Shannon Moloney is a firecracker. At 34, her skin glows like a teenager's, she exudes infectious energy and talks a hundred miles an hour.
Currently based in Hong Kong, the Brit recently toured schools and football clubs across New Zealand as part of an AIA NZ campaign encouraging Kiwi kids to lead healthier lives by staying active through sport.
And Shannon's putting a fire in the belly of the people she meets. She has everyone laughing with a story about 80 corporates having an egg and spoon race during one of her teaching sessions in Hong Kong, and getting adults to compete in wheelbarrow races as part of her job.
"I'm quite an upbeat and happy person," says Shannon, who played midfielder for Tottenham Hotspur from 2013 to 2018. "If I can inspire girls to follow their dreams, look after their bodies and give a bit of joy, why wouldn't I?"
After her professional playing days were over, Shannon trained as a teacher and moved to Asia. She was teaching physical education in Thailand in 2020 when Spurs asked her to help them increase female participation in football and sport, and encourage kids through movement.
"I loved my work in Thailand, but it was a no-brainer," she laughs of joining the sporting giant.
Raised by a single mum in West London, Shannon grew up being the only girl in football teams.
"I started as goalkeeper because as a girl, I had to earn my stripes. Even the club I played at was called the North Paddington Boys' Club. I didn't have a female role model or coach – the only football I ever saw on TV was male, with male refs and sports shows with male presenters.
"Playing with boys was my only option. It never occurred to me that this could be a career path."
Shannon's chance came when, aged 11, one of her primary school teachers wrote a letter to North London premiership club Arsenal – the only club at the time with an all-female Centre of Excellence – to see if they'd give her a trial. "If he hadn't done that, my path would look very different today," she muses. "I remember waiting for the postman every day, waiting to see if I'd been accepted."
She was, but still nothing came easily. "We didn't have a car, so Mum took on another cleaning job so I could get a cab to a family friend's house, and I'd car-share to Arsenal from there," she recalls. Even then, support for Shannon to follow her dream was thin on the ground.
"I remember telling my careers advisor I wanted to be a footballer and she said, 'That's lovely, dear. Now, what about becoming a hairdresser?' If you'd seen me then… A hairdresser? I was a proper teenage dirtbag!"
After being accepted into a football academy at 17, Shannon lived away from home on her own for two years. "There were no home comforts, no dinner or family to come home to – I gave that up to play football."
Shannon says that her motivation has always come from within. "The feeling I got playing football is hard to describe. I was buzzing. It was all I wanted and I couldn't see why I shouldn't follow my dream.
"Who says I can't play football just because my anatomy is female? It wasn't fair. These days, I teach kids who feel that same way. And I say to them – follow your passion, believe in yourself and ask for advice. If you can see me, you can be me."
Shannon makes it clear that staying healthy is the backbone to success.
"Our bodies are made to be moved," she stresses. "You're so lucky in New Zealand. You don't need to spend an hour at the gym – just go for a walk on your beautiful beaches. The freedom, the clear mind I get from living a healthy life, that's how I get my energy.
"My biggest message – to everyone, not just kids – is your health is your wealth. We only have one body and eating is our fuel. If you crash a car, you can replace it, but you can't replace your body. Diabetes and obesity are on the rise.
"We need balanced meals – proteins, fats and carbs, with five colours of fresh food every day. That ensures not just our physical wellness, but our mental and emotional wellness too. We must teach our kids to eat well now, before they take bad habits into adulthood."
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