NEARLY 10 years ago, Nicola Stevens played in the 2010 AFL National Under-18 Youth Girls Championships.
Alongside her was a squad of names selected from junior clubs across the state, many of which we know from today’s AFLW lists.
To mark the occasion as a team, the entire squad ran out wearing matching white ribbons with their uniforms.
The white ribbon remains a trademark for the speedy Blue, who will run out this weekend in her third year in Navy Blue after arriving at Ikon Park in 2018 from Collingwood.
What started as a show of solidarity for the side where Stevens got her start in women’s football is now a symbol of something that goes far beyond the field.
“Back when we played the under-18s championships, all of us wore a ribbon and we all looked the same,” Stevens said.
“Then after we finished playing, I kept wearing it and mum said to me ‘I love it when you wear that white ribbon, it means I can follow you around the ground and I know where you are’.”
Since the beginning of her journey as Collingwood’s first ever AFLW draft selection, Stevens has used her reach in an ambassadorial role for Dementia Australia.
“Football is not just about playing football: it’s about being able to express who you are and bring other people together,” she said.
It’s clearly a cause which hits home for the experienced Blue.
Stevens is well aware of how the illness can impact those living with it, after her mother was diagnosed with dementia at age 52.
“My work with Dementia Australia, it’s obviously a really close organisation to my heart because my mum’s living with dementia,” she said.
“She’s been living with dementia for about ten years now, she was diagnosed when she was 52 which is a very long time to be living with it.
“Part of the work that I do is to raise awareness in the community that dementia is not something that a, happens because you’re old and b, happens only to old people.”
For Stevens, it’s been a journey in accepting and coping with the realities of a loved one living with dementia since her mother was diagnosed when she was in Year 12.
"When you're that old you need your mum. Regardless of how old you are you need your mum."
Having grown in her own understanding of the illness over time, telling her story is Stevens’ way of supporting others and increasing awareness for those in her same position.
“Anything I can do that helps to raise awareness and helps people share their story to make people feel like they’re not alone is something that I find really helpful,” she said.
“A lot more people are much more open to sharing their experiences now, but as an 18-year-old when I finished school I was a little bit embarrassed that that was happening.
“Now not being embarrassed to share and being proud of the journey that I’m on with my mum, hopefully I can help other people share that as well.”
Even though Stevens is long past her under-18s days, one thing will remain the same when she runs out to face Collingwood on Sunday afternoon.
You’ll be able to pick her easily among the Navy Blue jumpers: just keep an eye out for white ribbon.
“I like to wear it now because it feels like I am who I am because of her, I feel like she’s with me when I’m playing.”