A STRESS fracture in her foot may have halted a promising athletics career, but star Dandenong Stingray Amber Clarke's footy journey is just beginning.
The 18-year-old draft prospect and NAB AFLW Academy member has had an outstanding year to date, taking out the NAB League Girls' best and fairest as well as the best-afield medal in the Stingrays' Grand Final loss.
Equally adept in the midfield and up forward, Clarke possesses a dangerous combination of explosiveness, power and agility, and given those attributes, unsurprisingly names Maddy Prespakis and Darcy Vescio as players she admires.
Clarke – who still holds a junior Australian record in hurdles, as well as four Victorian records – had earmarked this year as a potential Commonwealth Games debut, but things haven't gone quite to plan.
"I did athletics for about 13 years, I started when I was four or five. At first, I was an all-rounder, did every event, didn't really have a favourite or anything," Clarke told womens.afl.
"When I got a bit older, I realised I liked the sprints and hurdles a bit more and didn't really like long distance. That's where my speed helps with my game.
"I had a stress fracture in my right foot back in 2018, and ever since – I didn't exactly struggle – but the distance also increased from 80m to 90m to 100m, and I struggled to adjust to it.
"My speed wasn't quite the same, and my love for footy grew, and I wanted to go further with it. I had the dream of going to the Commonwealth Games this year, but that's not going to happen, and I've stuck with footy in the end."
Until the injury, Clarke had combined both sports, having played all her junior footy at Narre North Foxes – five years with the boys, and another five with the girls.
"It was a real – I can't swear – but it wasn't an easy thing to deal with. Both footy and athletics had contributed to it, and I missed most of the athletics season because of it," she said.
"I had started the athletics season, and I felt some pain but just let it go, but then it got to the point where I couldn't do it anymore, I was limping too much when I was running. So then we got it sorted."
One of five siblings, Clarke combines her busy sporting schedule with school at Rowville Sports Academy, the occasional shift at McDonald's (and the extra-occasional double cheeseburger) and a new-found hobby of drawing.
"I've got an older brother, then there's me, and I've got a younger sister (13) and two younger brothers (eight and four). There's not really much backyard sport, my younger sister plays netball for fun and one of my brothers plays a bit of basketball. My older brother is autistic, and he's not really into that stuff, so I'm the really sporty one," she said.
"It is nice (to have such younger siblings), because I try to look after them where I can, if my parents go out, I can stay home with them, and I'll take care of them. They can be annoying at times, but they're good to have around.
"It's just pencil drawing, whatever comes to mind. When I was younger, I was never great, but through lockdown I had a lot of time, so I got better with practice."