When footy meets family

Renee Garing simply oozes loveliness.

She has a sweet, angelic face with a matching spirit on the inside.

But for all her sweetness, she’s equally tough, driven and a super-talented athlete.

Mother of one gorgeous cherub, Renee loves children so much that she dedicated her life to

becoming a teacher and, rumour has it, she is an absolute favourite with the students.

Attending Christian College herself since kinder, Renee stepped straight back into the schoolyard when she was offered her first position out of uni.

Renee’s genuine care and passion for the growth of young people is evident and she is a big believer in using her own life experiences to help others.

One major life challenge Renee faced was a serious battle with an eating disorder.

She bravely shares what she went through with Geelong Coast Kids and offers hope with how she found her way out.

So lovely to catch up. So where do we begin? How about can you give us a snapshot of life before babies? Childhood, school life, ambitions?

I grew up in Geelong, and went through Christian College from kindergarten. I enjoyed school.

I liked to do well and always strived to achieve the best I could.

I got involved in all sporting opportunities that came up and AFL was one that I loved, even though we only got to play it one day a year in secondary school.

I played netball from a young age and did athletics and basketball too.

I am the middle child. I have a sister two years older and a brother two years younger.

Growing up, I always dreamt of playing sport at the highest level. I hoped to play netball for Australia, like many kids do, or to compete at the Olympics in another sport, as netball wasn’t in it.

I thought I wanted to be a physio until my final year of school when I realised I actually wanted to be a teacher.

I really looked up to a couple of my teachers and enjoyed helping out with younger kids.

I originally put down primary teaching but after spending some time in the USA working at a summer camp, I realised I would like specifically to teach PE to kids and decided to do a P-12 health and PE teaching degree.

I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and do an exchange in Missouri in the USA in my third year of uni as well, which was a great experience.

I did some other overseas travels with friends and then again once I got married, with Tony.

We met in 2010, were engaged in 2012 and married in 2013. We really enjoyed travelling together to various countries and got some great trips in together before having Parker – Mexico, Bali, Thailand, Samoa, Croatia and Greece.

We also have moved houses a few times. My husband has an interest in real estate so we have had a few projects over the years and we have some investments that we look after together. It keeps us busy outside of family and our jobs.

How did you meet your Tony? Tell us how the romance unfolded and any funny/interesting


We met at church. While I was overseas on my exchange, Tony started to attend the church that I went to.

It started as a friendship and I didn’t realise at first he was interested, but you could say Tony ‘courted’ me with some very kind and romantic acts, including some group dinners which he

cooked up a storm, ice-cream nights where he made ice cream – again for multiple people, hoping I would come along – then asking me out for a dinner by putting roses on my car windscreen with a note.

Oh, how lovely. Tony sounds like quite the romantic! Let’s fast forward to becoming parents… How was your experience of bringing Parker into the world?

Well, he was born 41 plus 6. So any mums out there will know that is well overdue. He was very

comfortable and didn’t want to come out.

I began some early labour on a Monday but was very slow to progress. I went in for balloon catheter on the Thursday night to find that I was 3cm dilated so didn’t need it.

I went back in on the Friday morning to get induced and after a long day with little progress (got to 5cm by around 7pm) and Parker’s heart rate dropping, we had to have an emergency caesarean.

Although it wasn’t what we had hoped for, we were just thankful to have a healthy baby at the end of a big week.

So your career path was headed for teaching and then you also had a great added surprise to your career. How did it all unfold?

I studied a Bachelor of Education (Physical Education) at University of Ballarat (now known as

Federation University) after having a gap year working at summer camp in the USA and working some part time jobs to save for travel.

I lived at home during uni so that I could continue to train and play netball for Geelong.

I was lucky enough to get a position at Christian College for my first year out and have been there since (other than having some time out on maternity leave).

When I was 28, the AFLW started. Geelong Cats did not have a team in the competition in the first year but they created a VFLW team.

They held a trial at Deakin university and advertised this on Facebook. A friend tagged me in it and I decided to go along as I had enjoyed footy at school and gone for Geelong my whole life.

I really had very little expectation going in. I was very surprised when I made the squad. I then was lucky enough to make the team and played VFLW in 2017 and 2018.

