• Michelle Heyman of United reacts after a missed chance on goal during the round six W-League match between Sydney FC and Canberra United at Lambert Park on November 22, 2015 in Sydney, Australia. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Leah Cwikel

9 Feb 2016 - 7:15 AM  UPDATED 9 Feb 2016 - 11:18 AM

It was about this time four years ago; it was a humid Sunday afternoon at Eltham Street. Jack, mum and I were splayed out on the lounge with the French doors swung open behind us, the sweet dewy breeze rustling the palms. Mindlessly flicking channels, we stopped at the bright green pitch that appeared on the screen.

“Wha-? What’s this?” Jack and I asked each other in confused unison, straightening ourselves on the lounge as we watched the women on the field. We read the information tab on the guide and proceeded to completely lose our shit, animatedly screaming into the heat, “THE W-LEAGUE? HOW HAVE WE NOT KNOWN THAT THIS IS A THING?”

From that Sunday onwards, we would await game day with each week that passed. We quickly learned the players’ names, those whose playing style we liked, those whose we didn’t. The W-League games became our viewing preference over the A-League, with the game being fully injected with the personality of its players.

Women play differently to men. It’s that simple, and that much more enjoyable.

Unfamiliar with a team hailing from our country’s capital, when I watched my first Canberra United game against Brisbane Roar, I was completely overwhelmed with the team’s talent. The plays were seamless; the players were so familiar with each other that they pre-empted passes more than they searched for them, and they were all just so freaking happy to be on the field. It was infectious.

It was that game that I was introduced to this week’s Woman Crush. Michelle Heyman is a forward for Canberra United, and the leading goal-scorer in the league. As I was watching the game, her talent was undeniable both throughout the mid-field as well as in the box, sending balls screaming into the back of the net.

But even more than that, her passion for the game and the sheer joy of playing was plastered all over her face, even when a ball was sent wide or a turnover occurred. It was in noticing that that I became a fully-fledged #CUinGreen Canberra United aficionado. I had always been amazed and Jack and Hugo’s ability to remember the names of every single player in the EPL and La Liga and often thought to myself, “how the fuck do they do it?” But by the end of the inaugural season that I watched, I was their female counterpart, and I had no idea that knowledge of this great game was almost as an incredible a feeling as playing it was.

The most challenging part of crafting this week’s piece was that there is so much to talk about when it comes to Heyman; her player’s stats that are unrivalled by her teammates, her dedication to the sport, her contribution to the football community as well as her relentlessly happy and contagious smile. She is a part of something that is so much bigger than either of us, and that can’t be ignored.All I wanted to write this week was how much I admire the woman she is, and how completely ‘fangirl’ I go when it comes Michelle Heyman. Two weekends ago at Lambert Park just after the CAN vs SYD game had ended, we were walking back to the car and I had that look on my face that Mick knows all too well, “Come on. Tell me. What are you thinking?”

All I wanted to write this week was how much I admire the woman she is, and how completely ‘fangirl’ I go when it comes Michelle Heyman. Two weekends ago at Lambert Park just after the CAN vs SYD game had ended, we were walking back to the car and I had that look on my face that Mick knows all too well, “Come on. Tell me. What are you thinking?”

“Well,” I started, “I was just thinking that if we hung around later after the game was finished and waited for the players to come over the supporters, I don’t think I could ever bring myself to walk up to Heyman. No, seriously. Think about it. She is the same age as me and I would feel so weird just freaking out over meeting her, because she is my peer in age. Like, it is okay to completely go mental when you meet someone you admire when they are like, years and years older than you because they have had more time to achieve way more than you. But she is my age Mick and I like, love her. What am I? Some writer? Pfft. That would be so hideously uncool. I’m never going to meet her.”

In the spirit of honesty and full disclosure, Michelle Heyman is more than just this week’s #WCW; she is legitimately a #WC of mine, not specific to Wednesdays.

She is the epitome of the ultimate athlete

It should be said that I am not someone who pushes a fiercely feminist agenda however, when it comes to women in sport you can be sure that I will be at the forefront of the discussion, championing female athletes. When the news broke last year that the ABC was cutting funding which resulted in the W-League and Women’s Basketball League without television rights, I was absolutely beside myself.

Some guy that I used to work with, who doesn’t even deserve to be named stumbled across the news at around the same time as I did, stood up and said to the office, “Ohhhh what a loss – I’m sure those two people that watch women do anything must be real upset.” Yeah, fuckwit, right? Needless to say, a battle of the words ensued but it was to little avail as there isn’t much use in talking to a chauvinistic moron.

Women are nowhere near represented as men are, their pay is but a fraction of their male counterparts and they are scrutinized when they make a stand. To be an athlete and a woman is something that takes resilience, strength and a willingness to push yourself above and beyond to simply prove that you deserve to do what you do. Michelle Heyman is all of these things and more, not only has she represented our country on the world’s biggest stage, but she has done so breaking records in the process.

