The Flying Bats June Player of the Month: Michelle Engelsman

Lifted off The Flying Bats website,, June 25th, 2012

Michelle Engelsman is a former Australian Olympian, tireless campaigner for social justice and human rights, and all around awesome person! Read about our June Player of the Month and newest Div 2 recruit…

Name, age and brief history of your involvement with the Bats:
Michelle Engelsman, 32, and this is my first season with the Bats.

Your position on the field and best piece of game advice you can offer:
I play defence, usually left defence. I’m happy in the centre or playing left wing, but I’m completely useless as a striker. My best game advice when playing defence is to action the U swing. What that means is if the ball’s on the left side, I run up the left and support the wing, centre left swings over to support me, and centre right and right defence drop back to being the final two. If the balls on the right, we swing the other way. It helps the wings, and saves their legs a bit.

Best bats moment? Worst Bats moment?
Best bats moment? They’re all pretty brilliant. I just love getting out and playing with my team, training with them, and hanging at the pub after games.

Worst bats moment? that’s easy! Game 1, end of the first half, getting sent off with a red card for actually doing nothing beyond weighing 25kg more than the waiflike girl with no sense of balance. Was a tough blow and start to my first ever Bats season, but alas it’s now many games behind me! Bloody ref…

When you’re not a Bat what are you most likely to be found doing?
I work for the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA). We’re a wholly Aboriginal governed not for profit organisation working to empower Aboriginal equality and cultural pride. We work in collaboration with communities and young people to inspire them through health, education, sport and cultural programs. We run Academy programs, where we have qualified teachers in the schools working with the kids throughout the school year. The program is focused around holistic development and supporting post school opportunities. We run Careers and Aspirations camps bringing up to 30 students from schools around the country into Sydney to support them to broaden their horizons, consider their career pathways, and map their aspirations in a culturally appropriate fashion.

We also run Athlete Role Model tours, which are AMAZING, where we take 24 role models into remote Central Desert communities three times a year for a week. We spend that week in the classroom with the kids supporting learning, inspiring them to come to school, and playing sport with them before and after school. Attendance goes up by 34% while we’re there. I reckon you Bats should check it out and consider coming along. We go out usually in April, August and October.

Back in what seems like a former life I was a professional swimmer. I competed at the 2004 Olympics in 50m freestyle, and can still be found enjoying swimming related activities (swimming, ocean swimming, surfing, etc).

Why is the Bats important to you?
It’s really important to me to participate in inclusive environments, whether it’s for work, sport or play. I opted to play for the Bats over other teams because it’s a predominantly lesbian team. It’s not to say that other teams aren’t openly inclusive also, but I liked that the Bats were present at Fair Day, and are reasonably open about the general sexuality of the team. I have a bit of a history of being politically active (managed political campaigns and have worked for politically campaigning non-profits before) and know the importance of normalising what can otherwise be perceived by society as different. Oh, and I also love that it’s a social team and we’re not highly competitive and ego driven – cause that’s just not fun for anyone! My most recent blog was about how lesbians aren’t that different, really. Have a read if you like.

Who is your hero?
I’m not sure I have just one hero, there are so many brilliant people out there. I respect people across a range of issues areas. Narrowing it down, I’d have to go with my Oma (grandmother) and great grandmother. Oma’s triply disabled with no legs and she’s blind, yet she’s full of smiles and beans, and has a kind word for everyone. Her whole face lights up when she smiles, and she has a brilliant belly laugh. She was born in Holland, and grew up during WW2. She was selected for the shadow swimming 1944 Olympic team, but those Olympics were cancelled due to the war. She was terribly malnourished, but she survived and is comfortably in her 80s now in Australia. I only had the pleasure to meet my great grandmother once, and she only spoke Dutch to me (unfortunately I don’t speak any) but she left a loving mark that I carry with me. She was a single mum when mum’s just weren’t single, she ran a business when women were meant to stay in the kitchen, and she actively transported Jews across the border to lead them to safety. She was caught by the Nazi regime and tortured, but she never spoke about those she saved. I’m pretty proud of that family history, and feel it has positively shaped me into someone so passionate about social justice and human rights.

What is your Bats coming out story (i.e. tell us the story of how you came to be playing with the Bats)
Fair Day! My gorgeous lady (Britt) and I were walking around Fair Day talking about how she’d like to play softball. We happened upon the Sydney Women’s Baseball League, only to discover the Bats tent right next to it! It helped that the lovely Jen Peden was standing out the front (I knew Jen from my professional swimming days, and when I was studying my Masters at Sydney Uni), so I figured the team must be pretty alright! I signed up, came to training, loved it, and the rest is history!

If you had a theme song it would be…
I will survive. Gloria Gaynor. Who else? She, quite simply, rocks.

Top post-game recovery tip?
Lots of water, a gentle jog, stretch, and some good energy food.

Animal, vegetable or mineral?
Animal. Polar Bear. Back when I was first at university we used to play “taper games” when we were resting up and getting ready for our big swimming competition of the year. One of those games we played was to pick the animal that members of our team most resembled. I was quite clearly a polar bear. As a sprinter (50 m freestyler) I was very quick when I needed to be, but I was otherwise very slow and preferred to conserve my energy. It probably helped that I was desperately pasty white, having just faced an Ohio winter, and we trained indoors. I’ve since rectified that situation and make a point to maintain a healthy tanned glow! I’m still a polar bear though.

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