'I know how powerful a smile can be': Heyman opens up

Canberra United star Michelle Heyman has opened up about her sexuality and hopes being happy with who she is will help others be comfortable in their own skin.

Heyman is set to make her W-League comeback when Canberra's season starts at the end of October after overcoming an ankle injury which sidelined her for almost six months.

She is one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the competition's history and has become a role model for young athletes.

But soccer aside, Heyman is also admired for her open and honest approach to life after being the only openly gay athlete to represent Australia at the Rio Olympic Games last year.

Writing for the PlayersVoice website, Heyman hoped her story would help breakdown same-sex barriers.

"I know the power of a smile," Heyman wrote at playersvoice.com.au.

"I get lots of emails and letters from teenagers. They come up to talk to me after games and hand me envelopes with a story about themselves inside. Mostly girls, but sometimes boys.

"They're drawn to me because they can see I'm happy in my own skin at a time when they're trying to come to terms with who they are.

"They're still young. They're confused. All they really want is for someone they can identify with to tell them it's OK to be gay.

"It's a big responsibility, I know, but I'm happy to take it on."

Heyman, the LGBTI sports person of the year, said she realised she was gay when she was 10 years old and hopes she can help others realise they don't have to hide who they are.

The 29-year-old is in a relationship with partner May and says the thought is "sickening" they could be denied some of the the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.

The Football Federation Australia is one of several sporting organisations to voice its support of same-sex marriage as Australia braces for the outcome of a marriage law postal survey.

Feeling very proud of FFA for supporting @amequality Well done! #Matildas #loveislove #marriageequality #support #voteyes

A post shared by Michelle Heyman (@michelleheyman23) on

"That's what frustrates me about this whole same-sex marriage debate. I don't understand how some people don't just get it. It's just love," Heyman wrote.

"No one's hurting anyone, we just want to be equal. It's stupid that it has to actually go to a vote in the first place.

"...I respect that everyone is entitled to their opinion. What I'm hoping is that all of the campaigning that goes on doesn't cause people to second-guess themselves.

"The public is choosing the future for gay people, what they can or can't do, so I hope people stop and realise it could turn out to be their daughter, son, aunty, uncle, friend or whoever that is affected. Think about that."

Heyman admitted she panicked when the pain in her ankle persisted after being told initially she would only miss three weeks.

Six months later she was still trying to overcome the pain and started to doubt herself until having a saline and cortisone injection to break the scar tissue.

Canberra will start its season against the Melbourne Victory, and Heyman already has one eye on the 2019 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.

"I felt it pop and I got relief straight away," Heyman said.

"It's been nine months since I've played now, but I'm finally ready to go again.

"This four-year cycle takes us through the World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics in 2020, so it's up to me now to make sure I'm good enough to still be there.

"[Matildas coach Alen Stajcic's] timing is great. He seems to know when you need some positive reinforcement. He told me what he expects from me, what he wants me to work on and how I can remain a force in the team.

"His words made me wake up to myself and get back to where I needed to be in my head. The doubts, the negative thoughts, they're gone now.

I know I've still got it, I'm still part of this team. The rest I can handle myself."

This story 'I know how powerful a smile can be': Heyman opens up first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.