You may have read that title and thought to yourself that the idea of a specific method that all players can follow in order to have an awesome abroad experience sounds pretty skeptical, and in many ways, you’d be right. Everyone is different, which means the specific things you may look for or need in your LEAP experience might be totally contrasting from that of other athletes, and there’s nothing wrong with that! With so many amazing opportunities out there for you to explore and consider, and all at your fingertips through our global sports network, it’s only a matter of time before you find the perfect club, coach, and team for you. Despite these differences, the LEAP team has noticed some recurring threads among the reports from the LEAPers. What is the most common thing we hear as being the best part of playing abroad? Easy: the friendships. Let’s take a look at Grace O’Hanlon’s story and learn why she reckons that the relationships she’s made through hockey taking her all over the world are absolutely priceless.
Grace O’Hanlon grew up in the small Australian town of Maryborough in South East Queensland. There, she started playing for Brothers Hockey Club when she was just six years old. Once she finished school, she moved to Brisbane, where there exists a strong regional club league that harvests many Australian National Team players. In Brisbane, Grace joined the University of Queensland HC, playing there for five years. Then in 2015, Grace made the move to Perth to play with the Westside Wolves for two years. It is not uncommon for players in the Australian National Team pipeline to make this move, as Perth holds the team’s training center, as well as opportunities for hopefuls to break into the roster by training with the international squad and playing in the Melville Toyota League, which is the world’s most competitive regional league. On this experience, Grace noted that
Moving from Queensland to Western Australia was a big jump to make just for hockey, away from my family and friends. I was welcomed not only by the Hockeyroos, but also the Western Australian Institute of Sport and my beloved club Westside Wolves. I met some wonderful people, including friends I hope I will have for the rest of my life.
She told us that the friends she made took her all over the state to some of the most beautiful places in all of the country, which not all people have the opportunity of visiting! During her first season in Perth, Grace also helped the Wolves take the league Premiership! Thanks to the amazing connections grace made, it sounds like her time in Perth was phenomenal both on and off the hockey field.
And now, Grace is playing in Auckland, New Zealand, where she has taken the LEAP to play with Somerville Hockey Club! Not only that but as of February of 2017, Grace is a recently-capped member of the Black Sticks, New Zealand’s National Team! We asked Grace how she decided to play for the New Zealand national team instead of that of Australia, and she said this:
Tokyo 2020 is my ultimate goal, and I was at a crossroads with my hockey career – the Hockey World Cup and the Commonwealth Games were fast approaching, and there were going to be fewer opportunities for me in Australia than in New Zealand in the lead up to these events. I decided the opportunity in New Zealand was too good to pass up – besides, black is my colour.
As a result, receiving her first cap for the Black Sticks against Argentina was the realization of a dream that she had begun to doubt would ever come true. She said,
“Training on with a world-class team in the Hockeyroos, international competition was so close I could almost taste it – almost. True to my paternal roots, I have always been a Black Sticks supporter, and I love seeing this comparatively tiny nation take it to the best teams in the world. Taking the pitch for the first time with these girls against Argentina was an exhilarating feeling.”
And it’s obvious that Grace’s decision to LEAP to New Zealand has served her well, as she notes that her experience thus far has been just as positive as her first move to Perth, with dozens of new teammates all eager to show off the best that the Kiwis have to offer! And as for hockey, Grace’s time as a Black Stick has gotten off to an awesome start; she helped New Zealand reign champion of the 2017 Hawke’s Bay Cup in competition with Japan, Australia, and the United States!
Speaking of which, we asked Grace if she had any preconceived ideas about what the people and culture would be like in New Zealand prior to her arrival. She tells us,
“I always thought Kiwis were a bit eccentric, and I don’t think that moving here has changed my mind! Kiwis have a great sense of humor, a keen sense of adventure, and have so much to do and explore that there is never a dull moment in this country.”
It sounds as though a stint in NZ is the perfect place for an avid adventurer like Grace!
So, does Grace believe that YOU should take the LEAP? Here’s her awesome response to this question:
Should you play overseas? YES. It doesn’t matter where or when, but if there is ever an opportunity to play abroad, I wouldn’t hesitate. So few people have the luxury of moving to a new city, in a new country, and be offered instant support from a local club community. Clubs offer a diverse network; social, professional, cultural. To move to a new city and into a team of like-minded peers your own age means that your social network is already in place, and in my experience hockey girls have always been more than welcoming to new players. By far the most rewarding part of my hockey journey so far has been the people that I have met, the friends I have made, and the places I have been. I have traveled internationally with some of my best friends, I have friends in cities all over the world, and I have been able to fully experience a new culture by moving my life to a new country. There is something very different gained by living in a city, rather than just visiting it as one stop of many, and getting to know the real local spots that aren’t on Trip Advisor top ten. I definitely intend to travel as much as I possibly can, for as long as I possibly can off the back of my hockey career.
When you decide to take the LEAP abroad, an awesome athletic experience isn’t the only thing waiting for you. Just like so many other things in life, what really makes your journey so unforgettable is the people that were right there with you through it all. As Grace said, it’s the people you meet and the places you explore with them that will create the memories that will last a lifetime. With that in mind, it sounds like the only question left is one for you: Where will you LEAP?
We want to thank Grace for sharing her story and opening all of our eyes to the beautiful friendships to be had abroad. We wish her the best of luck both at Somerville HC and with the Black Sticks!
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