Narooma’s Lilly Bennett thought it was a joke when she was told she’d been selected for the Commonwealth Games.
But it wasn’t. The 16-year-old will pull on the Australian jersey as a winger in the Youth Rugby 7s side and will compete later this year in the Bahamas.
“Dad rang me up saying that I made the youth Commonwealth Games team and I didn't believe him,” Bennett says with a laugh.
“I thought he was just mucking around until he started crying over the phone. Then I knew he wasn’t joking and it was a really heart-warming moment.”
Bennett, who made a start in the sport through school said she was all but speechless at the chance to don the green and gold for Australia.
“Words can’t describe it, I’m just so excited,” she said.
As one of the youngest players in the challenge, Bennett said she carried a “lot of self-doubt” into the trials, but reveled in the chance to face older girls.
“They were all so talented I didn’t think I would make it, but I love the challenge of playing those older girls,” she said.
For her, it’s all part of a broader love of the game.
“I just love football altogether,” she said. “The feeling of being on the field and the atmosphere around it is the best feeling – the crunch of the hits or the exhilaration of you or your team-mates making a run – it’s amazing to be a part of that.”
So much of that love of the game, and a large chunk of her ability to take part boils down to her dad, Bennett says. “He is the reason for where I stand today, he is just so amazing he takes me to every game and to all the training sessions,” she said.
“He takes me everywhere and his support has been amazing, from getting up early and putting up with my moodiness for most of the trips … he does a really good job handling that,” she says with a laugh. “So thank you Dad and I love you millions.”
It’s easy to imagine the pair will now be putting a few extra kms on the car too as Bennett ramps up her training in preparation with matches to run from July 19-23.
“Yep, the calendar will look pretty full-on from now,” Bennett says with a laugh, adding that her focus will be on her speed and strength. The young gun is already renowned locally as a tremendous sprinter and she credits it as one of her strengths, but will be curious to see how she fares against the world’s best.
“My speed is my skill and I can’t recall ever being chased down after breaking the line, but I am sure it will happen.”
More than 1300 athletes from 70 Commonwealth nations are expected to take part across six disciplines during the event hosted in the Bahamas.