In 2018, I only got to play a few games as I got a fracture in my sacrum (a bone in the lower back). Thankfully, the club still decided to sign me and I was signed for our inaugural AFLW side to commence in 2019.

I played 33 games throughout the six seasons I was in the AFLW program. I missed out on playing in the two seasons in 2022 while being pregnant and then returning to playing after having Parker.

I worked hard that season to get my body right to play again and was able to get involved in some scrimmage matches and got named as an emergency, but it was wonderful to get back into the team for round one of the 2022 season.

I retired at the end of the 2023 season in our Preliminary Final against Brisbane.

How amazing! What was it like to experience the AFLW world? Was it hard to juggle parenting


It has been a truly amazing experience to be part of the AFLW program at the Geelong Cats.

To play and train in an elite facility with wonderful coaches and having the support of our great fans was very special.

I have learnt so much and met incredible people. I have loved the opportunities I have also had in the community to serve others and be a role model to younger kids wanting to play the game.

It was a challenge to juggle with parenting but I was very well supported by family and the club. Prior to having Parker, I was managing a different kind of challenge when I was managing full-time work and playing AFLW.

In some ways, it was easier and less of a rush and the mental load was a lot less.

In other ways, working around a baby that you can’t control their needs or schedule was more

challenging, and the physical challenges of gaining back fitness, strength, skill and ensuring adequate fuelling for training but also breastfeeding a baby.

The club allowed me to return as soon as I was comfortable. I was pregnant for the first season in 2022 and gave birth to Parker a week before pre-season began for the second season that year.

I attended a little bit at first and slowly increased the time. As our routine with Parker allowed me, I would stay longer, and eventually he was able to stay at home while I trained.

This only worked once he was able to take a bottle and I would make time to pump during sessions.

In the early days, when I took him in, I stopped when he woke to feed or play with him and I remember many moments rocking the pram while doing workouts.

I was also allowed to come in during the day to do some of my sessions in the gym while the men’s program was in, and all of them were really accepting of Parker being around.

As Parker got older it got easier and the club got a nanny to support me on some nights before Tony finished work, which was really helpful.

As we got to time for travel in our season in 2023, Parker was old enough to stay home while I went interstate.

If I didn’t have footy, I definitely don’t think I would have left him overnight that early, but it was all fine and Tony has been incredibly supportive.

I also think the time they have had together with me being out at footy from when he was so little has helped them build a wonderful bond.

So how do you manage work life and parenting?

I have only had AFLW and commitments associated with that up to this point, but the hours required to play AFLW are equivalent to a part-time job in terms of how often we are physically at the club, but there are also things to do outside of that in our own time to ensure we are best prepared to train and play.

I have balanced it by being very organised and trying to make things as easy as I can for whoever is caring for Parker when I have to go to training.

We have been really lucky to have local support of both sets of grandparents and I am so thankful to have had a husband who is fully supportive and able to take the time from his own workplace to have Parker one day a week.

How would you describe your parenting style?

I would like to think I am a supportive and caring parent. I try to put things in place to create a safe and positive environment for Parker and reinforce clear boundaries where needed.

What did you learn from your own parents that you do (or don’t) want to pass on?

My parents demonstrated unwavering love for us and I hope we can show that to Parker.

Like all kids, we did things to push the boundaries but they always acknowledged at the time that they may not like certain things or a particular action or behaviour but they still loved us. That is so important.

They also are so selfless and always put our needs first. I would love to do the same and do what I can to make it possible for Parker to follow his passions.

What advice would you have for new parents?

To enjoy each stage as time really does fly.

I would say that it is so important to reach out for help when you need it and that it is OK if you

don’t feel like you know everything.

I would also say self-care is key, so prioritising some time for each of you to do something you need for yourself. Doing things to fill your own tank can help to ensure you are giving your child your best.

I was really lucky that my job (AFLW) provided me with that. Being active is something that I really enjoy and makes me feel good. I was thankful to have the time to do this.

How do you picture your ultimate future work/family/life?

We would love to extend our family if possible when the time is right.

We have just moved into a new house which has great space for Parker to run around and play which we love.

