Shot stopper: Jada Whyman, 18, soccer player
My mum is Wiradjuri and my dad is Yorta Yorta, so my heritage is from both tribes. We also have some famous relatives – on my dad’s side my uncle and godfather is [former West Coast Eagles player] David Wirrpanda and we are also related to the Sapphires.
My stepdad’s a rugby league person and the rest of my family is all AFL, so I was a little bit of the odd one out in the family, but they’ve all been fantastic support. I played AFL until I was 12 years old but girls could only play till that age. Then I took up football. My pop suggested it to me and I thought it was a great idea.
I usually played on the field then I ended up trialling for my Wagga rep team and all positions had been taken except goalkeeper. I was like, “I’ll do it.” So I got picked for that and just ended up staying in that position and never wanting to leave it. There’s a lot of weight put on your shoulders – if you make a mistake it can cost you the game. I’m not tall, which can be a bit of a weakness for a goalkeeper, so I’ve got to work hard on my agility and explosiveness.
I was 14 when I first moved to Canberra to be part of a goalkeeping academy there. My whole family moved up. We ended up not having a place to stay and were a bit financially unstable, so we lived in a tent for a month or two. It was a bit difficult but we’d tell my little siblings it was like camping. My stepdad just worked his butt off to help get us into a better spot. It was difficult for my mum as well, having three kids under the age of eight at the time. The mental strength they had to get through that to where we are today is a great credit to them. What they’ve done for me is unbelievable.
It was a sacrifice for my whole family moving from Wagga where we were comfortable and all the family are. Moving to Canberra and starting a new life, starting new schools with my little siblings, it was a big challenge. We were in Canberra for about a year, then ended up moving to Sydney. They are still up here with me; it’s great to have that support network. They put their lives on hold for mine.
I turned 16 about three days before I debuted for Western Sydney Wanderers against Sydney FC. I think I was the second-youngest goalkeeper to play in the W-League. I’m so happy to be at the club, and for them to now give me the No. 1 [jersey], I’m just very honoured.
I was just over in Europe for about 10 days with the Matildas – in France and England – playing against some top teams. It was a great trip. Being selected in the squad was unbelievable. Once I got the email I just sat there on my own for a minute and had a few happy tears. It’s been such a goal for me and, to finally have my foot in the door, I was over the moon about it. I didn’t get to play in a game, but for me it was just great experience to be there and support [the starting goalkeeper] Mackenzie Arnold and the team. Being around that Matildas environment more will help me to develop my game and see what I need to do to get to that next level of my career.
I’m determined to fulfil that goal of playing with the Matildas. Obviously it will come when it comes – I’ve just got to keep working hard and do the little things right and hopefully I’ll get that opportunity one day.
Cathy Freeman has always been a role model for me. I was barely born when she did her race [at the Sydney Olympics] but I’ve watched so many YouTube clips and my family and I have always been big supporters of her. My football heroes have always been Lydia Williams, Kyah Simon, Jade North – Indigenous athletes who have done fantastic things. It’s been amazing to watch their journey and learn from their experiences as well.
I’ve gone through a fair bit of racism – unfortunately it’s part of the world we live in. Playing with mixed teams in Wagga I encountered racism and sexism. It was tough to go through at a young age but it made me stronger. I’m very proud and comfortable with who I am.
I’m really looking forward to the new W-League season. I think it will probably be one of our most competitive yet. Women’s sport in general keeps getting bigger and better. It’s amazing to see that we are now getting recognition for the work we put in. People like Sam Kerr in women’s football are doing amazing things and taking our game all across the world. And she’s so humble about it. It’s fantastic to see.
Off the field I hope to be an advocate for female footballers and Indigenous players as well. Western Sydney Wanderers is a great community club and really helps me to work in that environment.
My advice to young Indigenous girls would be to stay true to yourself as a person. It shouldn’t matter what other people think or how they perceive you. It’s how you see yourself that’s important. So the best thing you can do is just work off your own morals. Anything you want to do in life, it takes hard work and determination. You can overcome anything with passion. Just being comfortable with yourself as a person can take you anywhere.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 20, 2018 as "Shot stopper: Jada Whyman, 18, soccer player". Subscribe here.