It was a moment a lifetime in the making when Bodhi Uwland ran out on to Heritage Bank Stadium for his AFL debut in Round 1.
The teenager, born and bred on the Gold Coast and a lifelong SUNS fan, lived out his dream in front of more than 13,000 adoring fans last Saturday night.
In the stands, there were plenty of familiar faces who have been part of the Burleigh Bombers product’s journey to the AFL.
“It was a very special moment for me and my family. It’s a lifelong dream to play AFL at any club, let alone the Gold Coast SUNS, especially running out with David Swallow who I’ve admired as a fan,” Uwland said.
“I was a member since the first year, I’d have been to well over 90% of home games here on the Gold Coast.
“I was lucky enough to have Mum, Dad, my three brothers, my partner Eliza, my uncle, and mum’s partner – lots of family there to support me from all around the place.
“I have a very special connection to the Burleigh Bombers. I played there from Under 6s and still pop in regularly as my brothers still play there. I could definitely hear the support from them in the stands.”
Uwland admits on keeping an eye out for where his family were situated in the stands, and they wouldn’t have been hard to spot.
“There’s this painting saying that ‘when I grow up I want to be an AFL footballer’ back from when I was in prep. It’s a shocking painting, but they got that with the number 32 on the back of some shirts so that was special,” Uwland continued.
“I didn’t know they were making those shirts. I knew Eliza was keeping a secret from me, but I didn’t know what it was until it came to the guernsey presentation before the game.”
It’s been a one-of-a-kind journey to the AFL for Uwland, and a testing one at that.
Initially taken in the 2021 NAB AFL Draft, he spent a large portion of 2022 recovering from a stress fracture in his back which saw him in a brace for up to 23 hours a day.
The setback sidelined the former SUNS Academy Player of the Year for the entire 2022 season.
“I’ve been working closely with the medical staff from about 15 months ago and just building the strength in my back up – lots of gym sessions, not much on the feet, just sessions on the bike,” Uwland said.
“I had to push the boundaries where I could but be careful of the amount of training I was doing too.
“I initially got the back brace in December 2021. I didn’t think I’d be in it for long, so I got the colour green which wasn’t a great decision as I ended up being in it for about nine months.
“That was mentally challenging, but it was one thing you had to chip away as it wasn’t doing me any good to not have it on. I just put the trust into the medical staff that it would heal, and it did to a point where I can play again which is fantastic.
“That specific injury didn’t really have an end date. It was very limiting in what I could do physically, but the club were great in ensuring I was mentally fresh and would allow me to have a couple of days to rest when I needed.”
Uwland admits that enduring that recovery has add a layer of resilience and determination to his quiver with sights now set on earning as many opportunities at AFL level as he can.
With an impressive pre-season under his belt to go with a strong showing on debut, the opportunities may well continue.
“I just want to play consistent AFL footy, and not only play but perform and have a positive impact for this team in having success in September.”