If we ever needed proof that the Blue Mountains can be a springboard to anything in the world, then Leah Blayney is the embodiment of that.
She started her soccer career at six, playing for the Wentworth Falls Warriors. At the time, she was one of only two female players in the club. Now, she is the current head coach of the U/20 National team the Young Matildas, and also head coach of the Future Matildas program.
The rise in women's soccer has been exponential globally, with the 2019 women's tournament in France attracting more than one billion viewers.
The recently announced 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup will see 32 international teams - and their fans - descend on Australia and New Zealand in what is predicted to be the biggest local sporting event since the Sydney Olympics.
"It's super exciting not just for female athletes but for all footballers in the country, boys and girls," Blayney says. "For people to see women play on the world stage will be a huge benefit for the whole community. The financial investment, and the excitement around it will be great for everyone."
After playing club soccer as a kid, Blayney was chosen for her first representative side at 11. By 16, she was playing for the Matildas where she competed in two Youth World Cups.
Over that time, Blayney was a Katoomba High student juggling schoolwork while competing in tournaments overseas.
"My teenage years were unusual," she says. "The school was very supportive of my sporting endeavours. They helped me do work while I was away. I even sat my HSC in Thailand."
After high school, Blayney won a sports scholarship to the United States where she earned a degree in Education while also playing in the US and Swedish professional leagues for the Boston Breakers and Eskilstuna United.
Then, at 23, Blayney suffered an ankle injury which ended her career. It was at this point she decided to return to the Mountains.
"When you have an injury you just want to be home. I have a strong family and I really felt the support of the Mountains community when I returned. My family and that network helped me re-evaluate and find a new direction."
That new direction turned out to be coaching and since then, her contribution to the sport has only grown and diversified. She attended both the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil and the 2019 Women's World Cup in France, where she acted as an opponent analyst for the Matildas.
Aside from all this, she teaches full-time at Westfields Sports High, but still makes time to teach emerging Mountains players.
"I've recently been doing a bit of training at Pitt Park and it's fantastic to see all the kids back. It's exciting to see the new clubhouse go up there too."
Blayney says the current coach for the Joey's, the National Boys Under 17s soccer team, is a former Springwood High student, so between the two of them, "the Mountains have two national team coaches which is pretty cool."
When asked if she plans to leave the area to pursue her career elsewhere, she says "the Mountains is definitely where I want to stay. I love it here."
Watch Leah Blayney's free, online tutorials for beginner, intermediate and advanced soccer players at council's Love Local Lessons:bmcc.nsw.gov.au/love-local-lessons.