Penny Squibb’s journey from hitting hockey balls against a plank of wood on her parent’s farm in Tambellup to playing for the Hockeyroos at massive international events proves that you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
The Perth Thunderstick’s star grew up almost four hours south-east of Perth in Tambellup, a small farming town in the Great Southern region with a population of fewer than 500 people.
She said when she was growing up the town had three sports – hockey, football and netball – and she was always running around in the schoolyard or at home.
“In the early days, I would play anything and everything, whatever sport was going on was what I was playing, I didn’t really care what it was,” Squibb said.
But Squibb’s father played hockey for Tambellup, so she “naturally” followed in his footsteps.
The Hockeyroo had a stick in her hand from a young age on the family farm, using a goal-sized plank of wood, a flipped trampoline or a spray-painted shed wall as a target to hone her skills.
Along with her older brother and sister, she would make everything into a game of hockey, even turning chairs into goals inside the house – much to her mother’s disgust.
Squibb’s dad was the coach of the local junior team and was in charge when his then-six-year-old daughter got her first taste of the sport.
“My sister broke her arm at a friend’s birthday party and that is how I started playing hockey,” she said.
“Dad needed an extra player because my sister couldn’t play, so I got the call up to have a run around with my brother and the team.”
Like many athletes from the bush, Squibb learnt fast and developed quicker than most city kids due to being thrown into the deep end as a youngster.
“My whole junior hockey was mixed hockey with boys and girls all the way up until I came to Perth for school,” she said.
“I think learning on the grass with the unpredictability of it – the ball can be coming flat and all of a sudden it is at your knees – taught me to watch the ball, which is something that has helped me through my career and is something I pride myself on.
“I would play under-13s in the morning, then with the high school kids and then with the ladies in the afternoon.
“Three games in a day pretty much was a regular occurrence for me in my junior career.”
Squibb’s passion for hockey continued to grow, which she said was important due to the long days and drives she would have to endure as a youngster.
Some days, the Squibb family would travel almost 150km to hockey and back just for a game, leaving early in the morning and returning late at night.
“Hockey used to go from 9am to 9pm, it was a whole day thing,” she said.
“I have an older brother and sister and we were all playing.
“I would play in the morning and then they would play in the middle of the day, and then dad would play in the afternoon.
“Then often you would stay around and socialise afterwards.”
In Year 10, Squibb headed to Perth for school and began playing for Curtin University.
She finished school and soon after made her debut for the Thundersticks in 2012.
Flash forward a decade and Squibb is an integral member of the Perth team and has been to World Cups, Olympics and Commonwealth Games with the Hockeyroos.
But like many of the Thundersticks stars from across WA, Squibb has never forgotten where she came from and is always willing to return to where it all began.
She even spent the last week driving around the south of WA, from Newdegate to Tambellup and onto Albany giving school talks and coaching sessions for Hockey WA.
“Giving back for me is a big part of being an athlete and a really important part,” Squibb said.
“I remember when I was a kid if we ever had someone come and talk at school it was always pretty cool, the fact they got to play sport for a living.
“I really enjoy going back to the country to try and encourage country kids that you can achieve something.”
The 29-year-old said she wanted to show kids from the regions that there is a pathway to elite sports from the country.
“It feels a world away and Perth is a big place, but if you are driven enough and you enjoy it, you can achieve anything,” she said.
“One of the biggest points I try to get through to school kids now is that you have to enjoy it because if you don’t, you often won’t stick at it.
“I went from living in the country where you might meet an Australian athlete every couple of years when they come to town, to training with them every week.”
Squibb will be part of the Perth Thundersticks women’s team who begin their campaign on October 1 against Adelaide Fire at the Perth Hockey Stadium.
The Hockeyroo said despite everything she has achieved in the sport, she is still immensely proud to represent the State.
“Playing for WA for me is pretty special – not only because you get to wear the colours of the State – because of the pride,” Squibb said.
“There is a pride in playing for WA, it is a huge achievement for everyone who has been picked in the squad to represent the Thundersticks.
“It is a special group and I think this year we are very strong.
“Hopefully we can get some support from the WA public and a bit of a crowd there.
“If we can get a big crowd to support both the men’s and women’s teams throughout the Hockey One league, that would make it so much more special.”
The Perth Thundersticks need your support this Sultana Bran Hockey One League season, with our first double header to be played at Perth Hockey Stadium at Curtin University on Saturday 1 October. Show your support by purchasing a membership, securing your tickets or through our Perth Thundersticks Player Partnership Program. We want all of WA behind our elite-level men’s and women’s teams!