With an infectious smile and a big-hearted, warm personality, Sally Shipard is a popular member of the women’s football fraternity in Australia and beyond. An Olympian at the tender age of 16 and a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup™ participant, Shipard has achieved much in her career to date. Her biggest challenge, though, lay away from the field of sporting endeavour.
Shipard hails from the country township of Wagga, a town which has arguably produced more sporting champions than anywhere else in Australia on a per capita basis. Sport, or more specifically football, is part of Shipard’s DNA.
A tireless midfielder Shipard is, incredibly, in her tenth year as an international football at the age of just 26. She has accrued well over 50 caps, had a stint in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen and played a pivotal role as Canberra United won last year’s W-League.
Speaking up and finding help
Canberra will kick-off the new W-League season on Saturday with a headline-opening against a star-studded Brisbane Roar, supplemented by the arrival of Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. However, the last time the pair met in a high-profile encounter was the 2012 season decider, the build-up to which saw Shipard reveal that she had been dealing with her own personal demons away from the pitch, and fighting a cyclical decade-long battle with an eating disorder.
“I was finally strong enough and at a stage where I was ready to open up about it,” Shipard told FIFA.com. “The primary reason I opened up about it was to empower others to take a step. Also too, I found strength from verbalising it, and I was wanting to help eradicate misconceptions about the problem.
“It is a form of mental illness. It is an isolating condition. It is a more complicated illness than many might think on the surface. Injuries that you can’t see are the most complicated ones to address. I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I want to make the point that help is out there if you want to seek it.”
Shipard had an 18-month sabbatical away from football and, with a passion for knowledge, she travelled the world enjoying the pleasure that comes with new-found wisdom and experiences. But Shipard admitted she had been, in part, "running away" from a problem.
''I thought I was sick because of football, because of the demands and the image of being an athlete,” Shipard said. “But football is my passion. Wherever I went, my mind and eating disorder were with me.''
Shipard returned to Australia and sought help. There is still a journey to be traversed but with a greater understanding of the problems, things are looking brighter. “It’s still a work in progress and I am making progress. I don’t have all the answers but have amazing support from my family, friends and many others.”
The Aussie is renowned for her selflessness and, with trademark generosity, she wants to make her own contribution. Shipard has recently started working alongside people with a disability, describing it as “the most grounding job I have had in my entire life”. The midfielder also aspires to get a psychiatric degree and “really making a tangible difference”.
A degenerative knee condition has proved another major stumbling block, but after a long absence, Shipard is hoping to return to the W-League in a fortnight.
Shipard now sports a bright red rose on her calf picked up on her European sojourn and uses it as a symbol of inspiration. As the saying goes: ‘From the darkest earth comes the brightest rose’.