AFLW trailblazer Tessa Lavey knows she wants to be a Richmond footballer and become a dual Olympian later this year.
In this week’s episode of The Originals podcast she has shared a personal driver that’s far deeper than mere desire to excel in two sports she loves.
Lavey’s leap to join the AFL Women’s league in 2021 – a major decision that the Australian Opal, world basketball championships silver medallist, Commonwealth Games gold medal winner and Rio Olympian has revealed she made hastily – is a legacy of her late brother, Tim. Lavey has discussed his passing, and the weeks she spent by his side about a month before it last year, before her sixth AFLW match.
“He was my biggest supporter and he believed I could do anything,” Lavey says.
“It made me think about my life, where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be. And Tim was a massive Tigers supporter as well.”
Since making her AFLW debut in round three, Lavey has held her position in the Richmond side that enjoyed its first ever AFLW victory – three weeks ago, in Geelong – and last weekend notched its second triumph from three outings.
As Lavey’s football skills and confidence are clearly improving she continues to press her case for selection in the Opals squad that’s preparing for the mid-year Tokyo Olympics.
A classic elite athlete, Lavey’s life has been itinerate – guided by sporting opportunities supported by her dedicated family.
Born in Swan Hill, Victoria, Lavey has lived in Hamilton, then moved to the Australian Institute of Sport on a scholarship at age 16, was immersed in that high-performance environment until she was 18 and then moved to Bendigo to play in Australia’s top women’s basketball league for the Bendigo Spirit.
She crossed the country to become the first captain of the Perth Lynx then relocated to Melbourne to play for the Dandenong Rangers, then back to Bendigo before recently relocating to Melbourne again to join Richmond while juggling her basketball commitments.
Lavey chose basketball over athletics as a clearly very talented junior because “I wanted friends, I wanted teammates,” she says in the latest episode of The Originals. She loved Aussie Rules, indoctrinated as a Richmond supporter thanks to her parents and four older brothers, but had no pathway to pursue footy seriously.
Lavey says she was never going to put herself forward to join AFLW, as she did before the 2020 national AFLW draft, unless Richmond had a team.
Combining footy and an elite basketball program was never something she sought permission for exactly – “No one said ‘no’. I think everyone’s question was more ‘how? How are you going to do this?’,” Lavey says.
“And in my mind I was like ‘why not? Like, why not me? Why can’t I do both?‘
“Everyone’s been super supportive of it so far and I’m hopeful that will be the case moving forward.
“Who knows what’s going to happen in the next four months.
“I think they’re going to make it [the Tokyo Olympics] work, I just think it’s going to look very different to the Olympics we’re used to.”
Currently managing a very high physical load she generally trains basketball on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays, trains AFLW on Tuesdays and Thursdays and plays on weekends.
With the Tigers out of finals contention Lavey has two more weeks of juggling the unique program and says she has felt it most, physically, since her AFLW debut and subsequent string of games.
Sleep – ideally nine hours a night – nutrition, hydration and massage are crucial to Lavey’s balance.
The Australia Opals are ranked number two in the world. The great Lauren Jackson, Liz Cambage, Penny Taylor, Kristi Harrower, plus AFLW luminary Erin Phillips have all been teammates and great influences of Lavey’s.
Before joining AFLW Lavey said she felt “jealous” of the comparative visibility that accompanies playing Aussie Rules under the AFL’s competition banner, compared to the lower-profile – even if international – status of Australian Opal.
“Part of me is very irritated because I’d like that for my Australian Opals as well,” Lavey says.
“It makes me sad.
“At the moment I’m able to do both and I love doing both.
“I know at some stage there could be that hard conversation. But I’ll be ready for it.
“‘Future Tessa’ has a lot to think of, I think. It’s not a ‘Now Tessa’ problem!”