Eastham spreading hockey's gospel

CASEY Eastham says she has an interest in mythology, palmistry and numerology. But the teenage Hockeyroo doesn't need to look into a crystal ball when she's asked about her future in the sport; she is painfully aware of the impact a decade's worth of elite hockey could have on her body.

"It is a tough sport," said Eastham, who, at 19, has already sustained a dislocated knee and torn posterior cruciate ligament as "reward" for putting her body on the line. "It is demanding but you pick yourself up," she said. "I love it, though. I hope to get to another two Olympics but I'll see how my body holds up. My position, midfielder, means we're the link between the attack and defence so we're the workhorses of the team."

When Eastham declares she wants to take on the world, she's not restricting herself to simply opposing the nation's hockey rivals. While she is striving to be a member of the Australian team that will compete in the Champions Trophy at Sydney in July, she wants to help break new ground for hockey players by gaining the type of sponsorships footballers, cricketers and swimmers all take as part and parcel of being an elite athlete.

Eastham, who is studying to become an interior decorator, recently appointed a manager in the hope he might be able to negotiate some sponsorship opportunities.

"Hockey should have some appeal," she said. "It's a good game in that is full of action, very quick and it can be high-scoring. Australia has a great team and we play in a very competitive environment. I know netball is the No. 1 female sport in Australia, but hockey also offers a lot."

Eastham seems set to be the heiress apparent to her childhood idol Nikki Hudson as the sport's pin-up girl. She has the credentials — before last year's Beijing Games, where she made her Olympic debut, Hockeyroos coach Frank Murray insisted she had the potential to one day become the world's best player.

The teen sensation is also attracting a loyal supporter base, especially on the NSW South Coast where she volunteers to attend schools to talk to the students about the thrill of competing and the sense of achievement gained from digging deep when the pressure is on. She also conducts coaching clinics for kids who know nothing about the sport.

And she hasn't forgotten her origins; when she's not in Perth and training with the star-studded Hockeyroos, Eastham loves nothing more than to play alongside her old school friends and teammates in the local competition. "Playing in the grand final on the South Coast was phenomenal," she said. "There were a lot more people at the ground than the previous year and they seemed to enjoy what they saw."

As someone who is desperate to see her sport reach the level she believes it deserves, Eastham hopes they've told their friends and that they turn out for the next game.



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