Lightning strike can’t keep women’s Aussie Rules Football star from glory

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Emma Zielke is given her championship medal from a little girl who idolizes her.
Emma Zielke is given her championship medal from a little girl who idolizes her.
Screenshot: AFL/Twitter

The fifth season of women’s Australian rules football, AFLW, wrapped up on Saturday with the Grand Final at the Adelaide Oval, and after falling short in their first two cracks at becoming champions, the Brisbane Lions claimed their first premiership title with a 6.2 (38)-3.2 (20) victory over the defending title-holder Adelaide Crows.

Don’t worry about not understanding quite what that means. Aussie rules, to an American eye, might as well be Calvinball. There are a couple of things about the Lions’ triumph that resonate whether or not you have any grasp of the sport.

One is Lions captain Emma Zielke receiving her champions medal from a little girl who told her, “Good game Emma. Good game Emma, you’re my hero.”


The other part of Brisbane’s victory that stands out requires a little bit more backstory.

Jessica Wuetschner has been a fixture for the Lions, playing in all three of their Grand Finals. On Saturday, she became the first AFLW player to kick a goal in three Grand Finals, then became the first player to kick multiple goals in three Grand Finals — her second goal putting the game out of reach.


That’s pretty cool, as is Wuetschner taking a place on the list of famous Tasmanians, headlined by actor Errol Flynn and Nobel laureate scientist Elizabeth Blackburn. But that’s just part of it.

The AFLW season is only three months long, and player salaries top out at around $25,000 American. So, when she’s not busy with footy, Wuetschner works as a stevedore at the Port of Brisbane. It was at that job, last January, when she was operating a crane and was struck by lightning as a bolt in a storm hit the pole she was holding.


Luckily, Wuetschner was physically fine after the lightning strike. Mentally, the near-death experience, understandably, did a number on her. Last month, Wuestchner opened up about that, about how the games she missed last season were “because I couldn’t get myself on the field,” about how she had her mother fly in from Tasmania, about the pain of being separated from her partner during the pandemic, about the support they were able to give each other, about her “struggle still with trying to get back to who I was,” about fear, about antidepressants, about nearly giving up the game.

With the support of her family, partner, and coach, Wuetschner did decide to come back to play in 2021. And now, finally, she’s a champion on the field to go with being one off of it.