Interview with Her Heart Ambassador Kate McCarthy
Our Founder Dr Linda Worrall-Carter had the pleasure of talking to Kate McCarthy, women’s AFLW player for St Kilda. As a high performing athlete, Kate is living proof that living with a pacemaker does not inhibit your ability to succeed in Women’s AFL.
Kate has a heart condition that was first identified when she was 3 years old, and the first signs of this was that she had seizures. After ruling out epilepsy, her doctors found she had a problem with the electrical system of her heart, and after wearing a halter monitor it showed her heart had been stopping multiple times during the night. From then on, she had recurring seizures every couple of years. “When I was 12, at school one day in year 7, I had a seizure in class, and another while I was waiting for the ambulance and then another one in the ambulance and it just kept happening – I think I had about 8 or 9 in that day. They decided to put a pacemaker in the next day.”
Having always been active as a child, the twelve weeks recovery were difficult for Kate (and for her parents who were tasked with keeping her inside!), but she progressed to increasing her activities gradually and had no problem going back to her sport afterwards.
Kate feels that the pacemaker is something that “doesn’t affect [her] at all in day-to-day life” to the point where she rarely mentions it and friends are surprised to find out she even has one. Physically she can feel the pacemaker sitting below her skin all the time, but when asked if there are times she notices it – she says” I don’t ever feel it functioning apart from when it’s being checked, as the doctors can control my heart rate from a wireless monitor across the room”. Kate says “it is a bit weird” when they are testing it and speed up her heart rate and then slow it all the way down.
Kate has this checked every year and then monthly as the battery of her pacemaker gets lower. She has had her pacemaker replaced (day surgery) and next time it will include the pacemaker wires.
When asked how she got into Women’s AFL, she talks about how she continued to play touch football, cricket, and athletics, until a friend invited her to an AFL training session and later to join the team for a match. Kate went along expecting to have a “quiet game” but ended up running all over the pitch and needless to say absolutely loved it! It was then that Kate went to see her cardiologist to make sure that she could play a contact sport and there were no reservations.
Despite thinking that playing football professionally was “a long way off the radar” for her, Kate succeeded in joining the Queensland Academy and was drafted in the inaugural AFLW league.
After playing three years for the Brisbane Lions Kate was invited to join St Kilda’s team, who she now plays for. “I am able to play to my strengths and there is nothing I need to avoid doing”.
If being a star AFLW star wasn’t enough, Kate also balances working as a teacher. She admits that “it’s not always that easy, but somehow you manage to fit those hours into the day. The school work is very fulfilling and I am always learning from my students, I love the balance of doing both AFL and teaching”.
Eating well and staying healthy is also really important. Kate is very mindful of what she eats and limits her alcohol intake (especially before a game!), and also ensures that she has enough fuel for her training. Her philosophy is making sure everything is in moderation and also to enjoy life, so she’s not too “strict on [herself]”.
Outside of the AFL, Kate mentions that her two dogs keep her healthy!
She also points to the fact that she didn’t become a footballer because she likes to run, but it was the team atmosphere and getting active alongside others that keeps her motivated.
When asked for any final comments – Kate said that her advice to women looking to get into sport or become more active is to join a team sport for the “really supportive environment” it offers. “At the end of the day whatever exercise you do, you never really regret doing it.”
Her Heart interview with Kate McCarthy, Her Heart Community Ambassador & Dr Linda Worrall-Carter