Over the next few years, we hope to have a good balance between part-time work and spending time with Parker.

What do you hope for your children’s futures?

Like all parents, I am sure, I hope for good health and for a child that is kind to others.

I hope that he has the opportunity to explore, learn, and have fun with us and family and friends by his side.

Beyond that, I hope that he can dream big and try different things. We hope he enjoys keeping active and getting outdoors as we know how important that is for our mind and body.

Speaking of healthy minds, you’ve been open about having an eating disorder in the past. Are you happy to share your experience and would you have any advice for others in this area?

It is hard to provide advice when someone doesn’t feel like there is anything wrong.

If those that love you are expressing concern for you and telling you they are worried, try and really hear them. This may take time.

From there, help is essential in recovery. For me, it was also having a reason to recover.

The eating disorder will tell you that you don’t want to get better and that you need to continue the behaviour/s.

It was getting back to doing something I love in the present (netball) and getting my body physically healthy for the future (to hopefully have a baby one day).

At school, I had always been called ‘broad’ and have always had a muscular build.

In 2007, I went on an overseas trip working on a summer camp. I returned home a lot heavier than I had ever been.

I remember thinking that I had to lose weight and a couple of my closest friends have shared since that when I first got home from this trip, I didn’t talk about the trip itself but the weight I had put on.

In July 2009, I went to Europe for several weeks before heading to college for a semester in the USA.

On the Contiki tour I put on a fair bit of weight in a short period.

A friend and I bought scales when we arrived at college and we weighed ourselves.

I remember clearly being disappointed by the number on the scales.

We both talked about wanting to eat well, exercise and not fall into bad habits with all of the food and significantly large portions.

The scales became an obsession.

I placed such a value on the number and thought I would be happy when it came down, which is rubbish, as when it did, I didn’t feel happier.

I was displaying obsessive behaviours that became addictive.

Although exercising and eating well are really important for a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle, they were controlling my life and stole my joy.

When I returned home in January 2010, I wasn’t in a healthy weight range for my body as I wasn’t fueling it.

People made comments when I got home. Some close friends showed sincere concern but

I didn’t hear them. I didn’t think there was an issue.

It wasn’t until I was given a bit of an ultimatum that I really stopped to think there might be

something wrong.

My captain and another teammate at Geelong Cougars sat me down at one training and told me they were really concerned. They told me they had noticed I was running out of energy and getting knocked around due to my size.

I needed to put weight on, eat more and not exercise before training if I was going to be able to continue playing at that level.

Around that time, I broke down at church with this close friend and told her I needed help.

I finally realised I was unwell. That night I went home and told my mum.

From there it was a recovery journey and certainly didn’t happen overnight.

There were lots of habits and behaviours I had to break.

Mum and I went to the doctor and sought help in correcting the physical issues that had occurred due to the way I was living.

I had amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation) and bone density was low.

I also sought counselling and attended an Eating Disorder Recovery Group, ran out of OneCare in Geelong.

I also had support from my family and friends, church and prayed a lot.

I now see my body for the amazing creation it is and for the awesome things it can do.

It needs fuel to do that and food is to be enjoyed.

For support visit www.eatingdisorders.org.au.


Name: Renee Garing.

Age: 35.

Occupation: Teacher and retired AFLW player.

Partner and children: Husband Tony, 37 – Driven, fun-loving, adventurous. Son Parker, 19 months – Cheerful, cheeky, active.

Quirky habit: I can’t say I have any quirky habits, but I have been told I say ‘sorry’ too much.

Go-to karaoke song: Not much of a singer but maybe ‘I want it that way’ by Backstreet Boys.

A movie you love: Remember the Titans.

An embarrassing moment: Taking a group of school students on a bike ride, I thought I would take a turn riding up front with some of the quicker kids and hit a pole and went over the handlebars.

Mantra: I try and live by “Be the best-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else” and aim to always be kind to everyone I come across.

A quote you love: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi.

Life-changing moment: A couple of the biggest life-changing moments would be having a baby and starting footy at age 28. At that point, we were ready to start a family and then footy

came along. It changed our path and took us on a wonderful journey before we had Parker.