body+soul’s Jaymie Hooper challenged the cricket star to an athletic showdown and quickly discovered she really can do it all, juggling included.
Beating a professional athlete in a series of skill-based challenges was always going to be tough, but when I realise I’m going up against sporting prodigy Ellyse Perry, I see nothing but failure – with a side of public humiliation – in my immediate future. If her current title of Women’s Cricketer of the Year wasn’t enough to psych me out, the fact she’s the only Aussie to have represented her country in the World Cup for both cricket and soccer certainly is, and knowing she’s achieved all of this (and more) by the age of 27 has me practically shaking in my sneakers.
As we face off in a playground outside the Sydney Cricket Ground, I pray that the four hours of circus training I did in high school drama can help me peg her in our first battle, juggling. But those hopes rapidly deflate when Ellyse catches all of her rainbow-coloured balls, and as my balls tumble defiantly to the ground, I ask her if she always knew she’d be a world champ.
“I never really planned to play for Australia and have personal success. It’s just been a really awesome by-product of loving sport and I feel very fortunate to be in the position I’m in,” she says. “When I was a kid, my family always spent time after school down at the local park, so I’ve always just played for the enjoyment of it. It wasn’t until I was selected for Australia’s national team that I realised I could play cricket professionally, and that happened pretty unexpectedly.”
Adam MacDougall talks fitness with cricketer and footballer Ellyse Perry.
What made her invitation to play for the Southern Stars so unexpected wasn’t the fact that Ellyse was only 16 at the time (making her the youngest ever Aussie to play senior international cricket), it was that she hadn’t yet competed at state level.
Three months later, though, she finally made her debut for the NSW Breakers, and since then, she’s helped Australia reclaim the Women’s Ashes from England and captained the Sydney Sixers to league victory.
NO REST FOR THE GIFTED
Ellyse’s bio may read like a sporting fairytale, but watching her smash out chin-ups as I dangle from the bar like a limp noodle, one thing becomes clear: Being the best takes hard work.
“My week looks different depending on our schedule, but I train most days. I never really count the hours, but it’s similar to a full-time job,” she says. “Our [national team] training consists of three components: skill work – so batting, bowling and fielding; the physical stuff, like weights and running; and then all the tactical preparation, which is looking at footage and discussing in groups how we want to play a game.” When I ask Ellyse what an easy day is and she replies, “an hour of Pilates and then swimming”, I’m curious to know if she ever gets tired. “Nah,” she says, laughing, as we set up for a round of kick-ups. “I love being physically active, so to be able to do that every day is a real pleasure, and any small sacrifice I might have made has been repaid at least tenfold through the experiences I’ve had in sport.” One of those sacrifices includes living apart from her husband, fellow athlete Matt Toouma, 28, while he plays rugby for the Leicester Tigers in the UK, but to Ellyse, it all comes with the territory.
“I think Matt and I have the attitude that this is a finite opportunity, and you never know what’s going to happen with sport so we just see where things take us,” she says. “I miss various social events on occasion, and the hardest ones are those with family and friends, but it’s hard to feel aggrieved by that because of the experiences I’ve gained.” By now, two things are becoming clear: 1) I’m allergic to soccer balls and hula hoops, and 2) Ellyse’s most defining quality is gratitude. She’s grateful she has the chance to play sport full-time (which simply wasn’t financially possible for women when she started 11 years ago), and she wants to give back.
“I know how much sport has given to my life and how much enjoyment it brings, and I think every girl and boy should have the opportunity to do what they want to do,” she says. “As a team, [the Southern Stars] want to play a style of game that people love to watch, and do the right thing by the community and leave the game in a better place.”
PAVING THE ROAD FOR FUTURE STARS
It’s this passion for the game, its players and its fans that led Ellyse to partner with the Commonwealth Bank, which is a major supporter of women’s cricket, and together, they hope to pave the way for a brighter future in the sport.
“CommBank has invested a huge amount of money into cricket, but I think what’s really important is its investment into grassroots programs, so that kids have the opportunity to take up the sport and fall in love with it,” she explains.
Even better, the support also provides kids with more female role models, and that, she says, is incredibly important.
“There are so many sports out there and kids could be interested in any one of them, so it’s nice for them to be able to pick a sport and look up to someone.” Without a doubt, one of those ‘someones’ is Ellyse herself, and as we gear up for our final challenge – a sack race – I ask her what it’s like to be a sporting icon in the eyes of so many.
“It’s always lovely to feel that what you’re able to do is enjoyed by others.
Over the past couple of years, whenever we finish a game, there are always kids around who want to talk to us regardless of how we’ve played. They’re stoked to be there, and that always puts things in perspective,” she says. “The real heart of sport is at a local level, and the privilege to be paid to play is really cool.” As for how long Ellyse plans to keep playing, well, that’s something she hasn’t really thought about. Both she and Matt know that sport doesn’t last forever, but for now, she’s focussing on the present.
“We’d both love to make the most of sport before we do other things in life,” she explains. “I think when you stop being motivated to get better, it’s time to hang things up, but I’ve still got it in me at the moment and I enjoy the challenge.” It’s then that I realise I’m about to beat Ellyse in a sack race. I can’t believe it’s happening, but when I leap across the finish line first, I let out a giant cheer and ungraciously lift my arms in victory. As she laughs and says “Well done”, I think this will be my greatest legacy. When I ask what she hopes hers will be, Ellyse replies, “To have a generation of girls want to take up sport because of our team.” And in that moment, I know for sure that Ellyse Perry just let me win.
HOW WOMEN’S CRICKET IS LEADING THE WAY
It might have taken a while, but the Australian Women’s Cricket Team is finally claiming its place in the spotlight. Case in point: The inaugural day-night Women’s Ashes Test last November, which attracted some of the biggest crowds in women’s cricket history. Sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank – which has backed women’s cricket for the past 18 years – it drew more than 12,000 spectators. A further 230,000 people watched the live and high-definition broadcast online. If you didn’t catch the game, don’t sweat it.
In an effort to give the public what they want – that is, more female sports stars on our screens – the bank has pledged to spend $15 million on improving diversity in cricket, which includes its sponsorship of the national women’s team as well as numerous grassroots programs, plus its co-funding of the Growing Cricket for Girls Fund. And with more companies cottoning on to the power of female athletes, we’re tipping that women’s cricket will only get bigger. We can’t wait to watch it happen!
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