The 2021 AFLW season will be a homecoming for speedy forward Jess Sedunary. Nicknamed the Sedgehammer by fans, the 2017 Crows premiership player returns to West Lakes this year after spending the 2020 season with St Kilda. She recently spoke with Siren Sport writer Gemma Bastiani for Adelaide Fitness Expo about her love for fitness and how she keeps herself in shape during the long AFLW off-season.

Labelling AFLW players as ‘part-time’ athletes is quite misleading. While they may have a season that lasts less than three months—through no control of their own—they are expected to keep their bodies in good nick year round. In the off-season, some players go back to their respective state leagues, some play other codes in elite leagues around the world and some preserve their bodies in an effort to elongate their footy career. Adelaide Crows forward Jess Sedunary gets her extreme sport fix and pushes her body to the limit in ways AFLW training simply doesn’t accommodate.

As a kid growing up in rural South Australia, Sedunary’s parents would encourage her and her three brothers to keep active.

“They’d get us up before school to run laps around the oval or go for big family bike rides. So I’ve always been kind of ingrained to keep active.” Sedunary laughs recalling one of those family bike rides, ”I remember crying the whole way for one of them.” She admits cycling was her least favourite activity as a child.

“I hated riding. Out of everything that our parents made us do, I did not enjoy riding at all,” she says, so it was “quite bizarre” when she traded in her hockey stick for a bike as a teenager, after moving to the city to make regular training sessions easier to manage.

“I was playing hockey. I was doing state stuff, and a couple of mornings a week, I was training with the Australian coach… then I got tested at school with the beep test and vertical jumps and stuff like that, and they said that I’d be good at cycling. So within a year of moving for my hockey I was like ‘Mum and Dad, I don’t want to play that anymore, I want to cycle.’”

Being in this environment as a kid, and then getting a taste of elite sport both in hockey and cycling, a passion developed in Sedunary. Not just a passion to excel in a particular sport, but for pushing her body to its limits.

“Cycling really pushed me mentally… having that background and learning how to be put in those tough places and push myself. It’s like an addiction. Once you start learning where your limits are, you want to keep pushing them. So for me I think that was the biggest thing. I just am able to cope well when it gets really tough. That’s what I enjoy, when it’s tough.”

This meant that when Sedunary joined the AFLW she was more than prepared for that first preseason.

“For me it wasn’t a transition in terms of training load. When I went into preseason, it didn’t feel like ‘oh my god I’m training so much more now.’ If anything, I might have been training a little bit less. In my off-season I train pretty hard, so when I get to the season it does feel sometimes for me, the load is dropped a little bit.”

Sedunary’s fitness regime isn’t only about the physical, her training is also directly linked to her mental health, so the nature of the AFLW season—while understandably focused on limiting injuries—is somewhat restricting.

A big challenge for the athlete has been accepting the chaotic nature of footy after coming from very controlled sports like cycling and gym-based training, and she admits that footy is a lot harder on the body than much of her other athletic experience.

“The importance of rehab and prehab and injury prevention and all that kind of stuff is just becoming more evident. My mind was always driven towards being the fittest and the strongest as my main goal, but now it’s also probably 50/50 with looking after my body and doing all the right things in terms of recovery and rehab and prepping my body, rather than just smashing myself every week.”

Once AFLW winds up each year, however, it’s a different story for Sedunary. As she says, “once I finish AFLW I don’t rest, I go straight into my fun training.”

For clarity, Sedunary’s “fun training” is 150km mountain biking sessions, open water swims to help friends train for Iron Man competitions, three hour daily sessions with CrossFit athlete James Newbury. Gruelling workouts where she can “go 1000 per cent”.

“[It’s] for my mental health mainly, and just so I can get that fix out of the way. But I know I’m still getting really fit, and that also gives me a lot of confidence going into the season because I’ve trained and am mentally really well. And then [I] train my body for lots of different scenarios. I always find it interesting to see how that pays off. When I did the open water swimming, I was like, ‘wow my cardio has shot up from this’ or my resilience from the cold and all that kind of stuff.”

Preparing herself as the footy season approaches, Sedunary likes to get a “pre preseason” in, with a concerted focus on running before hitting preseason with her teammates. Being a personal trainer means the athlete is aware of pacing her body to be in peak condition for footy when the season comes around. It also means she’s an extra asset in the gym for her club, fielding plenty of questions from young teammates.

“A lot of the young girls, they say ‘I really want to get abs.’ I’ve got a photo of me when I was 21 and I was not fit. I do not look like I do now and it’s just explaining to them that it’s the long road and it’s consistency.”

While players aren’t necessarily given a program to take into their off season, Sedunary says that there is always guidance available at the club from coaches, physios and strength and conditioning staff. What her teammates also have, however, is the ability to train with Sedunary as a personal trainer—a personal trainer who clearly understands the demands and requirements of being on an AFLW list.

The competitive nature in the team gym is something that Sedunary thrives on. Always looking to see who’s lifting the heaviest weights, she admits that she herself is the most competitive.

“I love pairing myself up with someone that’s stronger than me or someone that’s fitter than me. And there’s a lot of banter in the gym around that kind of stuff, which is really cool.”

The culture shift when it comes to female athletes lifting weights is encouraging to Sedunary, and this makes the competition in the gym even greater. Young recruits are no longer afraid to “lift heavy”, and she signals Anne Hatchard, Erin Phillips and Ebony Marinoff as her biggest competition at the Crows. 

The visibility of female athletes on sporting fields and courts hasn’t only encouraged young girls and women to get out and play sport, but feel more welcome in the world of fitness and gyms. And in turn, this growing fitness culture lends itself to better preparation among our female athletes competing in ever-growing elite competitions like the AFLW.