Whether on the hockey pitch or in a courtroom, Kalindi Commerford is someone you want on your team. The 26-year-old Hockeyroo has played nearly 30 games for Australia and scored five goals in international hockey, all the while completing a double degree in law and journalism.
It’s the phone call that most young hockey players will only ever dream of answering. But when selectors tried to reach (then) 23-year-old midfielder Kalindi Commerford, asking her to make her international hockey debut for Australia in 2016, she responded in a way that most athletes would also never dream of: she muted her phone.
NSW south coast-raised Commerford had just returned to her adopted home of Canberra after a two-week national tour representing the ACT in the Australian Hockey League (AHL). Assignments from her law/journalism double degree at the University of Canberra had stacked up while she was away. So, Commerford was busy doing what most undergraduate law students would be on a Monday night. She was catching up on legal readings.
“I had been away for two weeks playing hockey and heavily neglecting uni,” Commerford recalls. “My phone started ringing in the background and I was like, Oh my god, go away, I’m doing uni work!’
“I finally picked up the phone call and it was Edwina Bone [an ACT teammate who already played for the Hockeyroos]. She was like, ‘You’re debuting!’”
Hockey Australia had accidentally left Commerford out of the selection email announcing her international debut. It was an unfortunate twist that meant she was the last person on the team to find out.
In another twist of fate, Commerford had been considering retiring from hockey. She had been overlooked by international selectors for years and that morning had texted her coach to arrange a meeting discussing how she might begin hanging up her shin pads. The meeting was set for Wednesday. The Hockeyroos announced their squad on Monday.
“By that stage, I was pretty content with where I had gotten to with hockey,” Commerford says. “I had played the national league and was studying a law degree. I started working as a paralegal at Moray and Agnew and loved it. I was literally about to quit two days later. Lucky I didn’t!”
Lucky indeed, as Commerford scored the first goal for the Hockeyroos in her debut match – an epic 6-0 win against the New Zealand Black Sticks. She played all six games against New Zealand and India in that 2016 Test series and went on to secure a paid contract with Hockey Australia, moving to Perth to train with the Hockeyroos full time.
There’s a new feminist wave happening in society at the moment and I’m lucky enough to be part of an industry that is right at the forefront of that – women’s sport.
Commerford has since earned 27 caps and scored five goals for Australia in the Hockey World Cup, Champions Trophy and FIH Pro League since 2017. She has even managed to continue studying law around countless team trainings, weights and fitness sessions. Commentators in a recent FIH Pro League match between the Australia and New Zealand in March mused that her legal and hockey skills might cross over at times. Does having a law degree make her more inclined to argue with referees on the field? Commerford’s response is that of a typical lawyer: no comment.
“I can sit on the fence really well, I guess like a typical lawyer,” laughs Commerford. “That’s my lawyer trait. And I can talk.”
Commerford admits stubbornness could be another trait she grew up with. As the youngest of six siblings, she had to be a little pushy. It’s a useful characteristic to have in a sport known for underselling (and underpaying) women.
“There’s a new feminist wave happening in society at the moment and I’m lucky enough to be part of an industry that is right at the forefront of that – women’s sport,” Commerford says. “But it’s interesting to see how much pushback there is. For example, the response to that Gillette ad, which was all about what men can do in the #MeToo era. The criticism that came from that is crazy.
“When you bring new ideas to the surface, people become uncomfortable. It’s just like any physical test – but if you push a little harder you will adapt and find out just what you’re capable of. It’s the only way you can progress.”
Commerford will complete her law degree in June and begin working in a graduate legal role with Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) in Perth later this year. She says the company has been very flexible and is willing to work around her hockey schedule – which is peppered with training, tours and matches.
“Most young female athletes are trying to get jobs aligned with their studies,” Commerford says. “It really makes things hard, because offices don’t like to employ people who have to leave work early to train every day. You’re capable of living on a professional hockey salary – but it’s pretty skim living.”
For now, Commerford’s legal career will take a back foot as she sets her sights on upcoming FIH Pro League matches, before the 2019 Oceania Cup, and possibly the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Australian hockey teams are notoriously competitive at every Olympics, and the men’s team, the Kookaburras, is the only Australian sporting team to take medals home from the past six summer Olympic Games.