Australian Women's Sevens and Wallaroos player Shannon Parry pens a letter to her 16 year self as she embarks on her extraordinary rugby journey towards Rio.
Dear 16 year old Shannon,
You are probably siting at home right now thinking you are like every other teenager in Brisbane.
Life is good, sure, but you’re on the path to being so very different to those around you.
Shannon, you don’t know it yet but you’re going to educate and change so many young girls’ lives. It won’t be in a classroom or in front of a white board or monitor, though you will get to follow that dream as well.
You and 19 of your best friends will change rugby in this country. They will be friends you lead and love and you will inspire many other young 16-year-old girls, just like you.
It’s not going to be easy, Shannon, but don’t let that scare you.
No one has stopped you yet and that is not about to change any time soon. You are going to have to find out some things on your own, but what I can tell you is you are going to represent Australia, and play footy like a girl.
Pulling on the green and gold might seem a little weird at first, with Dad being a Kiwi and all and making us support the All Blacks, but you’ll get used to the idea.
I’d get used to supporting the Wallabies too, in fact it might be good to get a head start and start supporting them now!
I am not saying you shouldn’t be proud of your heritage - the fact Dad’s from New Zealand and Mum is an American is unique. Embrace it; love that about your family.
You are an Australian, so be proud of that, because your country is going to be bloody proud of you one day!
Life’s pretty good there in Brisbane, hanging out with your older brother Josh, living on acreage, with a tennis court, swimming pool and plenty of grass to play footy on with the neighbours.
I know you are pretty frustrated, though. You're don’t think you’re learning much out on the tennis court with Dad most afternoons, being fed tennis balls through the machine like he is being paid for each ball he shoots at you.
You will learn so much from this experience - resilience, patience, an appreciation of sport and well-being. Listen to him, be driven to master it, even though you won’t.
Patience will serve you well Shannon – trust me.
You will look at Josh and the power he generates hitting balls back to Dad, but don’t let that bother you too much. Stay focused on your precision, positioning the shot and just being you, don’t compare yourself to Josh.
At times it’s going to get heated between the two of you, but this is nothing compared to the rivalries you are soon to face. The women dressed all in black and the others with roses on their jerseys.
The competition between you and Josh will be nothing compared to this.
Josh is coaching you every day, though he doesn’t even realise it. This is some of the best coaching you will ever receive and it’s free. Just go with it and never quit. Ever.
You are just 16 now and have played nearly every sport there is since starting school at Moreton Bay College, - don’t worry about netball, you’re never going to be much good at that.
Soon you are going to have to make a decision on which sport you want to own, because they are all lining up to own you.
You will offend a few people with the sport you pick but go with your heart, Shannon. Choose what is best for you, not want others think you should do.
Keep listening to Mum and Dad, they are your number one supporters. Never ever take them, or the free taxi service they provide to get you to all of the sports you love, for granted.
They will emphasise the importance of an education and a career before sport.
Now, I know you might think life is all about sport right now and you’d rather practise outside with the others, but stay true to your education at MBC.
Who knows you even may return there one day (I’ll explain that a little later).
Once you finish school, armed with years of fond memories, you’ll head to Griffith University to study teaching.
That won't be a huge surprise because I know you’ve had teaching on our mind since year 6 when you had Ms Holmes for PE.
Don’t ever lose sight of this goal, it will be worth more to you than the prospect of an Olympic gold medal, though that chunk of metal will become your ultimate driver pretty soon.
You will graduate from Griffith having had so much fun along the way and soon after become a qualified teacher, but it will be a four-year hard slog and sometimes you’ll wish you had just focused on sport.
It may sound strange but you will be able to harness and merge your life’s two passions together to become a PE teacher and a bloody good one.
While at university Josh will try and introduce you to Easts Rugby Union Club. You will hesitate at first, but please take him up on the offer… It is going to change your life.
By the time you are 18, you’ll train and play with Easts. You will be hooked!
You are going to question things while you are teaching and playing footy. You will start to take football more seriously and ask yourself whether or not you should be an amateur rugby player or a teacher, or both. You won’t know the answer, but keep working hard at both.
You will make the Queensland representative team after your first trial and soon after the national XVs side, the Wallaroos, on your first attempt.
Pretty cool, right? It gets better.
You play in your first of two Rugby World Cups at 20. You will travel to England with some people you will never forget. You will be pretty disappointed, pipped by England in the Semi Finals, but you will have your chance at redemption one day.
Someone is going to ask you to play for the Australian Women Sevens team, which you adapt to fairly quickly, and your life will change forever.
A professional contract will give you a chance to become a sporting pioneer. Celebrate it, but remember you can’t teach anymore. It will be a tough decision to make, Shannon, but follow your heart. Always follow your heart.
Leaving teaching is going to really hurt. Although a World Cup for both Sevens and XVs and the opportunity to go to an Olympics is incredible, it won’t be what inspires you every day and what gives you your strongest memories.
The real reward in sport will be the people you meet and the challenges you face. You will meet 19 amazing girls who have been given similar opportunities to you and they will become your best friends.
You will become part of a unique family as you endeavour to be the best you can be. Get your passport ready, because you are going to travel the world with them to places you’ve never even heard of.
But don’t think that is enough. Never stop wanting to get better. You need to improve all the time. Embrace it and when you waver just close your eyes and think of the Olympics.
Oh yeah, remember that time you when heard that boy say “You play footy like a girl....?"
Well, don’t ever forget it. This will inspire you and many others across the world, because that is exactly what you will do, and be the very best in the world at doing just that.
You owe it to everyone who played with you and supported you, especially mum, dad and Joshua.
Go and play footy like a girl Shannon – it will inspire a nation.
Yes, you are a girl but don’t let anyone stop you believing in yourself.
Rugby is your sport and yes girls can play it too, so do it proudly and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
It’s going to be such an exciting tale Shannon, with plenty more lines to be written.
Enjoy every second!
- Shannon Parry is a Wallaroo and Australian Women's Sevens player from Queensland, with a Bachelor in Education from Griffith University, Brisbane.
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the ARU.