RUNNING around the hockey field in her junior days, Tracey Johnson was treated just like one of the boys.
Quite simply, she had no choice.
"When I was growing up, all the other girls played netball and I was the only girl playing hockey in Wangaratta at that time," says the 27-year-old who was raised on a dairy farm in the state's north-east but now lives, works and plays in Bendigo.
"I started when I was seven - there was a Minkey hockey try-out for young kids and I just followed my big brother along.
"At first, I was in an under-12 boys’ side in the Albury league and it wasn't until I was older, around 14, that I joined an under-16 girls’ team in Wodonga.
"It was hard, but I enjoyed being with the boys and I definitely think it made me a better player, a tougher player.
"We did eventually get a few girls together to play for a women's side - I recruited a couple of my mates!"
Tracey has carried the grit and determination she developed as a youngster through to her senior career.
She was part of the Albury-Wodonga Strikers women's team playing State League division one and two competition while still at high school.
She has played regional and state representative hockey and has now been selected to represent Australia Country during a two-week tour of New Zealand in April.
The skilful half-back was named in the squad following the national country titles in Geraldton last August, where she helped Victoria finished a creditable fourth overall.
"I was a little bit shocked," she says of the closing ceremony announcement.
"Mine was one of the last names to be called out and it was pretty hard to hear, so I wasn't sure... but it was quite an honour and nice reward for the effort you put in.
"To represent your country is something you don't get to do every day."
Tracey and her Aussie team-mates fly across the Tasman on April 4 and will spend four days getting to know each other at a training camp.
They then take part in the Hawke's Bay Festival of Hockey on the North Island - a massive event featuring the Hockeyroos and elite women's national teams from Argentina, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand, all ranked in the world's top 10.
Australia Country will take the field against New Zealand's senior, masters, Maori and Indian representative sides in the second tier of the tournament - and Tracey can't wait.
"It will be really exciting to play around the same time as the national team and I hope we get the chance to go and watch the Australian girls."
She is particularly looking forward to seeing Hockeyroos goalkeeper Rachael Lynch in action, as the pair played together at Greensborough several years ago.
Tracey spent three years at the Burra while completing an exercise science degree at RMIT and won a State League division one premiership with the club in 2007, in a nerve-wracking match that only ended after a long penalty shoot-out.
The game remains her favourite sporting memory.
She also played for Griffith University when she did her physiotherapy masters on the Gold Coast, before returning to Victoria to look for work.
"I wanted a job somewhere I could still play hockey and Bendigo has a strong club, so it has worked out well," she says of securing a position at Bendigo Health in April 2011.
Tracey is playing for the CV Blazers in the Victorian division one league.
She won the club's MVP award in her first year, when the team also took out the State League 3 championship.
"We were level at close to full time in the grand final and I actually got the winning goal with about 10 seconds to go, which was pretty cool," she recalls.
She has been impressed with the state of hockey in the region, especially given all the other available sports it has to compete with.
"There are a lot of young girls who have come through local clubs to play with the Blazers. Bendigo, to their credit, has done a great job developing hockey and it has always been a strong region in the sport."
She enjoys seeing children getting involved and tries to help out at the junior Hook in2 Hockey sessions on Saturday mornings when work and time commitments allow.
Her job sees Tracey rotate around different hospital departments every four months and includes various shift work.
"I have just finished inpatient rehabilitation and am moving into outpatient neurological rehabilitation," she explains.
Tracey was motivated to become a physiotherapist after spraining her ankle as a teenager, ironically not playing hockey, and requiring treatment.
"I thought it seemed to be a pretty cool profession, so after year 10 I was pretty keen to become a physio.
"Everyone who goes through physio sees the sport side of it and working with athletes and thinks it would be a good job, but I have learned it's not just about athletes.
"Working in rehab is very rewarding and it's the area I have enjoyed the most and would definitely like to do more of.
"Seeing people come in with debilitating conditions or tragic circumstances and helping get them back walking or what it might be is very satisfying."
Tracey says her parents have always supported her hockey endeavours, only becoming involved when their children started playing.
"They were our taxi and mum would take us to most of our games," Tracey says.
"Now that mum has finished with all of us, she has started playing hockey too, and is goal keeper for Wangaratta's veteran ladies.
"She really enjoys it.
"After all those years of watching us play, she found her way into it as well.
"But she's always been heavily involved in the club and was treasurer at one stage."
The Johnsons are thrilled at their daughter's national hockey selection and hope to travel to New Zealand to watch her in action... if they can get time off from farm duties.
The tour will cost Tracey about $3600, so she has set up a fundraising webpage and would appreciate any financial assistance offered.
To help out, visit teambus.com.au/projects/152/project-info/
When I was growing up, all the other girls played netball and I was the only girl playing hockey... at that time