We often hear about the freak talents of elite sportspeople blasting them into prominence, but for NSW Swift’s captain, Abbey McCulloch the journey to success was different.
Hard work, perseverance and resilience paved the way for Abbey to cement her place as a well-recognised and influential professional netball player.
When I heard Abbey speak at the annual QBE, NSW Swifts Luncheon in May, I was struck by her steady demeanour. At 27, she is one of the eldest players on the team. Her maturity is evident when she speaks about her captaincy and the role she plays for the Swifts.
When we sit down to chat, I ask her about the evolution of her netball career and the hurdles she faced to get where she is.
“I guess my career really has been built off the back of hard work, perseverance and resilience,” she tells me. “It wasn’t an easy journey for me to get to where I am today. I was still was able to play a lot of tournaments that I know a lot of people miss out on, but it was really about taking that next step that was the hard one for me.”
Abbey explained how she played six national finals for NSW and won all six national titles. “I always managed to be in the starting centres for those titles and grand finals we played, but it always happened to be that when they picked the Australian squad, they used to pick everyone from the starting NSW team except for me.”
As a teenager at the time, the ongoing rejection took a toll. Abbey admits she wasn’t always able to deal with things constructively.
“It was really hard for me, especially as a 17-year-old… I guess to question why I wasn’t getting picked and what I had to do to get better. So, when I was 17 there were lots of tears. When I was 19, I pretty much threw tantrums and said I’d never play again.”
At 21, Abbey experienced a light-bulb moment. Instead of kicking up every time she missed out, she decided that being rejected just wasn’t an option for her any longer.
“I thought ‘oh well, if they’re not going to pick me, I’ll make them pick me.’
This year i’m tackling Heartbreak Hill – and the rest of the course – in the 2017 @city2surf 🏃! More importantly i am doing it for @thekidscancerproject in the hopes of raising as much money as i can to assist with their reaearch into childhood cancer. Any donation is appreciated so please see the link in my bio and give what you can 😊 #city2surf #kidscancerproject #running #funrun #fundraising #donate #thankyou
“The only way I knew I was going to get noticed was to work a little bit harder than the people around me. I missed out on a lot of teams and it was really disheartening, but I just kept at it, working away and eventually I got the phone call to come play for the QLD Firebirds. It was the opening that I really needed.”
This attitude is patently one that has stuck with Abbey since her first epiphany. She is a woman who faces challenges head on and maintains the optimism and resilience required of a true leader.
Indeed, leading the Swifts is a responsibility that Abbey takes seriously. Alongside vice-captain Paige Hadley, Abbey works hard to ensure that the morale of the team is always in a positive space.
“We’ve got a great bunch of girls and we’ve managed to make sure that everyone was still keen, everyone still wanted to turn up to training, everyone still wanted to spend time with one another. Although we weren’t always winning, that’s what made this season quite easy” she says.
And though the past season had its ups and downs for the Swift’s young team, Abbey is adamant that they have the talent to climb ranks in the 2018 season.
“I definitely see a grand final on the horizon. We recently announced that eight of our ten contracted players are returning next season and so we’ve pretty much maintained our squad. We’ve talked about 2018 being a rebuilding year, and it was really important for us to stay together.”
No doubt next season will be a formative one for the Swifts. Despite the team’s inexperience, they are tied together by strong friendships, ballsy talent and the ultimate conviction that they can emerge victors. Not to mention the steady force of a wholly dedicated captain who hopes to finish her career “wearing the red dress.”
Wow.. I cannot believe season 2017 is over! It has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows, debutes, wins, losses and draws but most of all it has been a year of development, learning and hard work. It is always an honour to pull on the red dress week in and week out and i am already looking forward to next year. Thank you to all of our members and fans who despite our lack of success on the ladder have stuck by us and have witnessed and supported our improvement and tennacity every single game – it will pay off! Finally, how good is my #swiftsfamily? To get just about our entire team on court over the last 14 weeks is a testiment to the commitment and effort each and everyone of them have to this team, this club and this process. Every single one of them have shown they have what it takes to run with the best and next year we will not only run with them, we will run past them! 👭👭👭👭👭👭👭👭 #NSWSwifts #teamgirls #squad
When I ask Abbey to share some advice with other emerging athletes, her words are definitive and certainly reflective of her own approach.
“Continue to do whatever you need to do to better yourself. Take out that extra session or consult with your coach. If you continue to better yourself and continue to work hard, things do happen. Especially in this day and age, when instant gratification is something we’re so used to, people forget to work hard. But, if you’re willing to put in those long hours everything will fall into place. It may take a few years, but it’ll be worth it.”