All it takes is a Google search to be met with her myriad of achievements.

“For me to be were I’m at today is a lot of hard work. I had to sacrifice a lot, friends, family, parties, and weddings, pretty much put life on hold so I could focus on my dream,” Heyman told me. “The biggest challenge that I’ve faced in my career is the fact that women don’t get paid like men! While we train full time, we still never receive the income to help support our dreams.”

Michelle Heyman is an Australian football player who plays for Canberra United in the W-League, is a striker for the Matildas and was this year selected as a player for the Western New York Flash in the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States. Golden Boot winner, recipient of the Julie Dolan Medal and a part of the Championship team of the W-League last year, Heyman is all athlete.

Our Matildas squad is the single most successful Australian sports team in our country’s history. In it’s HISTORY people. Even with that, shit was still given based purely on the fact that they are women. Take this excerpt from Michael Lynch the day after the Matildas made it through to the top 8 of the World Cup, “men’s football has far greater depth, at this stage of the sport’s development, than women’s.” The reason I include this is because Heyman was one of, if not the key player to speak up when it comes to her career.

“I’d love to say yes, but I’m unsure if that day will ever arrive,” she told me when I asked her about the strike the Matildas went on, and whether or not she thought women would ever be paid like men. “We don’t bring in enough money from crowds, and sponsors. Until this matter is solved then the salary for a female athlete will stay the same. I believe if we promote our game a little more than this change would happen a lot faster.”

Heyman’s unrivalled passion for her game is the trait of hers that I am most in awe of. Her social media presence echoes her love of the game with posts centered on her teammates, her training and all things Canberra. To have found her passion and excelled at it is something that she should be so proud of; not only that, but the sheer amount of work that it took for her to get where she is today is something worth celebrating.

“Female athletes will have to work part time - find an employer that is ok with you not working weekends, afternoons, and could be jetting off once a month for national commitments - or study whilst training everyday. It’s a challenge that a lot of us struggle with,” she explained.

“It’s all been worth it though, because winning is a big part of what I get out of being a footballer. Winning makes me smile. Scoring makes me smile. I believe if I’m happy and smiling I will perform well.”

She must be smiling all the time. She is currently the highest-scoring player the league has ever seen.

Ugh, swoon.

She is completely herself, and we are all the better for it

“It was an honour for me to be a part of the Women’s World Cup, and to be named as a gay athlete was incredible.” In the midst of the World Cup, Heyman was named one of the first openly gay athletes. To have that recognised by a mass audience is a huge thing not only for athletes, but for people everywhere who may be struggling with their identity and sexuality.

“I’ve always been comfortable with who I am, but putting myself out there on a main stage was something that I’ve always wanted to do,” she told me with pride. “I think we all showed the world that no matter our sexuality, we are great role models.” Here, here! It could be said that there are numerous “obstacles” that could have prevented Heyman from getting where she is today; the fact that she is female, the fact that her chosen career is heavily dominated by men, her sexuality is one that is often seen as a ‘minority’ and the list goes on.

What I love, and what I wish to convey here today, is that with each and every setback that could have seen her give up, Michelle Heyman takes in her stride and embraces wholeheartedly, only pushing her to succeed further. There has been more than one time that I have overheard a young girl in the crowd at a game just completely losing her shit when Heyman runs onto the field. On instagram, parents post photos of their daughters posing with Heyman and claim that it is their most exciting moment to date. That speaks worlds of the woman that Michelle Heyman is.

That takes courage that many people won’t even touch on in their lifetime. Not only that, but she does so with the view of helping others, supporting others in their own lives. That is a role model.

“Being a professional soccer player comes with pressure. But being able to talk to supporters, other players, children, and parents about being open was amazing. The feeling of knowing what we are doing could help a lot of other people who are struggling with coming out, and being true to themselves.”

To further that, Heyman is a footballer who is completely aware of where she is in her career, and the change that she and her teammates could affect. They are part of a much wider dialogue, a global one in fact. And it’s started, whether people like it or not. Just this weekend past there was an article in the paper stating the soccer is now the number one sport for girls in Australia for the first time ever.

“I believe that is we promoted our game a little more, then change would happen a lot faster. If you were to look on any billboards, TV commercials, or anything that promotes sports it will all be male dominated. This is the first step that we need to change. If we could promote us female athletes more, then people would know more about us i.e. games, times, venues.”

To be an internationally recognised personality is a lot of responsibility, and Michelle has done herself proud in the way in which she continues to hold herself, perform and inspire players that are coming up through the ranks as well as the general population of spectators.

She smiles for days

“One thing I love about myself is my smile!” And why the hell shouldn’t she love it. It’s freaking hypnotic. As I said earlier, the absolute joy that Heyman exudes is hard to miss. It was the first thing I noticed about her, and immediately it made me want to do whatever it took to be that happy; to wear a smile that emanated the honesty that hers does.

