81. GEMMA HOUGHTON – The Power of Human Connection, Chasing Dreams, and Building a Legacy


81. GEMMA HOUGHTON – The Power of Human Connection, Chasing Dreams, and Building a Legacy

Today on the show I have the absolute pleasure of chatting with Port Adelaide AFLW player Gemma Houghton.

Gemma had never played AFL before, but after having been found through a talent search open to all athletes, she was picked up by Fremantle Football Club in the inaugural season of the AFLW in 2017. Gemma has had an incredible career so far earning the status of one of the best forwards in the competition, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. At the end of the 2018 season, she was not offered another contract which forced her to rethink her future. Realising that footy is the dream she turned it all around.

Having played most of her career with Fremantle FC, in May 2022 she signed with the Port Adelaide Football Club and will go down in the history books kicking the clubs’ first-ever goal.

We chat about:

  • Her journey from basketball to football
  • How she has managed injuries in the past and how that’s evolved
  • Her history-making goal
  • The incredible work she does in the community
  • Her vision for her future.


She is an incredible woman making great impact not only out on the oval but in the community and young people’s lives.

Getting Back On The Field: A Short But Sweet Return For Gemma

Jackie 2:42
Gemma, thank you so much for chatting with me today. Welcome to the bodies built better podcast.

Gemma 2:47
Yeah, thank you for having me.

Jackie 2:48
Such a pleasure to have you. You are one of the best forwards in the competition at the moment. You’ve just come back from injury, how is it getting back out in the park with the gills?

Gemma 3:01
Yeah, um, it’s been a bit weird to be honest, because the injury happened in round two. And obviously, we’ve such a short season. You know, we’re already–I’m back. But there’s only two games. But it’s been amazing to just get back out there. And my intention was always after the injury. I was going to do everything I could mentally, physically and and do everything right to get back out there with them. Because, you know, obviously miss being out there with them and wanted to do it. Yeah, like I said, do everything to get back. So I’m glad I made it. And it’s probably a short turnaround, probably a really quick turnaround in terms of surgery. But I really do think it was my mind and positivity the whole way that got me back out.

Jackie 3:49
Yeah, that’s brilliant. And I know you were injured really quite badly. Was it 2018?

Gemma 3:58
Yeah, yeah.

Recovering From Injury Through Nutrition And Physical Activity

Jackie 3:59
And that quite goes as the way you wanted it to what, what’s the difference between back then and your approach now? Because that–back then that almost ended your career? Right?

Gemma 4:11
Ah, none. You know why, so that I had a stress fracture. And I was very young at the time, and even young in terms of not my age, but I guess the understanding of injuries, what they can do, you know, to an athlete and that life when you’re isolated in the Injury Rehab group, so there was a lot that I didn’t understand, and one of them probably would have been nutrition. So I didn’t eat the best foods. And when you’re not eating the best foods and you can’t run, you know, there’s only sort of one one way about it, whereas you’re not fit, you know, you gain weight, all that sort of stuff. So, I guess the injury itself wasn’t career ending, but it put me in a position where I was in an exit meeting with the coaches at Fremantle. And basically they said, “Look, you’re an AFLW player, but when you’re fit right now you’re not fit so we’re not offering you a contract. ” So, potentially, yeah, I was at a crossroad where, you know, I had to decide my future and what I wanted to do. And so, yeah, it was, I think, from then to now, you know, this, this is my seventh year in the competition and in a professional environment. So I’ve been able to work out and learn from other athletes around me and not just in AFL W. But you know, you sort of reach out and you listen to podcasts, and you watch documentaries on athletes, and they all have the similar sort of turnarounds with injuries, the setbacks in and the hurdles that you overcome, and you can align it with with you and your journey.

Jackie 5:49
Yeah, absolutely. And was there any, I guess you’ve mentioned podcasts or docus? Was there any that stood out to you that really, you think about now as well? When you when you look back at that?

