As the coach of four football teams, as well as the head of participation at Capital Football, Kelly Stirton is the heart and soul of the sport in Canberra.
In many ways, Kelly’s relationship with football is symbiotic. Football has benefited enormously from her contribution, but she says the sport has given her and her family plenty in return.
“Football is very much my life,” says Kelly. “My husband, daughter and son all play the sport.”
Her passion for inclusion in the sport has resulted in the formation of the ParaMatildas, Australia’s first team for women and girls with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury and symptoms of a stroke.
Kelly’s appointment as head coach of the ParaMatildas comes on top of her roles as coach of the Canberra United Powerchair team, Canberra United All Abilities Academy, and Canberra United Academy reserve grade team.
“I’ve always had a passion for working with people with a disability,” says Kelly.
“I used to play and I wanted to find a way to give back to the sport.”
And at 35 years of age, giving back has become all-consuming but incredibly rewarding for Kelly.
“I draw inspiration from the players. They inspire me every day. Anybody who thinks they can’t do things just needs to look at the ParaMatildas.”
To press home the point, Kelly highlights a number of players who have overcome significant hurdles just to get onto the field in the first place. She explains that one of the players suffered two strokes in her sleep, and football has become a major part of her rehabilitation.
“We’ve been working in the background for a number of years,” says Kelly reflecting upon the formation of the ParaMatildas. Her selection as the head coach of the inaugural ParaMatildas team is a just reward.
“Being able to say I’ve coached an Australian team has been a dream because we now have a pathway created from young children to adults.”
Kelly is looking forward to the team participating in the World Cup in Spain on 6 May.
But it’s not cheap to take a team to the World Cup. The estimated cost is about $250,000, but backing from others has been plentiful. Says Kelly, “Every team in the National Framework has been very supportive and keen to help.”
This is where the Matildas come in: $1 from every ticket sold for the Matildas international against New Zealand, to be held at Canberra Stadium on 12 April, will be donated to the ParaMatildas for their World Cup campaign. To get your seat, visit the Matildas, and help Kelly and the ParaMatildas make their mark in Spain.