Gabe Marzano embodies Anzac spirit, pursues Sydney challenge
The history of serving sportsmen is well documented, all the way back to World War I and the birth of the Anzac legend. The concept of women in that arena is a much more recent development.
Courage, initiative, respect and teamwork are core values of the Australian Armed Services. Coupled with attributes, such as the will-to-win, dedication to duty, honour, honesty and mateship, it is easy to see why a soldier embodies the qualities also desired by elite sporting teams.
Footballer Gabrielle 'Gabe' Marzano is one of a handful of elite sportswomen, which includes representative athletes across rugby, triathlon, weightlifting and water polo, who will commemorate the 101st anniversary of the Anzac landings as a serving member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
The first female certified Army Work Diver in the ADF, Marzano is now a Lieutenant with the Royal Australian Engineers in the Australian army, filling the role of Troop Commander at the School of Military Engineering at Holsworthy in southwestern Sydney.
Just three months ago, however, she was facing a very different challenge as an integral part of a Brisbane Roar side that pushed eventual champions Melbourne City all the way to penalties in the most gripping encounter of the 2015-16 Westfield W-League season.
The Roar were overwhelming underdogs in the match that Marzano recalls as "probably the most inspiring game I've ever been a part of".
Marzano relishes the challenge and heavy workload of playing semi-professional football in the W-League while juggling a full-time army career. She's simply grateful to be pursuing her childhood dream.
"The army is extremely supportive of my sporting aspirations and commitment to the W-League so I've certainly been more fortunate than most to be able to fulfill both 'careers' on a full time basis," Marzano told ESPN FC.
While Marzano had played competitive football since the age of five, she was something of an unknown quantity when she was posted to Brisbane in 2014. She had to submit a proposal to convince her boss at the ADF before embarking on a search for a coach who would give her the opportunity to trial for a W-League spot.
With the Roar roster already full for the coming season, that coach turned out to be on the other side of the country.
"I got in contact with [former A-League defender] Jamie Harnwell, the head coach of Perth Glory, and flew myself over to Perth in June 2014 to trial," she recalls.
The gamble paid off, with Marzano the only one of some 30 trialists to earn a contract that saw her play plenty of minutes in a breakout season for the Glory.
"We went on to win the premiership with a star-studded team at Perth that season... it was an incredible experience," she said.
Having been granted 'Elite Sportsperson Status' in the ADF, along with a 'Flexible Workplace Arrangement' to enable her to move west, her army superiors were undoubtedly happy when the next season saw her identified by Brisbane coach Belinda Wilson. She was signed to the Roar and on course for another successful stint.
"The W-League semifinals against Melbourne City will be a game I'll remember for the rest of my life," she said.
The nomadic life of an army officer means Marzano has upped sticks again for a posting in Sydney, where she hopes to get an opportunity with Sydney FC or Western Sydney Wanderers next season. In the meantime, duty calls in an environment that Marzano is passionate about, and, she says, inspires excellence.
"As soon as I commenced my training at the Royal Military College, I was immersed in this environment with an entire cohort of high-achievers, with world-class mentors and training, daily challenges and positive development as an individual and leader," she said. "I've absolutely loved everything I've done in the past five years."
Along with her ADF colleagues, Marzano will also pause this Anzac Day to reflect on the service and sacrifice of those who went before her.
"It's a very special thing to serve in the footsteps of the Anzacs," she said. "I think it always will be because I think the Anzac spirit encapsulates what it means to be Australian. I've really grown to admire our history, Gallipoli and the Anzacs.
"I'll commemorate with a dawn service in the morning here at Holsworthy, then watch the Anzac Day AFL match and head into Sydney city for two up!"
ESPN Australia/New Zealand columnist Stephanie Brantz has spent the past 20 years excelling in the coverage of football and women's sport.