Photo courtesy of R U OK? Team
I grew up in WA and I come from a small, rural country town called Wagin; a born and bred farm girl and proud of it. I played all of my junior hockey down there. I’m the youngest of 3 kids, with two older brothers. We’re a hockey mad family; my brothers play, my dad plays, my cousins play my nana played… it’s a bit of a family affair! I used to follow my brothers down to the field, hoping to get a hit. That’s probably where it all started. I picked up a hockey stick at about 5 years of age. People say, ‘you can’t make it if you’re from the country’, but I think I am where I am today because of the training that I got in Wagin. When I was fourteen I made my first state team. I ended up on the wing and have played striker ever since.
For as long as I can remember, I had always wanted to be a milk lady when I grew up but when I was in my teens I had starting to picture myself playing for the Hockeyroos. After tearing my left ACL when I was in year 12, it was a bit hit and miss for a while and there was certainly doubt whether I’d make it internationally. I made my debut against Japan when I was 21.
To go in to an Olympic program in 2008 was a big shock to the system. I didn’t enjoy my training. I was upset before going to training and I had a lot of anxiety. What were people thinking? Was I good enough? Why am I here? All of those doubting behaviours and thoughts would constantly run through my mind and I was always comparing myself to others, putting myself down. I would burst in to tears at times and I wasn’t my usual bubbly self. I lost a lot of confidence over that period.
I remember driving one day with mum and she turned to me and said “Ash, you haven’t been yourself. Are you OK?’ She actually used those exact words. I stopped the car and let it all out. It was a real turning point for me and recognition that there were other things in my life; great friends, great family. It wasn’t the end of the world if I had a bad match on the hockey field and it was recognition that I had other things to fall back on. I’ve now developed coping mechanisms, an enhanced perspective and achieved greater balance in my life. I’ve also played over 200 games for Australia, including the London 2012 Olympics!
I love what R U OK? stands for and it’s been so great seeing such a strong message being spread more broadly. From personal experience, I understand the power of a conversation. Anything that I can do to assist, I’m in.
‘Reconnection’ to me means maintaining connections. Sometimes we, as athletes, can be away half of the year so it’s very easy to lose contact and we need to constantly remind ourselves to invest in our relationships. When you are with someone, you need to be present and not be on your phone! It’s face to face conversations that make you feel connected… probably not something you can get from a text message. You don’t need to solve all the problems and provide all the answers, sometimes it’s just about being that sounding board and being there when people want to talk. Follow your gut if someone doesn’t seem like themselves. I’d rather ask the question upfront than get a couple of weeks down the track when they’re in the depths of despair. What’s the worst that can happen by asking the question? If they’re not ready to talk about it now, that’s OK, at least they know you’re willing to listen.
Ashleigh Jayne Nelson (born 5 March 1987) is an Australian hockey player, a striker for the Australian women's national field hockey team. Nelson grew up in Wagin, in rural Western Australia, where she began playing hockey at the age of 5. She attended boarding school at Santa Maria College and graduated from Curtin University 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Therapy. Ashleigh and fellow ambassadors and supporters of R U OK? will ‘Ride for Wheelbeing’ on 13th – 22nd October, cycling about 700km from Perth to Albany. https://rideforwheelbeing.gofundraise.com.au/