty of times that footy saved me, footy was my way out,” Courtney from Bunbury tells ‘The Point’.
“I took my frustrations and anger and hate and whatever I had inside me out on the football field, it was something to look forward to.”
Her drive for AFL led her to compete at the state level, playing for Western Australia, the senior WAFL Club Swan Districts and the first ever AFL Derby representing the Fremantle Dockers.
The AFL is under pressure to announce details of the 2017 inaugural women's league after it stopped the Brisbane Lions from contracting one of Queensland's rising stars.
But despite that bureaucratic hand brake, there's been no sign of any slowdown in momentum behind the women's game.
The AFL has seen women and girls pulling on the boots in record numbers in recent times. In 2015 there were 330 youth girls teams across Australia with total female participation at 318,880, which represents 25 per cent of all Australian football participants.
Courtney found the game when she and her siblings lost their dad when she was 12 and their mother slipped into drug abuse.
“Those days were pretty horrible,” she says.
“We’d go to school and back and hope that there was food in the fridge, and it was a win if there was but when there wasn’t it was sad.”
She says she felt embarrassed and didn’t ask for help, but scraped through with money she earned from a one-day traineeship.
“So that little bit of money that I was getting obviously helped a lot, but very daunting those days were.”
Then in March 2016, they lost their mother.
She recalls the day she arrived to her mother’s house. “There were police and ambulance there, we kinda knew straight away that something was wrong, we saw mum coming out on a stretcher,” she says.
“We were out of our mind, didn’t know what was going on, yelling and asking what was happening.
“Mum’s partner was there and the first thing I said was: ‘What did you do’?”
Her mother was pronounced dead and her partner was charged with her murder.
Courtney’s sister Madison says their mother would have wanted them to keep building their lives.
“I know she wouldn’t want us to put anything on hold,” Madison told ‘The Point’.
AFL star Kirby Bentley is a mentor for Courtney and Madison, and a domestic violence prevention 'White Ribbon' ambassador who has been supporting the girls on and off the field.
“To go through something like that is very challenging for her, to come through the other side and guide her younger sister and her family,” Ms Bentley told ‘The Point’.
He says their dedication to AFL is admirable.
“The way they held themselves and brought themselves to the club that supported them as well is absolutely outstanding.”