In a twist of fate, Sydney Swans player Sarah Ford is also working on the engineering project that is redeveloping her club’s home ground.
Sydney’s iconic Henson Park is set to receive a major upgrade — and among the project team is new Sydney Swans recruit and civil engineer Sarah Ford.
Speaking to create between her day job at Northrop Consulting Engineers and training with the Swans, Ford said that she wouldn’t be able to juggle dual careers without a strong support network.
“I’m very fortunate that the company I work at wants to be able to support women in engineering, but are also very happy to support me in my dream of becoming an AFLW player,” she said.
“That comes down to just having that open communication with both roles about how much time I realistically have. Of course, I couldn’t do it without my partner, my family and my friends, who are also understanding of my time commitments.”
Despite growing up in a “footy mad” family, Ford only strapped on her boots in 2017 after her mother objected to her playing the sport when she was younger for fear of her getting hurt.
“In 2016, I was running water for my brother’s team,” she said. “They were putting in a women’s team the next year, and my brother told the club president that he’d trained me and I should be on it.”
At the same time, Ford was completing a double degree in civil engineering and science at the University of Sydney.
“Part of the requirement is that we had to undertake 12 weeks of professional experience,” she said. “I was fortunate to do that at Northrop, and from there was offered a graduate role.”
When Ford first began playing with Sydney’s East Coast Eagles, she didn’t tell her parents — but representative selection in her first year as well as winning the club’s best and fairest award soon changed that.
Working in two traditionally male-dominated fields has given Ford strong views about improving female representation.
“The biggest thing is, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” she said. “For me personally, as a kid, there was no way I was going to be allowed to play AFL because in my parents eyes, there was no pathway for females in sport.
“And no pathways means you don’t have the same level of coaching, the same level of umpiring and ultimately, the same level of safety that my brothers had. But now with AFLW up and running, these things are only going to get better.”
Ford believes that everyone has a role to play in encouraging growth in women’s participation in both sport and STEM.
“It improves inclusivity when different companies, schools and councils are doing things for women’s sport such as upgrading sporting facilities, that’s why I’m really keen to see Henson Park’s redevelopment get up and going,” she said.
“Creating an environment that is inclusive of everyone extends beyond women in male-dominated fields.
“We have to put the responsibility back on to individuals to make sure that the way they behave is inclusive of everyone — that’s only going to work wonders moving forward.”
When it comes to the redevelopment of Henson Park, Ford is excited to work on some of the “intricacies” of the site, which includes a heritage grandstand.
“I’m part of the civil team working on the project, and we’ll be ensuring that existing stormwater doesn’t disrupt downstream infrastructure,” she said.
“The structural team will look after the heritage grandstand, which can’t be altered or amended too greatly, by putting extensions on the back of it.”
Other works on the project include upgrading existing changerooms to provide female-friendly amenities, constructing additional change rooms and a multi-use clubroom, and constructing a new multi-purpose building to support match day operations, broadcast and media to ensure the venue is capable of hosting elite women’s sport.
With the delayed start of the AFLW affecting both of her careers, Ford said that she’s simply concentrating on the job — make that jobs — at hand.
“I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and working as hard as I can to make sure that I don’t let anyone down at work— but also that I can fulfil the dream that I’ve come to the Swans to achieve,” she said.
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