Gemma 6:00
Yeah, I think–yeah, there’s, um, there’s a, like whole him, Eric, the prophet, and he talks about–he’s all about motivational speaking. He’s not necessarily podcasts, but he does, like speak like speeches. And so there’s one that I love it probably goes–they’re not very long, some are very, or some are, and some aren’t. But he’s, one was–my favourite one with him was called lion in the jungle. And it just talks about–yeah, a lion in the jungle and how it survives and what it does, and I sort of just, you know, why would listen to it every day, and just know hypes you up in a way, like, where you just, you feel motivated. And so that for me, what in terms of like, listening to it every day, and, and I would vision, like vision myself coming back, and like, you know, you know, way as a lion and defeating all the stuff that was coming up against me with injury, and I guess, not just proving others wrong, but proving to myself that I can, you know, get through whatever I’m going through and come out stronger on the other side.

A Journey To The AFL: Exploring Gemma’s Early Career As A Footballer

Jackie 7:13
Yeah, absolutely. I love that. I’ll have to check that one out. I think it’s important that everyone has that something that they can refer back to as a resource. Yeah, yeah. Well, let’s, let’s go back for a moment, at the beginning of your career, you were picked up by Fremantle in the inaugural season of 2017. What was your journey up until that point? Because you didn’t start as a footballer?

Gemma 7:40
Yeah, um, so at the time, I was playing basketball. I was in the SPL, which I think now they’ve changed it to NBA one. And yeah, I was–I was 22. So I was probably at an age as well, where I was ready to, I guess, if I really wanted to focus on basketball, I could have gone up another level and, and potentially, they were pathways that were in front of me to, you know, train and possibly play. MBL. And, you know, I always had dreams it was it was interesting, actually. Because for me, before basketball, I was a runner. And my identity was always through running or basketball, and that that was what I wanted. And then out of nowhere, I’ve had this plan of, you know, one day playing basketball for Australia. And then, you know, all of a sudden, my brothers just gone. Hey, like ebony, Antonio, who’s my best friend said, “Would you be interested in playing footy?” And it never really crossed my mind I had played growing up with my brother, and we played in the park with the neighbourhood kids, but I never actually dreamt of being an AFL player. So it was weird, but like I thought, you know, I really want to challenge myself. I was probably at a time as well, where I was putting in a lot of work with basketball and not necessarily reaping the rewards that I thought I should have been at the time. So I was open to a challenge and a new adventure. And yeah, I went down to a talent search and I was very fit at the time. So I caught their attention with the beat test and the agility test, the vertical jump and the 2k time trial, my footy skills, let’s just say they weren’t anywhere near what they come. They wouldn’t come but I guess I guess at the time I had the natural athleticism and ability to play sports. So that got me through the door.

Getting Used To The Skill Side Of Football: A Journey Through Time And Experience

Jackie 9:43
How long did you feel it took to really get used to the skill side of footy?

Gemma 9:49
Yeah, I reckon. It was interesting because I feel like the first year and the season was a lot shorter than I think there was only seven games in the first year. So it went really fast. And I probably just felt like–I mean, I was I grew up religiously watching footy. So I knew the game and I knew what you could and couldn’t do. But when you’re out there playing, it’s a little bit different. So the first year sort of just went by and I was going through the motions of, of just playing, then the second year, I set out a lot of it through the injury, my first injury. And it wasn’t until my third year that really opened up in 2019. But previous to that I played I season, swing districts in the waffle. And that’s probably where I really started to have confidence in–in the game back my ability in certain areas and understand what areas I was really good at, and focus on that. And then through that work on the little things like my kicking, which my kick from the first year to now has definitely improved, but it’s something that you know, I always say whatever you put into something you get out. So I’ve put a lot of effort and time and into kicking and had a lot of people around me giving me tips on kicking, but at the end of the day, I had to work out what felt right for me. And then I had my own little style of kicking and yeah, it’s it’s all event event, write it out to you know, I guess confidence in the game now.

Jackie 11:21
Speaking of style of kicking, I’ve heard a little story of you lining up for golf, thrown up the ball really high, so you could just fix your hair?

Gemma 11:36
so it does, it does and it’s for no other reason other than I probably don’t have tight–hair tight. And I get knocked around a bit. So I’ve got to just really tighten it to make it look really nice.

Jackie 11:52
Very good. I’ve also–I mean, speaking of–you mentioned Ebony and and basketball. There’s the–there’s the debate still on who’s the better basketballer?

Gemma 12:05
Oh, it is. It’s definitely on but I will add it’s probably not between Ebs and I. It’s actually between Jadie. Um, she, she did beat me in timezone basketball. And so now she is telling Ebs and I that she’s the better baller.

