By Kahlia Hogg

Sunday 21 March, 2021 was game day and I was unusually nervous. Adelaide United had a must-win match against the Western Sydney Wanderers, in front of a record crowd of more than 5000 people at Coopers Stadium. We needed three points and other results to go our way to keep our finals hopes alive. 

Adding to my nerves, I kept thinking about the next morning when I’d be getting results from a CT scan. I’d recovered poorly from the previous game and knew something wasn’t right. 

After three navicular surgeries, four titanium screws, a plate, and nearly two years of rehab, it’s fair to say I’ve become highly attuned to the little bone in my left foot. I’ve even affectionately dubbed him ‘Frankie’ for his Frankenstein-like bolts and scar.

Before the game, I told myself to focus on the job at hand. To leave everything out on the field and play as if it could be my last game. Coopers was alive with energy, and the atmosphere was one I wanted to enjoy.

Like anyone who has battled bone injuries, I thought my foot would warm up and the adrenaline of the occasion would take over. But from kick-off, I struggled to inject myself into the game as my ability to cover ground and change direction quickly deteriorated.

Scores locked at 1-1, we entered the changing rooms for halftime. My teammates were fired-up, buzzing to get back out there. I was gutted knowing that my game, and likely my season, was over. 

Ultimately, we won 3-1 but my fears were confirmed the next morning. The CT showed that the bone graft in my foot had completely disintegrated.

Faced with my third surgery in the space of 15 months, I started to reflect on what my recovery would look like. I’d heard athletes with similar experiences speak about “losing their identity”. To some extent, I now knew what they meant. 

Rehab is an incredibly lonely journey – countless hours with your thoughts and a Theraband. Fortunately, I’ve also invested time in my interests and career outside of football. 

It’s well known among friends and family that I can’t sit still. When I’m not training or playing, you’ll either find me swimming or learning new things. I’ve always found that study is my outlet from football and football is my outlet from study. 

In 2016 I graduated with my degree in mechanical engineering while playing college soccer at Florida State and the University of Colorado. With the support of a PFA education grant, I then began my journey in software engineering while playing Nadeshiko League 2 in Japan. 

Since then, I’ve continued to develop my interests in artificial intelligence by studying online whilst playing in the A-league Women and overcoming a series of tough injuries. 

After my latest navicular operation, I was non weight-bearing for the first month and needed help with most everyday tasks. I moved back in with my family in Canberra after 10 years away from home. 

Stuck on the couch, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to enroll in a postgraduate certificate through Deakin University and to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship. 

I knew the scholarship was highly competitive and selective, but I told myself that there was no harm in giving it a go. 

I spent weeks refining and crafting my program proposal. In two pages, I had to convince the Australian-American Fulbright Commission that I was not just academically prepared, but that my study would translate into meaningful impact and strengthen innovation between Australia and the US. 

A month later, I was surprised to open an email inviting me to interview with the selection committee. I was even more shocked when I received a call in late September to congratulate me on being awarded a Fulbright scholarship!

In August, I’ll head to the US to commence my Master of Computer Science in Artificial Intelligence, with a personal interest in AI-driven social change. 

I want to ensure that AI is contributing to positive social outcomes, not amplifying the biases and divides that already exist in the world around us. The value of education and equality is one of the many lessons football has taught me.

Until then, I’m waiting to be accepted by a college in the US and rehabbing with the same level of commitment and determination as my previous injuries. 

For now, my priority is on getting my body right to play the upcoming season in the New South Wales NPL. 

Watching this season of A-League Women’s from the couch has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I’d give anything to be alongside the Adelaide girls, fighting for that finals spot again. But the break from football has reinforced my absolute love of the game and given me an incredible opportunity to head to the US. 

My experiences in football have instilled a grit and resilience that have no doubt contributed to my off-field academic success and the opportunity to be a Fulbright scholar. 

While I’ll be fully focussed on excelling in my studies in the US, my experiences have taught me that athletic and academic pursuits don’t have to come at the expense of the other. Football and learning will always be deeply complementary parts of who I am.