Meet the inspirational paramedic who has hit the ground running in the NRLW, while also continuing her career as a clinician.
If you ever wanted to show a young girl an example of a role model who epitomises perseverance and overcoming adversity, tell them about Abbi Church.
Abbi is a paramedic who works in South West Sydney Sector. It’s a job she is incredibly proud to have – but it’s not the only inspiring role she has been excelling in.
The 24-year-old is one of the stars of this year’s Parramatta Eels side, which took part in their first-ever NRL Women’s Premiership (also known as the NRLW) in 2022.
How she earned her place in the team, however, is what’s most telling about the kind of person Abbi is.
Last year she underwent a full ankle reconstruction ahead of the start of this season.
The surgery put Abbi on the back foot – so to speak – in her bid to make a squad full of women who were hungry to earn their debut for Parramatta in the much publicised, revamped NRLW.
It’s also important to note that, unlike her teammates, she was having to pull long shifts, as a paramedic no less, ahead of squad selection.
When you factor in Abbi’s ongoing commitment to her primary – and at times high-pressure – job as a clinician, while also trying to train on the back of a complex injury, she had a couple of pretty good excuses not to be ready in time for the season.
The thing is, excuses just aren’t Abbi’s style. “I knew that I might not have been as fit as everybody else, so I had to put the effort in and I was pretty determined to prove what I could do and show them I wanted to be there,” Abbi said.
“On top of just effort and hard work comes the little extras you put in, so I did a bit of work on the things I needed to improve on.”
And while making the squad was a remarkable achievement in itself, cementing her position in the starting team was an entirely different challenge.
Minutes after coming off the interchange bench – and into a position she hadn’t previously played (hooker) – for the Eels’ first game of the season, Abbi threw a pass that didn’t go to plan while thousands in attendance were watching, and thousands more were watching on live television.
“I threw an awful pass to my halfback and she dropped the ball,” Abbi said.
“I was gutted, because I felt it was my fault. It’s my NRLW debut and I’ve just thrown this shocking pass on national television.”
Given the moment, and the immeasurable pressure that would have come with it, there would have been no shame in Abbi showing signs of being deterred from that point onwards.
But again, excuses and letting adversity get the better of her….not Abbi’s style.
After that “shocking pass”, Abbi brushed the moment aside, worked hard, and earned more minutes on the field for round two.
By round three she was starting and playing all of the remaining three games, scoring tries in two of them.
“Resilience is a big thing for me,” the outside back said.
“There were definitely jobs in my first year on road which are the type that can make or break you. But as a trainee, you make mistakes and learn from them. The same applies on the footy field.
“You’re not always going to have highs – there is always a rollercoaster in both footy and on road.”
“Everything I’ve been through to this point has helped each step of the way. You can link the uncertainty of coming out of university, and not knowing if you’re going to get a job, to not knowing if I was going to get on the field again.
“Instead of thinking about what might or might not happen, I kept pressing on, showing up and proving that I should be there.”
And while resilience – a CORE value of NSW Ambulance – is one cross-over trait Abbi has implemented into her blossoming rugby league career, there are others.
She said teamwork; good, empathetic communication skills; and working in high-pressure situations feature prominently in both roles.
Knowing that Abbi is often having to exhibit these traits at times as a paramedic – where the stakes can be much higher than a football game – the Eels players have nothing but respect for their teammate.
“They all have told me how much respect they have for the job I do,” she said.
“Knowing that I can be a role model for the young girls who are coming through the football system is pretty incredible. But for me, it’s also about showing that you can do both… you can have a good career and good job outside of football too.”
While Abbi has only played one season of NRLW, she has already built a solid fan base – many of whom are her paramedic colleagues.
“People I work with who have never watched a game of NRL in their life are coming up to me to say they watched every single one of my games,” she said.
“The support has been unbelievable and every so often people like to throw in a joke in here and there about me, like ‘can you sign this for me or can I get a picture?’ It’s good fun, everyone has been great.”