Jackie 12:27
Holds bragging rights.

Gemma 12:29
He does hold bragging rights, but I’ll be back in Perth in a few weeks if I’m ready for a rematch.

Gemma’s AFL Experience: Meeting New Teammates And Structuring A Game

Jackie 12:35
Nice. Gave us up to date with that. What’s it like to me? I know you said you your best mates with their bunny, but what’s it like to go into a team and meet people for the first time and then try and structure a game who you know, like yourself who are playing footy potentially for the first time as a team? What is that like?

Gemma 12:59
Yeah, it’s it’s a bit different. I’ve been fortunate enough. And I guess the team as well where we do have a number of players that have been in the camp previously. So I’ve come up against obviously Ange Foley, Aaron Phillips, Justine music at Adelaide Crows and then and also the Gold Coast players every day from Collingwood. So you do know of certain players and and it’s sort of now all coming together. And I can tell you right now, I’d rather have all those girls on my side, inversing them. But we do also have a very young team in a sense of first year players. So I think to date there was 14 or 15 debuts this year in our season. And if you think about that, you know, it has obviously taken time to build that connection and understand the way that we all play individually. I think it’s it’s definitely improved. You know, each game and the girls have done an amazing job in their first year. And, you know, I think about my first year at Freo and Port Adelaide have had a very long time to focus on us coming into the competition. And I really think they’ve done such an amazing job in one getting together the team to building that connection over that period of a really short preseason. And then staying together this whole time through the ups and downs of getting through it. So there is a short or not short but a half an hour documentary called the naugles out on our first year. It’s an incredible, incredible piece and insight of what it has been like and I recommend definitely watching it and it sort of just shows you from the very start all the way to our season. Yeah, some really special moments in that, but it has had its challenge–challenges, but at the same time, there’s something special here that we’re building. And I know, next season and beyond, we’re going to be a very exciting, you know, exciting team to watch.

Jackie 15:17
Yeah, absolutely. You already are. And the letter does not reflect the team that you have at all. And you can certainly see the connection you girls have. It’s it’s really awesome to watch and really exciting, like you said, to see what comes as well.

Gemma 15:36
Yeah, thank you.

The First Goal: A Celebratory Gesture In The History Of Port Adelaide Football Club

Jackie 15:38
You are in the club’s history books. You’ve kicked the first goal. And and during that first game, you did do a special–you celebrated with a special gesture. Can you tell us about that moment?

Gemma 15:54
Yeah, it still probably hasn’t really sunk in the, I guess significance of it of the first goal ever for a club. But it will be something that I’ll know when I eventually retire. And I’ll probably look back on and and it will be played in years to come. And I think it will probably hit more home then. But I work in the community team at port. So we go out and deliver a programme called CYP, which is Community Youth programme. And it was the first time that the club had ran that particular session in an Auslan school at South Brighton primary. There were 22 either deaf or partially impaired hearing students that we delivered the session to. And it was sort of in Auslan. And–and at the end of the session, the kids were teaching us a bit of sign language. And I just mentioned to them like, what is go power, no go port. And they said, it’s not really like go port. But they sort of just showed me that it was a P, and then you put your fist up for power. And I just said to them, you know, the first goal I kick, I’ll make sure I do it on the TV for you and their eyes lit up. And yeah, obviously that was probably four or five weeks before I won. I just–it was special in a way because you know, I made a promise to the kids. And I was always going to deliver it. But it was just special that it was the first ever goal. Which in a way I probably didn’t think was going to be me because there were a few girls that were lining up four shots and unfortunately missed them. And it just fell in my lap in front of the goal square. And yeah, I didn’t even have to think about I sort of just went back kicked it and ended the celebration, which–yeah, it ended up getting back to the kids at the school. And I saw a few of the students that came to one of our home games. And yeah, I did it again, when I kicked another goal in the home game. So yeah, I think for me, it was just one keeping my promise to the kids into showing them that, you know, no matter, you know, about the day of sport brings everyone together, and it’s about inclusion and everyone should feel included. And they absolutely adore Port Adelaide and I wanted them to feel special. And so I hope it did–did make them feel special. And now it’s my goal celebration is always so special.

Where to find Gemma:

Instagram: @gemmahoughton

Instagram: @pafc_w

Documentary: The Inaugurals

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