It’s clear Leah thrives when her plate is full.
“I'm a very good juggler and I really think it's important to take all the opportunities that you can get and explore lots of areas that you're really passionate about,” said Leah.
Travel leads to a passion for the environment and a career providing clean water
In addition to her footballing prowess, Leah is also an environmental scientist with an interest in biodegradable materials, renewable energy sources and finding sustainable ways to provide clean water.
It was Leah’s overseas adventures that brought to her attention how diverse the environmental outcomes are in different countries and led to her studying her first degree, a Bachelor in Science (Environmental Science).
“I thought that doing a degree where I could make a really broad scale impact on improving the environment would be a really worthy thing to do and something where I would be following my heart as well,” said Leah.
With a freshly finished Environmental Science degree, Leah commenced a full-time career just as AFLW was launching at a professional level.
“I had to really put my best foot forward in both,” said Leah who would train in the Gold Coast and fly to Newcastle to sample water at a water treatment plant every week.
“It was pretty challenging to fit it all in, but really rewarding at the same time.”
Creating clean water
Leah’s first role in science was as a data processing professional, analysing, interpreting and reporting quality data from water treatment plants that we're used to helping clean up contaminated land across Australia.
Her role progressed into the project management space learning about different technologies and taking a more active role in helping to understand the environmental issues and design solutions using different technology and innovation to get the best outcomes.
Leah’s work has involved projects with the Department of Defence, gas works, and large construction companies and namely with a group of contaminants called Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a product that's been used in firefighting foam and was considered a good product because of its effectiveness extinguishing fires by smothering the flames, and its value saving lives.
However, over time it was realised that the class of chemicals had the potential to cause cancer and unfortunately there now are various contaminated sites across Australia where these firefighting activities have occurred.
At times she has worked on projects treating over a billion litres of contaminated water, decontaminating via chemical, biological and absorption processes restoring the water to “clean” status.
“I guess a really simple way to put it is like a big fish tank. You adjust the pH of the water, settle out some of the particles and change the pH to remove metals from the water. We then run the water through a series of filters,” explains Leah.
“That's an example of something we may do to clean water, then we test the water, and we discharge it once we’re able to confirm the plants working and meeting the environmental objectives.”
Leah believes it’s a shared responsibility to improve the environment and everyone can do that by making different choices.
Building business skills is a natural next step
Across her five-year progression working in the science field, she discovered an interest in the business. This led to her studying for an MBA with Torrens University Australia, which is providing pathway options in careers in both the sports and environment fields.
She draws on her experience as a captain at both Brisbane Lions and the Gold Coast Suns AFLW teams, which provided her valuable opportunities to grow as a leader, work with and learn from new people and also coach pathway programs. Her MBA degree has allowed her to solidify her lived experience with deeper knowledge.
“I love studying, I love learning,” said Leah.
“Experience has led me to these opportunities and positions, and through my study, I have learned that a lot of being a leader is actually developing yourself and continually looking for opportunities to grow and I think in my life that's what I've always done,” said Leah.
“By choosing to learn and grow you open up different pathways for yourself that you might not have considered, and I think some of that comes down to your choice in what you invest in your life.”
Flexibility in education is key
“There's not very much time to actually attend the university or go to class face-to-face, so having the flexibility of studying online has been huge,” said Leah.
At Torrens University Australia, our cohort of 300 sports scholarship students are all studying online.
“What I love about online studies is that it actually allows me to study,” said Leah.
“If that option wasn't there it would be hard to meet the commitments of study, and work, as well as elite sport.”
With a goal for AFLW to be a full time professional by 2026, currently AFLW is only partially professional, and most players have to maintain a job in tandem with their sporting career to support themselves.
“The training schedule is tough to manage, and we don't get paid enough to support ourselves at this stage, so at the moment I work and study during the day and coach three nights a week, 4:30pm – 9pm.”
The impact of sport for good is huge
Leah recently completed the Sport for Good Courses with Torrens University which provides real life examples of athletes using their powerful platforms to advocate for human rights and drive positive change.
“I wish I completed this course when I first commenced my career in the AFLW,” said Leah.
“Whether you are a social player or elite player this course provides insight into how you can make a real difference through your leadership and actions.”
She was moved by the section on Bahraini footballer Hakeem al-Araibi who was wrongfully detained in a Thai prison in 2018, following a history of being tortured in his native country, and fleeing to Australia in 2014.
“To me, it demonstrated how fortunate we are to live in a country where we have freedom, rights, social conscience and can celebrate diversity.”
“Sport creates a space to build connection, inspire others and bring people together. This course has inspired me to be brave and stand up for what is right.”
Leadership in sport
Leah is a former Australian Football League Players Association (AFLPA) board member and Torrens University Australia sports ambassador. AFLPA provides wide ranging support to elite football players to ensure they’re maximising their professional and personal lives and preparing themselves for their future. As an ambassador, Leah is a brilliant example of how diversifying her sports career, whilst investing in ongoing education is a great way to prepare for career options post playing professional sport.