After helping to shatter stereotypes on the football field, Sabrina Frederick is now focused on proving women can excel in another male-dominated realm — the SAS.
For decades, women were not able to apply for selection in the special forces, and now the Richmond forward wants to prove that females have as much physical and mental endurance as men.
As a professional athlete and marquee member of the AFLW, she is used to being put through her paces, but she faced a challenge of a whole new kind when signing up to the first ever season of SAS Australia.
“There are a lot of people who assume that women can’t do something like this … so that was probably an extra layer of motivation for me,” she says.
While she had watched the British version of the show and was aware of the extreme challenges recruits are subjected to, she admits nothing could have prepared her for just how draining the experience was. “I don’t know if it helped me going in there because it wasn’t the same at all,” she laughs.
“They don’t yell cut and give you a warm drink and food. They leave you for the whole time and that’s it.”
Unlike many recruits given months to train, Frederick got a late call-up but jumped at the opportunity.
“There have been a lot of challenges for everyone this year and I saw it as an opportunity to suss myself out and see if I have what it takes to put myself in a really uncomfortable situation and actually survive it,” she says.
From jumping out of a helicopter backwards, pulling weights through the snow or competing in boxing matches, Frederick describes the tests as “insane”.
As one of several professional athletes in the mix, many would assume they would have an advantage. Frederick challenges this idea. “I think people might think that as an athlete that I had an upper hand in a course like this but it is very different,” she says.
“It’s like saying an Olympic swimmer has an advantage coming into football just because they have been performing at a high level … they are completely different arenas. Of course you take things over from the sport, like your discipline and training, but it is very foreign.
Growing up playing football, Frederick never could have imagined that one day she could walk out into a packed stadium to the cheers of thousands of people chanting her name.
That idea seemed like a pipe dream until the professional women’s league was established four years ago.
“I always had it in my mind that I would love to play that sport at the highest level but it wasn’t real and I didn’t think I would ever get there, but I stuck with it because I loved it,” she says.
When a photo of former teammate Tayla Harris kicking a goal saw her become a target of sexual trolling online last year, Frederick spoke out about the abuse female players experience.
“As a female footy player, migrant, and woman of colour in a same sex relationship, I have copped quite a bit of nasty abuse online,” she wrote.
“As more success comes I think more and more people have things to say and will only get worse, but I don’t take it as personally any more,” she says.
“When I started playing I was 19 and take everything to heart at that age but you grow up and realise that if people have nasty things to say you are probably doing the right thing.”
No stranger to hard work, Frederick took every challenge presented to her on the show and did everything she could to push her body and mind to their limits.
“You go into survival mode and deal with what you’ve got and make it work,” she says.
On SAS Australia, deprived of hot water and flushing toilets, some inevitably fare better than others.
“I used to do a lot of camping as a kid so I’m used to sleeping on nothing and having a can of food for a meal so it wasn’t a complete shock for me…but it was still tough,” she says.
“You are freezing cold, up near the snow, and being self-sufficient in everything that you are doing and wearing your house on your back.”
During the process she also injured her back, but it was up to her whether to push through.
“They don’t take you away or coddle you. It’s either you stay and deal with it or go home. ,” she says.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life ever…but it has definitely changed my outlook on things and how I approach things,” Frederick says.
Sabrina Frederick, AFL Women’s, Australia, Special Air Service Regiment
Actu monde – AU – AFLW star on SAS mission
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