I’m in my zone. My mind is clear, and I know I am prepared for this battle.

All the blood, sweat, and tears I have put into this game have led me to this particular moment. A moment I never dreamed possible as a young athlete growing up in New Zealand.

I take a deep breath and walk out onto the pitch, where my team and I are about to take on the host nation at the Fifa Women’s World Cup in Canada. In front of 50,000 spectators.

Football has opened up some incredible opportunities for me over the years.

I have traveled the world, learned a new language, made life-long friends, played at World Cups, and I have become an Olympian.

However, my journey as a goalkeeper has not always been easy, and like many top-level athletes, it has taken perseverance, grit, and sacrifice to get to the level I am at today.

I faced many hurdles along the way before I earned my position as a starting goalkeeper for the New Zealand national team.

In 2008 New Zealand was host to the first-ever Under 17 Women’s World Cup.

The event created a huge buzz across the country, and everyone wanted to be a part of it in some shape or form.

In the lead up to the event, I made it to the age group trials, and I was selected for some of the team camps.

Unfortunately, however, I did not make the final team selection and ended up watching the games from the stands alongside other supporters.

I never gave up on my dream. And a year later, I was back in the goal, playing in a trial match for the Under 20’s squad.

This game certainly was a memorable one - but for all the wrong reasons. I had (to put it lightly) a terrible game.

The goalkeeper coach sat me down after the match and ultimately told me I was not ready for this level. I would not be considered for making the team. In my mind, I had hit rock-bottom.

But that conversation sparked something in me, and I made it my goal to come back stronger and more confident than ever before.

At that U20 World Cup in Germany, I was the number one goalkeeper in between the sticks.

So how did I get there?

My role model at the time was Hope Solo - Goalkeeper for the US Women’s National Team -, and I started to take note of the way she presented herself on the field.

She was confident to the point where many people labeled her as arrogant. However, through my eyes, she was a strong and commanding athlete, and I aspired to be like her.

Finding confidence in myself as an athlete, though, was tough. By mimicking what the top goalkeepers did, I was able to perform better in games until I truly believed in my ability.

It was an incredible feeling when I took my position in goal as the number one goalkeeper for my national team against the United States of America.

And the player in goal at the other end? None other than Hope Solo.

Earning that number one spot took years of training, and it meant pushing my physical limits day in and day out on the pitch and in the gym.

Mastering the mental side of the game as an athlete was also extremely important - especially as a goalkeeper.

Goalkeepers are often referred to as being the loneliest player on the field, and this certainly rang true every time I made a mistake.

I had to become incredibly resilient, manage emotions, and learn how to deal with these mistakes.

By controlling this side of my game, I like to think I am now a much stronger person mentally.

I have gained invaluable skills in dealing with pressure on and off the sports field.

Football goalkeeper in animated inforgraphics

Having a strong support network as an athlete has also been critically important to my success.

I am incredibly lucky to have a family who has supported me throughout my entire journey and who have always been there in times of need.

In 2018, I lost my number one supporter and the person who understood me the best in life - my mum.

The Women’s World Cup in France was one of the first times that she wasn’t there in the stands to cheer me on.

It was an extremely difficult period of my life, and I have since learned that the skills I developed as an athlete have helped me to deal better with the curveballs life sometimes throws at us.

I am now based in France, where I have been a professional footballer for the past four years, with my current goal being to play at my second Olympics next year in Tokyo.

I feel incredibly fortunate for football and the incredible opportunities it has opened up for me on the field.

But even more importantly, I am grateful for how the game has given me skills that have developed me not only as an athlete but as a person.