Life & Style Weekend - - LIGHTNING - WORDS: AN­NIE CAUGHEY

Grow­ing up on a trop­i­cal is­land in Far North Queens­land, life is about more than just co­conuts and palm trees. For Cara Koe­nen, one of Sun­shine Coast Light­ning’s star shoot­ers, life grow­ing up on Mag­netic Is­land was about fam­ily, the great out­doors and of course sport.

As one of four kids, Cara said you were never in search of an op­po­nent and in the Koe­nen fam­ily - ev­ery­thing was a com­pe­ti­tion.

“We are all close in age, so we grew up very close and played sport quite com­pet­i­tively against each other,” Cara said.

“Mum signed us up for any­thing she could get us into. We were do­ing surf lifesaving, swim­ming, ath­let­ics, acro­bat­ics, lit­er­ally ev­ery­thing.”

“If we weren’t play­ing sport we’d be out­doors ex­plor­ing, cre­at­ing stuff or head­ing down to the beach. I feel re­ally lucky to have the upbringing that I did be­cause we lit­er­ally had the beach on our doorstep and

were sur­rounded by so much wildlife and nature. It’s not very busy on the is­land, so we pretty much had free rein to do what­ever we wanted to do.”

Turns out this in­grained ac­tive life­style ben­e­fit­ted the Koe­nen kids quite well. With el­dest Bree get­ting signed to the Bris­bane Lions in the WAFL, Cara get­ting signed on the in­au­gu­ral Light­ning team as the youngest player to re­ceive a con­tract, younger sis­ter Alyssa rep­re­sent­ing Aus­tralia for pool res­cue lifesaving and the baby of the four, Dirk joined the Gold Coast Suns Train­ing Academy at just 16-years-old.

Now liv­ing on the Sun­shine Coast af­ter a few years spent in Bris­bane, Cara said she’s come to love the laid­back sleepy life­style the re­gion has to of­fer. Just like her home town peo­ple here are ‘of a friendly type’ will­ing to spark up con­ver­sa­tion, well, pretty much any­where.

“I think spend­ing a few years liv­ing in Bris­bane re­ally opened my eyes to how much I ap­pre­ci­ate liv­ing as part of a com­mu­nity be­cause you re­ally don’t get any sense of com­mu­nity when you live in a big city,” Cara said.

“It’s like a lit­tle bubble, the peo­ple that you im­me­di­ately in­ter­act with are the only ones you in­ter­act with. Whereas in places like the Sun­shine Coast and Mag­netic Is­land, you go out on the street and you’ll run into peo­ple who are will­ing to have a friendly chat all the time.”

It’s not al­ways easy be­ing the youngest in a team of pro­fes­sional ath­letes whose life and court ex­pe­ri­ence far out­weigh your own, but in the 2019 Suncorp Su­per Net­ball sea­son it was time for Cara to fi­nally hand over this ba­ton to fel­low team­mate An­nika Lee-jones.

In the pre­vi­ous 2017 and 2018 sea­sons Cara was Light­ning’s res­i­dent grom­met, how­ever, the bud­ding tal­ent was able to utilise this to her ad­van­tage both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally.

“I’ve ma­tured a lot hav­ing stepped up into a pro­fes­sional sport­ing en­vi­ron­ment. I’ve had to re­ally get my­self or­gan­ised to stay on top of ev­ery­thing, so I can bal­ance all as­pects of my life,” Cara said.

“I’m learn­ing so much from ev­ery sin­gle one of the girls, not even just in terms of net­ball skills but just life lessons. We’ve formed some re­ally close friend­ships and we re­ally rely on each other, espe­cially in those first few years.”

Re­ceiv­ing her first su­per net­ball con­tract at just 19 years old, in an era where ath­letes are hit­ting their net­ball peaks in their midtwen­ties and early thir­ties, Cara said she was shocked to get the ini­tial call up from Light­ning head coach Noe­line Tau­rua.

It’s been a steep learn­ing curve and at times a very chal­leng­ing road but it’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity that Cara has well and truly risen to.

“It’s very cool that Noe­line took a risk on me with­out knowing much about me. I saw that she got me on­board be­cause she wanted to de­velop me for the fu­ture, which is what Noe­line and Kylie do well at Light­ning.

They’re not just look­ing for what team is go­ing to per­form best this year, but they are also look­ing to­ward the fu­ture at what play­ers they can de­velop.”

Off the net­ball court you’ll most likely catch Cara at the lo­cal beach hang­ing out with her gor­geous golden re­triever Lola, while some may claim Cara’s In­sta fame has arisen from her hot-shot sport­ing ca­reer, oth­ers may say they’re just in it for the doggo snaps.

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