TWIN PAS­SIONS

TWO BA­BIES, TWO SPORTS, TWO COUN­TRIES – ERIN PHILLIPS ON LIFE AND LOVE WITH TRACY GAHAN

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - WORDS ME­GAN MILLER MAIN PIC­TURE STE­WART CO­HEN

On the bas­ket­ball court and footy field, she’s known for her fierce ath­leti­cism and com­pet­i­tive drive, but there are two things that melt Erin Phillips’ heart. Their names are Brook­lyn and Blake, the code-hop­ping sport star’s gor­geous twin ba­bies.

It’s been a mo­men­tous 12 months for the 32-year-old. Not only did she and wife, Tracy Gahan, wel­come daugh­ter Brook­lyn and son Blake in Novem­ber, she was the stand­out star of this year’s in­au­gu­ral AFL Women’s com­pe­ti­tion.

Her AFLW achieve­ments in such a short time frame – and de­spite a 17-year ab­sence from the sport – are im­pres­sive. She co­cap­tained the Ade­laide Crows to a premier­ship, kicked goal of the year from 60m out (and was nom­i­nated for mark of the year), was named best on ground dur­ing the AFLW’s his­toric grand fi­nal, was se­lected for and made vice-cap­tain of the All-Aus­tralian team, won the AFLW Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion’s most valu­able player and took out medals at club and league level.

Adding to the year’s grav­ity, Phillips and Gahan un­wit­tingly be­came poster girls for nor­mal­is­ing same-sex re­la­tion­ships when the pic­ture of their cel­e­bra­tory kiss af­ter Phillips’ AFLW best-and-fairest win in March was splashed far and wide.

Once the footy sea­son was over, the cou­ple headed back to the US where Phillips has played pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball in the tough WNBA for the past nine sea­sons.

In May, though, she re­tired from the league hav­ing won two cham­pi­onships with In­di­ana in 2012 and Phoenix in 2014.

Last year, she co-cap­tained the Dal­las Wings, but will stay on with the team as its di­rec­tor of player and fran­chise de­vel­op­ment on a year-by-year con­tract.

She re­jects re­ports that she was dumped by Dal­las as a player.

“I take sport less se­ri­ously . . . I’m a mum and I’m happy and that’s most im­por­tant.”

“It wasn’t a case of Dal­las turn­ing their back on me, I wasn’t let go,” she ex­plains. “I was ready to re­tire be­cause of how hard jug­gling ev­ery­thing was get­ting.

“I’d been play­ing the AFLW sea­son and en­joyed it and loved be­ing back home af­ter play­ing over­seas for so long. I was just ready to have a break some­where in the year of play­ing sport.

“Let’s face it, I was turn­ing 32 (in May) and didn’t know how many sea­sons of AFLW I had, but I did know I wanted to give it my ab­so­lute best shot phys­i­cally.”

Hav­ing re-signed to Ade­laide for the 2018 AFLW sea­son, Phillips, Gahan and the twins will re­turn to Aus­tralia from Dal­las in Septem­ber for pre-sea­son train­ing. As well as play­ing, Phillips will take a more ac­tive role off the field in pro­mot­ing the women’s league and will also join the AFL in the role of high­per­for­mance coach work­ing with un­der-16 and un­der-18 boys’ and girls’ academy teams.

“The de­vel­op­ment stage I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in,” she says. “Th­ese two roles I have in Dal­las and Aus­tralia are sim­i­lar. I feel like I couldn’t have got­ten any luck­ier.

“You have a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion when you have kids.

F“Foot­ball was my life when I was younger. I had a bal­loon al­ways blown up at­tached to the back of the couch so when it was rain­ing and couldn’t go out­side, I’d jump on the back of the couch try­ing to take hang­ers. I was that crazy kid who lived and breathed footy.

“I look back and think how hard it would’ve been for my par­ents to sit me down and tell me it’s not go­ing to hap­pen. It would’ve bro­ken their hearts. I’m grate­ful that I never have to tell my kids that.”

Phillips was born in Mel­bourne when her foot­baller dad Greg Phillips, a Port Ade­laide le­gend of 427 AFL and SANFL games, played four sea­sons for Colling­wood in the ’80s. The fam­ily re­turned to Ade­laide when she was 18 months old.

It was a sporty house­hold, with Phillips and her two older sis­ters, Rachel and Amy (who’s mar­ried to Hawthorn veteran Shaun Bur­goyne), be­tween them do­ing Lit­tle Ath­let­ics and play­ing footy, net­ball, ten­nis and bas­ket­ball. rom an early age, she lived and breathed Aussie Rules, play­ing it re­li­giously un­til the age of 13. “Ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing, I’d be up at the crack of light and get­ting ready (in my uni­form) even though I wasn’t play­ing un­til 11am. I used to get but­ter­flies the night be­fore. I just loved it.”

But with no for­mal av­enue to pur­sue foot­ball fur­ther, she says her par­ents strate­gi­cally en­cour­aged her into bas­ket­ball.

She re­mem­bers be­ing fouled out at one of her first games.