Completely honest about what it is that football gives her, Heyman openly speaks about the excitement that precedes each and every game; the feeling in the change rooms, what it is like to run onto the pitch in her team’s colours only to be met by the fans. To have the opportunity to do something that makes her feel all the feelings with each and every day that passes, is something that is never taken for granted for Heyman.

Out of pure curiosity, I asked Heyman this question, “what player in the W-League do you most enjoy versing and why? And vice verse, who don’t you enjoy versing?” There were a few players that I had in mind when I asked her this question, but the answer I got, I was not expecting. “This is an easy one for me. Katrina Gory! I love versing Katrina because we are both so competitive against each other. And her being my best friend always makes it enjoyable!” And then for the second part of the question, “Also again, it would be Katrina. She is an incredible player and it always so dangerous! Plus, she always scores against us!”

I loved that answer purely because I wasn’t expecting it. What gets me about this, is that Heyman has taken the talent of her best friend and celebrated it in a way that turned a seemingly negative question into a positive one. Again, SHE IS SO HAPPY. When she answered this, I smiled. I smiled because she has taken aspects of each of their personalities. their friendship and their attitude towards the game that from here on in, will encourage me to watch their individual styles differently. I also admire the way she admires her best friend and is humble enough to show Gorry the respect she deserves when, in a career of sport, it would be so easy to fall into bitter, competitive jealousy.

Another thing about our #WCW this week, is that she loves every single aspect of football. This is worth mentioning because for me, that shows true and unadulterated, raw passion. Heyman teaches me things and inspires me in my own work, simply by doing her thing. Take writing for example. There are days where I am crippled with writer’s block, weeping into the spine of my blank notebook in frustration. In those times that I have wanted to completely give up on the one thing that I truly love, I am reminded to take every single facet of my chosen craft and embrace it. Out of writer’s block has come some of my most incredible work.

She is the crushiest of all crushes

Anyone that knows me will have heard of Heyman. I have a Canberra United flag pinned up at work, am often found talking of the weekend’s plans of going to a game and will drop random bits of the latest news about the W-League that I have come across. I remember when the semi-finals were happening last season; I had keep training that morning and as soon as I got there I told my coach that we had to be finished precisely on the dot so that I could make it home in time for kick-off. “Well,” he said in response, “seeing as it means so much to you, might just have to head home and do the same!”

Heyman is to thank for my passion and support of the W-League, hands down. She is such an exciting and unpredictable player to watch that you can’t help but sit on the edge of your seat, willing the ball to get to her. I have never in my life been someone who is whipped into a frenzy over sports stars, but it was hard not to be when it comes to the Canberra striker.

Last year I went online to buy myself a Canberra jersey; two actually, the home jersey and the home keeper jersey. When I read that they could only be bought at home games I was all like, “well fuck.” When I told Mick about it, disappointment tainting my words, he looked up the league fixtures, drove us both to Canberra for their game against Victory and bought me my two jerseys. We have also made a trip to Melbourne to watch Canberra verse Melbourne at Etihad Stadium, working our holiday around the match.

“She talks about things that we can all relate to. She is down to earth and always wanting to help others!” Heyman says of Ellen, her biggest female role model. “She is comfortable in her skin, caring, friendly, outgoing, confident, and she has a huge heart! She is one incredible woman.”

“My favourite traits are that I am confident, ambitious, determined and completely open,” my biggest female role model told me. Heyman, you should be your own freaking role model, but you are most definitely mine. I am humbled by your honesty and the poise you have shown throughout your career. Confidence, ambition, determination and openness are all traits that I am completely inspired by and constantly striving to say are my own.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that this piece has even scraped the sides of all that I wish to say about Michelle Heyman. I have wanted to put this woman into context for all who may be unfamiliar with her achievements and of her pioneering female athletes, and at the same time, wanted to voice the personal experience that I have had in following her career and playing an active part in the W-League network.Michelle Heyman you are this week’s #WCW for all the times that you have inspired and supported young women without even realising it. For all the young women who watched the World Cup and felt inspired to sign up to their local team, for the women who needed to see their idols come out and be proud of their orientation, and for the strength of your voice and your beliefs when your own country didn’t back you up; I thank you, for being you.

Michelle Heyman you are this week’s #WCW for all the times that you have inspired and supported young women without even realising it. For all the young women who watched the World Cup and felt inspired to sign up to their local team, for the women who needed to see their idols come out and be proud of their orientation, and for the strength of your voice and your beliefs when your own country didn’t back you up; I thank you, for being you.

This article was originally published on dontaskleah.com and is part of a series for The #WCW Project which aims to celebrate real women in all of their beauty, their achievements, their beliefs and their idiosyncrasies. The #WCW Project takes women from all walks of life and recognises them for the complete inspirations they are.