To experience the impact Michelle Heyman has on a game, you need to sit in the crowd and witness fans’ reactions whenever she comes close to the ball.
There’s an expectation that something is about to happen.
This season there has been plenty to get excited about with Michelle at the top of her game, scoring four goals in three outings for Canberra United in the W-League.
Despite her success, Michelle suffers from anxiety, which has had an enormous impact on her life.
The pressure to score goals, injury, and concerns about life after football were behind the decision to walk away from the game, which had been her passion from the age of nine in Shellharbour.
And Michelle pushed herself too hard, resulting in injury.
She retired from international football in 2019 after 61 games, including the 2016 Olympic campaign, then didn’t play at all last season after a year with Adelaide.
It had all become too much.
Then something remarkable happened during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“It kind of came out of nowhere. I was stuck in a one-bedroom apartment in Rose Bay in Sydney and I starting kicking a ball around in the local park, and it went from there. I fell back in love with the sport.”
Then there was a simple Instagram post Michelle sent out in August: “Hands up if I should make a comeback to the W-League?”
The response was incredibly positive and the seeds for a comeback were sown.
In quick time there were discussions with the new Canberra United coach, Vicki Linton, and then Michelle was back where she’d had enormous success during her eight seasons in the W-League, winning titles along the way before she decided it was time for a change and found herself in Adelaide.
The time away from the game has given her perspective.
“For the 12 months away I was able to be myself not the footballer. I feel like I’m back playing under-9s at Warilla. And my life beyond football is great.”
One of the major reasons behind this contentment is the support provided by her partner of two years, Christine. Says Michelle, “She makes me a better person”.
Michelle’s happiness at 32 years of age is reflected on the field as she is in superb form. But there are still moments when anxiety creeps back, including the uncertainty over the playing schedule because of COVID-19.
But she now has structures in place to cope, including plans for life beyond football.
“I’m setting up a women’s-only football club in Canberra. It will involve coaching and mentoring by role models such as current and former Matildas.”
The club has the potential to be life-changing for many young girls in Canberra.
Michelle has also reopened the door to the Matildas.
“I’m ready to play for Australia again; I know how far I can push myself,” she says.
Watching her play so far this season, there’s no reason why she can’t continue beyond this year, but she says her focus is very much on 2021.
Off the field, when her plans become a reality, Michelle will be influencing the next generation of Australian women who want a career in football.