The ancestry of Australian sportswomen is rich with steadfast characters. Bulging with tales of dedication and sacrifice. Dawn Fraser, Betty Cuthbert, Layne Beachley – tales of dedication and sacrifice never to be forgotten. But then there’s never been an Ellyse Perry, 22 years old and a world-class athlete in two different sports. November 3, 1990 wasn’t just another day for Mark and Kathy Perry, nor would it be for Australian sport. A strawberry-blonde Ellyse was welcomed into the world and the Sydney home on the North Shore now housed one more. Brother Damien had a new sidekick and the nation, with veins laden with sport, would soon – albeit frighteningly so - have a new fascination.
Like so many families, both Mark and Kathy were heavily involved in sport and, as if fused into her genetics, Ellyse had her own natural affinity. After one foot found its way in front of the other, Ellyse stumbled her way into a jog and hasn’t stopped. Whether it was the park, the backyard, the swimming pool, the setting was irrelevant - activity the only constant. Perhaps more cultivating though was the ‘me too’ symptoms of a younger sibling. “When we were kids I just wanted to be doing whatever Damien was doing,” she says. “We would get home from school and the bags would be dropped and it was straight outside again.” Hours would be spent playing with bruised knees in grass-stained clothes and by primary school at Beecroft in Sydney, Ellyse had fostered an addiction of the best kind. “A lot of my friends were boys and I’d join local sports teams with them and play tackle rugby at lunch in the schoolyard. I just loved every sport.”
While Perry would star in tennis, golf, little athletics, swimming and touch football, it was cricket and soccer that, somewhere back in that yard as a six-year-old, she found a love that’s never broken. By her own admission it was a hectic schedule, committing to four teams at stages, but her dedication didn’t go unnoticed and fortunately, opportunity soon presented itself.
They were seasonal games, cricket typically a summer event and soccer played in the colder months. Both sports remain rooted in Australian culture and while the male competitions held court, avenues were quickly opening for Ellyse. Growing up in an all-girls school, away from the dangers of distraction and hype, she quietly climbed the ranks of two polar opposites of the sporting globe. That was until July 2007 when things got very loud. Ellyse became the youngest Australian - male or female - to play senior international cricket. People began talking, word spread, headlines were written. But she hadn’t finished yet. Two weeks later Ellyse would make her debut for the Matildas, Australia’s national women’s soccer team. She was 16. Frightening, right?
“They both happened so close to each other,” she reflects. “I certainly remember them as being incredible experiences and I feel so fortunate to have been in that position at such a young age.” All-rounders of her calibre are hard to come across in cricket. A talented right-handed batsman who felt just as comfortable flinging a ball down the pitch, Ellyse was fast-tracked into the Australian team after a dominant performance for her state. She made her one-day international debut in Darwin against New Zealand and didn’t disappoint. Most would be satisfied to bathe in the glory of reaching such a feat. Not Ellyse. There was one more job to do. Within a fortnight she was striding onto the field as a defender for Australia in an Olympic Qualifying match against Hong Kong and ran her way into the country’s record books: the only woman to represent this sports-fanatical country in two different team sports.
While the world spun their attention to the budding teen, Perry admits her biggest adulation was playing alongside a group of athletes she so righteously admired. “To be welcomed into those two groups as a sixteen-year-old school girl was special and to play against people from another country was mind-blowing.” Ellyse is quickly to heap praise on both her sports for not forcing a one-or-the-other decision. With their support, Ellyse says, she’s been able to do what she loves and live out her dreams. By 2008, she became the youngest Australian Test Cricket player, debuting against England in Bowral, NSW, and in the same year became a Cricket Australia Ambassador, a position reserved for the utmost respected. Trading the bat for boots later in the year, the swift defender would join the Central Coast Mariners soccer team and cement her name in the Australian W-League. She has since played for Canberra United, and signed with new W-league team, Sydney FC last year. “I’ve got the easiest job of playing two sports that I love and with the support behind me, like that from Red Bull and my teams, they’ve enable me to do that.”
Add a FIFA World Cup appearance in 2011, World Twenty20 victories and most recently a 2013 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup and you’ve got one very crowded list of accolades. At just 22, Ellyse’s achievements are not just incredible, but never-before seen. Throw a university degree into the mix and it’s obvious this young woman has got it together. Studying Economics and Social Science, Perry says the academic commitment is just the escape she needs. “We have a bit of downtime when we’re travelling, in between training and matches, and I really like using it as a bit of an escape and balance from constantly playing sport.”
While Ellyse may star on the cricket pitch and soccer field, her ties are deeper. She is a proud ambassador of women’s professional sport. “More and more attention and investment is being put into women’s sport,” she says. “In the years since I’ve been involved, just to be apart of the development and how much things have changed is really exciting.” But like any athlete will tell you, success is only second to hard work and Ellyse lives by one very simple motto. “The harder I train, the luckier I get.” Ellyse Perry is one very lucky athlete.