The sheer distance meant that being a state soccer representative was almost impossible for a girl from Finley, NSW, until Wesley College in Melbourne stepped in.

Story Ken Eastwood

When vibrant young athlete Leia Varley was 13 she was offered a spot on Football Federation Victoria’s state soccer team. She lived on the family’s mixed cropping and livestock farm in Finley, NSW, a three-hour drive from Melbourne. The sheer distance made attending three practice sessions and a match each week almost impossible, so her family reluctantly turned the offer down.

The following year, 2016, Leia was again offered a position on the Victorian squad, along with her younger sister, Sophia, and this time her family decided to commit to the six-hour round trip 3–4 times a week.

Leia did her homework, ate dinner, got changed and slept in the car. “I’d leave school early at 2.30pm to make training in Melbourne by 6pm. Mum would drive me there,” Leia says. “Training finished at 8, so I’d get home between 11 and midnight.”

Leia is also a national-level discus and shotput competitor (she is part of the New South Wales Athletics Target Talent Program), and so later that year was competing at an athletics event. “One of the Wesley [College] coaches actually approached me and my mum and said they’d been monitoring my athletics performance and said they were looking for a place for me here,” Leia says. “They were just about to start a new boarding program, and they offered a very good scholarship that no other schools would match.”

In October 2016 Leia became one of the first boarders at the new Learning in Residence facility at the Glen Waverley campus of the 3000-student school. “I already knew about Wesley because I had a couple of friends come here, and I knew that they had great facilities. I walk out of my house now and there are just soccer fields and goal posts and greens and it’s just easy access for me, as opposed to back home where it was an hour to the nearest soccer field. Training for state soccer is only 40 minutes away and sometimes we play just down the road.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #116

Outback Magazine: December/January 2018