“I was this raw footy player try­ing to turn bas­ket­ball player. At 13, I couldn’t re­ally un­der­stand why I couldn’t keep play­ing foot­ball. Who cares that I’m a girl? You don’t re­ally com­pre­hend why you can’t con­tinue.

“I re­mem­ber sit­ting on the bench (at bas­ket­ball) and think­ing, ‘Who wants to play this? You can’t tackle or touch any­one’. But I had re­ally good sup­port and coaches who helped me de­velop my skills.

“From then I started to en­joy bas­ket­ball and was for­tu­nate to con­tinue fall­ing into it.”

Phillips went on to play three sea­sons in Aus­tralia’s WNBL for Ade­laide Light­ning, for Euro­pean club sides in Poland, Is­rael and Slo­vakia and those nine sea­son in the WBNA, first for the Con­necti­cut Suns in 2006, then for Los Angeles, In­di­ana, Phoenix and Dal­las.

A ca­reer high­light was meet­ing for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama dur­ing a White House visit in 2013 on the back of her ti­tle win with In­di­ana.

“We had to send our pass­ports for back­ground checks long be­fore the visit but clearly I have a good record be­cause I met him,” Phillips says with a laugh. “He was so, so cool. Very per­son­able and charm­ing and funny. Just nor­mal. I felt like he wanted to hang out with us all day and shoot hoops but then he had to go and, you know, fix the world. It was a mas­sive high­light of win­ning that cham­pi­onship.”

Play­ing for the na­tional women’s bas­ket­ball team the Opals, Phillips won sil­ver at the Bei­jing Olympics in 2008 and Com­mon­wealth gold in 2006. How­ever, the Opal’s dis­ap­point­ing tilt at the Rio Games last year – knocked out in the quar­ter-fi­nals and miss­ing out on a medal for the first time since 1992 – hit Phillips hard, in­form­ing her de­ci­sion to re­tire from bas­ket­ball at league level. (She’s still el­i­gi­ble to play in­ter­na­tion­ally, which leaves the door open for her to com­pete at the Tokyo Games in 2020.)

“Af­ter Rio and that dis­ap­point­ment, it was re­ally hard to come back to bas­ket­ball again, and foot­ball couldn’t have re­ally come at a bet­ter time and took my mind off it all,” she says. “It was com­pletely new and dif­fer­ent and ex­cit­ing, and some­thing I’d al­ways wanted to do.”

Phillips re­turned to Aussie Rules for that stel­lar de­but sea­son de­spite a long 17 years be­tween kicks.

She’ll con­tinue to di­vide the year be­tween the US and Aus­tralia, lucky enough to have sup­port in both homes bases – her fam­ily in Ade­laide and Gahan’s fam­ily in Dal­las.

Phillips met Cal­i­for­nia-born, Dal­las-raised Gahan, 36, about a decade ago when they both played for Ade­laide Light­ning.

They mar­ried in 2014, elop­ing to Hawaii’s surf-soaked Maui.

“We wanted to go on hol­i­day but thought it would be a good time to elope,” Phillips says. “In my sched­ule, I never had a big enough break to plan any­thing big. It was good fun.”

In Novem­ber, Gahan gave birth to Brook­lyn and Blake in Dal­las. They were con­ceived via IVF, but the cou­ple pre­fer to keep the finer de­tails pri­vate.

The twins are luck­ily good trav­ellers, sleep­ing the en­tire long-haul flight to Aus­tralia from Dal­las when they were only eight weeks old.

“Blake’s very laid-back and chilled, and Brook­lyn’s more rowdy, but they’re both such good kids,” Phillips gushes. “Very easy ba­bies and happy, and want to be around peo­ple. They rarely cry un­less they want some­thing.”

Phillips says moth­er­hood has taught her to be less self­ish, more pa­tient and to ex­pect the un­ex­pected.

“I was so rou­tine (driven) and ev­ery­thing had to be this way pre-game and in train­ing. I had to have proper sleep. It wasn’t OCD but I

had to do it. Now, hav­ing kids it’s like if I eat at this time, who cares?

“I’d usu­ally have the same bread roll pregame, now what­ever’s in the cup­board is fine. I’ve let go of that side of me.

“I take sport less se­ri­ously be­cause I know it’s not the end of the world if you play badly or lose a game. What­ever hap­pens, when I come home, I’m a mum and I’m happy, and that’s the most im­por­tant thing.

“When my dad used to come home from games, he was dis­ap­pointed if the team had lost, but he’d al­ways en­gage with us kids and play with us. He’d never bring that home.”

Gahan would like five chil­dren, but Phillips isn’t so sure. She’s happy adding one more to the brood and says they might start try­ing “maybe some­time next year”.

Phillips says she’s happy to em­brace be­ing a pos­i­tive role model, whether it’s from a sport­ing per­spec­tive or same-sex unions. She’s had boyfriends in the past, in­clud­ing a two-year re­la­tion­ship with Rich­mond

JULY 22-23, 2017

Tracy Gahan and Erin Phillips with Brook­lyn and Blake at their Dal­las home; Phillips with her dad Greg in 1992 af­ter Port won the SANFL grand fi­nal; in ac­tion against Colling­wood this year; meet­ing for­mer US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama

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