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Australia’s Gridiron Girl

Strong, inspiring and determined are words that are fitting when talking about Kira-Lea Dargin-Barsukoff.

It has been a big year for the mother of three. It started when Dargin-Barsukoff became the first Indigenous woman in history to play at a professional level in the sport of Gridiron as part of the USA Women’s Football Alliance and finished with being named Female Sports Person of year at the NAIDOC ball in Orange last month.

What’s more incredible is that she only started playing Gridiron in 2017.

The 30-year-olds path has been different to many of those with whom she plays. Born in Orange, Dargin-Barsukoff moved to Adelaide as a kid and then went to boarding school in Melbourne. She began modeling at 14 and after applying for every sport available throughout school to get out of home work, she found a love of dance. This led to an audition for the Australian version of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ which in turn eventuated into an invitation to join the Sydney Dance Company when she left school at 18.

In Sydney Dargin-Barsukoff fell pregnant to her first daughter which halted her dancing and modeling career, but she kept in the industry by starting her own talent agency specialising in matching Indigenous models to jobs. The business took off faster than expected.

In 2015 Dargin-Barsukoff was in New York for Fashion Week when she started to feel ill. She didn’t think too much of the migraines and blood noses but after they continued for a couple months she decided to see a doctor. It was originally thought that she had a sinus infection but further scans revealed something even more sinister, nasal cavity sinus cancer. What followed was a year of surgeries and treatments. She has been in remission since December 2016.

“It was a difficult time. I was just really lucky to have a good support network around me, people who had my back to pull me through it,” Dargin-Barsukoff said in an interview two years ago. “I am glad I am still here for the sake of my kids, and I have my health and I am back on my feet and it opens your eyes to life. It just gives you a new perspective on things and I guess you ground yourself a lot more.”

With that new perspective on life, if she sees something she wants to do, she goes and does it, not caring what anyone else says.

A big part of her rehab was focusing on health and fitness. With a Rugby League and Touch Football background she got back into those sports. A couple of friends from the United States came to play an exhibition College Gridiron game in Australia, and encouraged her to consider the sport. At first she thought it was a soft game due to the amount of padding required and she didn’t think it was a big sport in Australia, but she was soon surprised.

In 2017 Dargin-Barsukoff ran out for her rookie year in Gridiron for the University of NSW Raiders. Although injuries kept her to just a handful of games playing wide receiver and running back, she showed enough potential to be named in the NSW Coyotes extended squad as a development player and it wasn’t long before she was promoted into the Coyotes’ travel squad. That potential also saw interest from American teams, in particular the New York Sharks and the Philly Phantomz.

After initially turning down the overseas offers she took a leap and signed for the New Wolves for the 2019 season. It was a big move for her and her three kids, travelling to the other side of the world for a league that doesn’t get the same large viewership and sponsors as the NFL, despite the USA Women’s Football Alliance being the biggest Women’s Gridiron league in America. It was a successful year for the Wolves though, reaching the first round of playoffs and they will look to continue on their success in 2020.

Having come to grips with how tactical and structured the game of Gridiron is, Dargin-Barsukoff is now firmly in love with it.

She has done all this all while being a single mother of three. Outside of her sporting commitments, Dargin-Barsukoff is busy taking her girls to their dance and sports events, school and keeping them happy and healthy. They are who she wants to inspire.

While she doesn’t want to be seen as a role model, she wants to create a path for other girls to see that there are those opportunities out there. “Just go looking for them, put your hand up, and if you’re told no, look for other ways to get in.”

Story: Daniel Hill

Images: Kira Dargin

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