Nadia Windleborn still remembers what it feels like to be 10 years old, running up and down the sideline as a ball girl, watching her rugby league heroes at the Burleigh Bears achieve their dreams.
She followed both the men’s and women’s teams, went to grand finals with them, and cheered them on as they achieved premiership glory.
She particularly looked up to Harvey Norman Queensland Maroons forward Chelsea Lenarduzzi. Now the Harvey Norman Under 19s hooker trains against Lenarduzzi on a weekly basis.
It’s her own dream come true.
As Windleborn’s Under 19s season comes to an end this weekend, she pinches herself to see how far she’s come with Burleigh.
The 17-year-old started her sporting journey in New Zealand where she played Rippa Rugby – the equivalent to Australia’s OzTag – before moving to Australia when she was six, taking up rugby league with Robina Raptors.
She switched to Burleigh at age 10, becoming a ball girl on top of playing, and even fought her way into the Under 12 Division 1 team.
Windleborn then helped start the inaugural Burleigh girls’ under 14s team and has continued to see her pathway forward develop with the club.
“I came to Burleigh in the juniors… I’ve been a ball girl here since I was 10,” she said.
“It’s been amazing. I went to the (Hostplus) Cup final up at Redcliffe (in 2019) when they won… Jamal Fogarty obviously won that for them.
“I went to a couple of the women’s grand finals at Valleys and Cbus (Super Stadium).
“I got a picture with Chelsea Lenarduzzi and now I’m versing her in trainings and stuff. I used to run the tees out for every single team, I used to pack up the fields, everything.
“After under 12s, I couldn’t play with the boys anymore so had to jump into getting a girls team at Burleigh. We started the inaugural team.
“I was the only girl in the under 12s… each year it’s growing and growing. Under 14s and 16s both have two teams now. It’s good to watch it grow and know I’ve been a part of the start of it.
“Now we have 14s, 16s and 18s at Burleigh… we’ve got 12s and 10s and I’m coaching the under 12s. It’s pretty cool.”
Windleborn has a promising future in the game. She represented the Queensland City Under 17 Girls last year and is with the Titans Academy.
Like many young girls in the game, she has her eyes set on an NRLW contract one day. But first, she wants to play in the BMD Premiership.
She hopes that debut will come with Burleigh, completing the pathway that she’s been on for many years.
“Not many girls have come from under 6s all the way up to 19s,” she said.
“It’s pretty cool, pretty awesome to think I’ll maybe a veteran one day. Not many girls get to say they’ve played all their life without having to stop.
“It would be so cool to play (BMD). Burleigh have quite a young squad at the moment but it’s good to keep putting my talent out there and keep fighting for that spot with Burleigh.
“If I get a spot somewhere else, it wouldn’t matter, I have to take any opportunity I can but hopefully it’s with Burleigh. That would mean a lot for me to be with Burleigh.
“Burleigh are such a good club and known for their wins. It’s cool to be a Bear and it’s almost like a feeder club through to the seniors. It’s cool to stay through their ranks.”
Outside of playing, Windleborn is also helping to coach the club’s under 12s girls.
She was originally meant to help her mum coach the under 10s team, but when the opportunity arose to pass on her knowledge, she couldn’t resist.
“My mum’s coaching under 10s and I wanted to help but couldn’t (due to a scheduling conflict),” she said.
“Then the 12s didn’t have a coach turn up so they asked me to come down and help them. I’ve loved it ever since.
“I was wanting to put my hand up for the 13s too but will do that after the 19s finishes. It’s good to put out what I’ve learnt to them.”
Windleborn will play her final Harvey Norman Under 19s match for 2023 this Saturday, when the Burleigh Bears take on rivals Tweed Seagulls.
Match: Seagulls v Bears
Round 7 -
Venue: Piggabeen Sports Complex, Tweed Heads
Main image: Nadia Windleborn from the Burleigh Bears Harvey Norman Under 19s. Photo: Dylan Parker Photography/Burleigh Bears