Shannon Parry has two sporting passions: rugby and surfing.
Into one, she is driven to pour all of her intensity and focus, the other provides her a sense of peace, redressing the balance of a hectic life spent as an elite professional athlete.
The 27-year-old has represented Australia in two Rugby XVs World Cups (2010, 2014) and is set for a third, the 2013 Sevens World Cup and is one of the most experienced members of the Aussie Sevens squad which last year attained world number one status and won the sport’s inaugural Olympic gold medal.
Earlier this year, those achievements were well recognised as Parry, with her team-mates, was awarded the Order of Australia medal.
Her early rugby knowledge had only been based on her Kiwi father’s innate passion for the All Blacks.
“Growing up we were always supporting the All Blacks - Dad is a passionate rugby supporter,” said Parry.
“So Dad has always supported the Kiwis, but now whenever his daughter is playing he is definitely wearing the green and gold.”
Like most elite athletes Parry’s early years were filled with sports of all types but hockey dominated her teenage years.
That all changed in one coincidental moment.
“When I left school I was playing hockey and then one night I got introduced to two ladies when I had to go and pick up my brother from the footy club. At the time I was only 17 so I couldn’t play until the year after, but they said to come to training and have a go anyway and from that night I was introduced to rugby,” Parry recalled.
“I’m so lucky I met them that night because I probably wouldn’t be playing – never did I think I’d be playing rugby, let alone for Australia and winning a gold medal.”
Juggling rugby and hockey each week as a university student with a part-time job made for a busy life as rugby began to look like a more realistic pathway.
By 2009, a 19-year-old Parry had been picked up by the Wallaroos and decided to grab the new opportunity with both hands.
“I was looking for a new challenge away from hockey and I just ran into the right people at the right time really,” she said.
“I had nothing to lose and then I managed to make the team for the 2010 World Cup.”
While Parry continued to play XVs, Sevens became part of her rugby landscape and with the inclusion of it as an Olympic sport for 2016, new goals emerged.
“That’s when I decided to change tack and there was a dream there to win an Olympic gold medal – as all kids have. For me, it was just wanting to have a crack plus there were more opportunities in Sevens,” she said.
Focussing on Sevens has not meant abandoning XVs and Parry again had an opportunity to be part of the Wallaroos World Cup campaign in 2014 with teammate Sharni Williams – an opportunity which has again been offered to the two veterans this year, a chance she jumped at.
“I want to give back to the XVs and help grow that program and be very supportive of both programs and make sure that women’s rugby on both parks is being looked after by Sevens and XVs,” she said.
An highly-driven athlete, it's on the water where Parry finds the yin to her rugby yang.
Parry is a devoted surfer, using it not only as an alternative activity but even more as a form of therapy and with the beach at Dee Why just metres from her home, a regular dip after training is always welcome.
“Surfing is very much the thing that keeps my mind, body and soul refreshed,” she said.
“For me that’s my peace zone, my happy place and I know I need that because you can’t live rugby day in and day out, so that’s how I get my balance between my rugby and my surfing and that’s what makes me happy.”
Parry’s passion for rugby will stand her in good stead well past her playing days.
Off the field, she is on the International Rugby Players’ Association Advisory Panel and serves on the RUPA Board as the Sevens Women’s Player Director.
Parry is a strong advocate of growing the women’s game in both forms and would love to pursue a path that underlines that passion.
“I’d love to be involved further with the game and in particular the Women’s game in Australia and give back to this sport which has given me so much and given me so many opportunities,” she said.
“For me, any way in which I would still be involved with rugby would be a dream come true to be honest.”
But that is well into the future. At the age of 27, Parry still has much more to give on the field and with this year’s XVs World Cup and the 2018 Sevens calendar including the Commonwealth Games and the Sevens World Cup, her focus is well and truly fixed.