It’s a pretty special thing to forge a career in a chosen sport but an even bigger rarity are athletes that manage a career across two different sports.
Ellie Brush started out in professional soccer as the inaugural captain of Canberra United in the Australian A-League. Her time in the sport took her overseas to play in the USA and Norway, and earned her two appearances with the Australian team, the Matildas.
After nine years in the sport, Brush took her career up another level and simultaneously played for United as well as joining the GWS Giants in the AFLW.
She juggled both codes before focusing on her AFL career and then returned to the A-League with Sydney FC two years later. However, just five games in she received a season-ending injury when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
After eight months of rehab, she was looking fit to return before rupturing her ACL for a second time. It took another 12 months of rehab, and a leap of faith from her old club, for Brush to make her return to professional sport with Canberra United.
It was a miracle season for Brush who got one more chance to play on her own terms and has now announced her retirement from all professional sport.
I spoke with Brush to learn more about how she balanced her life through injury and while playing two professional sports.
Q: Why did you decide to play both sports?
A: I’m from a big footy family, dad grew up in country Victoria playing footy, it’s always been in the blood I guess, so I love footy. I just never played it because I was always playing soccer. I wanted to play for Australia and play overseas so I just played soccer.
It’s pretty difficult that neither sport is fully professional, so I had to pick up a second job to get by — which in my case happened to be another sport.
Q: Were there any culture shocks switching between the two codes?
A: AFLW started from a much stronger place than where the W-League started partly off the back of support from the AFL. It really wasn’t too tough. AFL is more physically demanding than soccer, especially the pre-season, but having that history in another physical sport has made the transition a lot easier.
I think a few members of my (AFL) team got slightly overwhelmed for our Round 1 and 2 matches when the crowds were massive, they were a bit anxious on the day, and maybe that affected their performance. I have been able to use a lot of what I’ve already experienced in soccer to deal with those elements, and hopefully was able to help my teammates.
Q: After your run in the AFL you came back to the W-League but suffered two ACL injuries, how did that set you back?
A: Injury doesn’t just affect your football and time on the field. We’re not full-time athletes, I’ve got to work a job and try to be a mum as well. I couldn’t just rehab my injury and be paid for that. My wife had to put up with me going through two surgeries and try to keep the household together and raise a son. We’ve got to be paid more to that this can be a full-time job because it’s not sustainable.
It was a huge two years, massive two years. Almost 21 months to the day so it was pretty emotional when I did get back because I probably shouldn’t have played again as the knee injuries had taken a massive toll.
Q: You came back to Canberra for this last season, what made you decide it was time to end your career here?
A: Football has been my life for almost 20 years since the start of Canberra Eclipse and then into Canberra United in 2008 until now. So, might even be the 20th season pretty much of professional soccer so I haven’t really known much else and it’s a big decision but one I’ve thought of for a while now.
Having a kid puts a different perspective on life and your priorities immediately shift, he’s our life now and that where my priority is. It’s been too much of a sacrifice for Kristy my partner, it comes a time where you have to stop forcing people to make those sacrifices. It’s a selfish thing, professional sport and so it was time.
I maybe shouldn’t have really had this extra time, but to come back and finish in Canberra is the way I wanted to do it. Two years of bad knee injuries and that could have easily been it but that competitiveness and determination in me to want to try and get back to playing at the highest level weighed heavily on me.
I really wanted to give it another shot and come full circle and have my last season in front of friends and family. Where it all started and on my terms is the way I wanted to end it. I’m not scared of retirement it’s just the opposite, maybe it’ll be my chance to live a normal life.