By Grace Hamilton
From work boots to footy boots, Emily Otto is all about inspiring women.
The 29-year-old, who grew up in the small Queensland town of Beaudesert, didn’t pick up a footy until she was 24, but now she’s part of the coaching team for the Bull Sharks’ crack senior women’s AFL side.
And despite an early dream to study nursing and midwifery, a gap-year job in landscaping led Otto to the building industry, and the nickname that has followed her ever since.
“They called me ‘Concrete’ because I would come to footy training covered in concrete or paint,” Otto laughs.
She currently works 13-hour days as a carpenter building luxury homes, arriving at Bull Sharks training still wearing her hi-vis gear. It’s a measure of her passion for supporting and empowering women both on and off the field.
“I’m really passionate about empowering women in all facets of their lives,” she said.
“You know, even at work, seeing another woman on the work site is few and far between.”
Otto started her AFL journey with Coolangatta in 2017, joining the Bull Sharks in 2021.
At the start of her playing career, Otto saw ‘going pro’ as the main goal. But as time went on, she realised the power of coaching and decided to use her talent develop others.
“When I joined Bond, I put everything into developing my skills. Then I was offered to join the coaching team,” she said.
Since coaching Bond’s back line this season, Otto has become pivotal to Bond’s growing success. She was also asked to mentor the Burleigh Bombers Under 17s team which has now become a feeder club for the Bull Sharks.
“It’s the most fulfilling role I’ve had with footy so far. The level these girls are already at is incredible. In another two or three years when they’re in their draft year, look out!
“It would be awesome to one day use the skills I have learned to end up coaching an AFLW team,” she said.
For any athlete success can be followed by a setback. Otto’s came in 2019, when she underwent an extensive spinal surgery which ruled her out for the season.
“I drew the short straw. Contact sport coupled with labour intensive work just sped up the degeneration,” she said.
At 25, she was the youngest on her rehabilitation ward by a few decades, and with so many years ahead of her, she refused to let her misfortune disrupt her plans. Spending months on the sideline, Otto was able to see the game from a new angle.
“The year I had off was a big turning point. I developed my footy IQ and there is so much more you see as it unfolds,” she said.
But the field was where she wanted to be, and when the rehab was complete, Otto returned to playing with an even stronger love for football. Not only for the wins, but for her team and the process of growing together.
“Footy is just a special place, a team sport where we are all just a cog in the wheel. It’s just a special place when you’re there for the highs and lows.”
In 2021, the Bond University women’s seniors made it to the grand final. Despite falling just short, Otto describes it as one of her fondest memories. It not only marked a milestone for the team, but it was her first appearance in a decider, which is something she will never forget.
Otto and her teammates are gearing up for a must-win match this Saturday against the Southport Sharks to decide who will take on the University of Queensland in next weekend’s 2022 QAFLW grand final.