International Women’s Day provides a platform for Hawthorn to celebrate the women who shape the club.

One of those women is Aleesha Whitely, who plays for Hawthorn Gold in the Victorian Blind Football League (VBFL).

She spoke about her love of football, what she does outside the sport and why International Women’s Day is so important to her in this wide-ranging Q&A.

Aleesha, how did you get into footy?

“I already had an interest in the sport but being visually impaired, it was never something I considered I'd be able to play myself one day. When I learned about blind footy, it really sparked my curiosity, and I thought I would try it out for myself. I hadn't played much sport growing up at all so I thought it might be nice to have some sort of community sport experience on a regular basis.”

How have you enjoyed your time with the Hawks?

“It's been really good. The club’s been really welcoming and supportive of the blind league and of course, it’s fun to play as well.”

How can we support the Victorian Blind Football League?

“There's a Facebook page called the Victorian Blind Football League and there's a lot of posts going up on there when the season’s on. There's also a website and there's live streams to the games sometimes. It's just a fun take on footy that's a bit different to what other people might know.”

Has there been anyone in particular who has taken you under their wing?

“Ned (Brewer Maiga) has. He’s a really great guy and he's a great captain for the team. He used to live quite close to me, so we were able to get to know each other a bit. When I started playing, Mel Edge also took me under her wing as well. It was really great to have another woman in the team and she was really supportive and very well respected within the club and within the league.”

What is your visual impairment and what classification do you play under in footy?

“There’s three different classifications and I’m in the middle one. The most sighted players are the C grade players, the next classification, which is the one I’m in, has a bit less vision and then there’s the A players who rely primarily on hearing. My visual impairment is oculocutaneous albinism, and I've got really extreme light sensitivity, so I actually see better in the dark. I also struggle with depth perception, and I struggle to track an object moving, so for example, actually focusing on the ball when it's in the air.”

What do you do outside of footy?

“I work at Monash University as a research officer in the cancer research program so I’m doing that and studying part-time at the moment.”

One of the themes of International Women’s Day talks about inclusion. How important is inclusion to you?

“I think it's really important and I think it's something the Blind League does quite well. I think there is a conscious movement to get more women involved in this sport. There’s still a lot of work to do but the motivation is there. All in all, I think if we can make this sport and our lives a more welcoming place to everyone regardless of their background or who they are, that’s amazing. We want everyone to be comfortable and happy.”