Heart of a Saint, plays like a warrior - Daniel McKenzie

Round 23, 2016, Daniel McKenzie playing against the Brisbane Lions, attempting to spoil the ball. Picture: AFL Media.

At pick 22 in the 2014 AFL draft, the St. Kilda football club selected Daniel McKenzie from the Oakleigh Chargers.

Having your name called out on draft night is every footballers dream, simply trying to imagine what he was feeling that night is impossible.

Despite being earmarked for a promising career, McKenzie wants to be defined by more than being an AFL player.

McKenzie is currently completing a science degree at Monash University, hoping to become a physio in the future, combining his interest in science and sport.

Uni is great as no one knows I play AFL so I can escape from the constant football conversations. It adds to my identity outside of being just an AFL player.”

“It’s kind of funny, when I was younger a larger proportion of my time was dedicated to school, and football was a great way to get away from thinking about VCE.”

“Now it's the complete opposite, football takes up most of my week and Uni is a great way to get away from the physical and mental stress of hours of training and thinking about upcoming selection.”

Keeping up with university classes and assessments is difficult even for the most diligent students, let alone an AFL player with a busy training schedule, interstate travel and club commitments.

Daniel McKenzie in training for the St. Kilda. Picture: AFL Media

McKenzie emphasised the importance of managing time, which is easier said than done.

“Time management is key, it's important to get work done while you’ve got the time, there will be stages during the semester where multiple assessments are due which can overlap with busy periods in the footy schedule, like interstate travel or multiple long days in a row.”

McKenzie attributes his academic interests and pursuits to his parents who are both maths teachers.

“I would say they are one of the factors as to why I’m doing a Science degree,” said McKenzie.

Support from his parents has been crucial for McKenzie with his education and his development as an elite footballer.

“On the football side of things, they’ve been really good about everything, they never put pressure on me to make any rep side or state side or get drafted.”

“They were just there supporting me and have been coming to nearly every game I’ve played.”

Their support certainly paid off with McKenzie being given a rave review by his coach Alan Richardson, highlighting Mckenzie's abilties on the field, in addition to his genuine good nature off the field.

He’s one of those kids that if you meet him off the footy field you’d want him to marry your daughter because he’s a nice, respectful young man, but as soon as he crosses that white line he turns into an animal and we love that,” said coach Richardson.

Naturally, like anyone who has ever picked up a Sherrin, the ultimate dream is to win a Premiership.
However, McKenzie right now has one priority.

“I want to get into the senior team and cement my spot, which would involve getting bigger, stronger and working on my kick,” said McKenzie.

Daniel McKenzie celebrating after kicking his first AFL goal against the Western Bulldogs. Picture: AFL Media.

McKenzie has been blessed by being able to learn from some of the greats of the game.

“It’s unreal playing under guys like Riewoldt, Montagna and Geary.”

“They are such inspiring leaders who’ve helped me develop my game enormously.”

“Montagna and Geary are two guys I look up to the most at the club as they play the same position as me and have guided me a lot so far, they are guys who get around the younger guys and show a lot of care around the club.”

Coach Alan Richardson recognises that, as with all young players, there is a lot to develop, but Coach Richardson loves the upside of McKenzie.

He’s got a lot of improvement in many facets of his play, but what we saw in the back end of the year (2016) we’re excited by,” said Coach Richardson.

When McKenzie is not busy being an AFL player or a student, he likes to unwind with some good TV shows, music and occasionally playing PlayStation with his mates.

“I love going to live music gigs and festivals, Sticky Fingers, Flight Facilities, Childish Gambino, Arctic Monkeys or Catfish and the Bottlemen are my go to bands/artists,” reflected McKenzie.

“I also can’t look past a good binge of Suits, Game of Thrones or True Detective.”

McKenzie also loves to travel, having been to Japan in the off-season he plans to continue exploring new places around the world.

Team Monash wishes Daniel McKenzie all the best with his AFL career and his Science degree.

#bleedblue #teammonash 

Empowering women to break boundaries - Aira Abarra

It is refreshing to see someone go against the grain of society to follow their passion.

Remarkable is the first word that comes to mind when describing Aira.

Whilst currently completing her studies in nursing and midwifery, Aira is also competing as a professional powerlifter.

Traditionally a male dominated sport, Aira is part of a generation of women who are shattering the traditional mould of women athletes, and establishing a pathway for young girls all over the world to follow their dreams.

“I would love to be part of the movement to increase the representation of women in powerlifting.”

“I hope I could be a relatable role model and assist others to achieve their strength goals in a sustainable way.”

Aira posing for a podium photo after finishing second in the World Bench Press Championship. Picture: Aira Abarra. 

The future, according to Aira, looks promising with “more women getting comfortable in the free weights section in the gym and competition entries slowly rising.”

Community is key for Aira, being surrounded by people who are both accepting and encouraging of women in male dominated sports.

Aira is part of the Elite Student Performers Scheme (ESPS) at Monash University.

She explained that being acknowledged by Monash University for her sporting achievements proved to be an “empowering affirmation."

“The ESPS also offered a dinner which was more than a networking opportunity, I felt less alone in my endeavour to juggle a double life.”

The University has recognised her athletic ability, supporting her both financially and academically.

Aira received an Elite Student Performer Scheme Grant this year to support her endeavours to be a professional powerlifter. 

The grant she received will be put towards improving her training with the use of specialist equipment and more frequent program reviews.

Aira did not shy away from the struggles of being both a student and an elite athlete.

“I am consumed by assessment tasks and uni hurdles, all the while ruminating on gym programs, maintaining optimal rest and nutrition, throw in placement and my life can get chaotic to say the least.”

Receiving support from the faculty of nursing and midwifery has helped me find that balance, in particular Gayle McLelland has been wonderful.

However, Aira wouldn’t trade it for anything, “I am not sure I can envision my life without powerlifting, it has instilled resilience and perseverance.”

What does the future hold for Aira?

Having finished second at the World Bench Press Championship in Texas, held during April, Aira is looking to go from strength to strength.

Aira has her eyes firmly on Nationals in August, “I am eager for my new total to let me move from Elite II to Elite I.”

“I am also hoping to represent Australia once again in the Oceania Championships in Singapore.”

Being her last year in the junior age category Aira is looking to make her mark in the sport “I want to break the national and Oceania bench press records for my weight class.”

We are sure Aira will achieve great things with her attitude and hard work.

All of Monash University is right behind you Aira!

#bleedblue #teammonash

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