Ellyse Perry: Australia's sporting sweetheart aims to inspire women

    Story highlights

    • Ellyse Perry is a dual international athlete
    • She represents Australia in cricket and soccer
    • Perry hopes to inspire girls to play sport

    (CNN)Most aspiring sports stars dream of playing in one World Cup -- so how about the woman who has played in two, and in two different sports?

    An international in both football and cricket, Ellyse Perry is one of Australia's most famous sports stars, and has been named among the world's most marketable athletes.
      At 24, while also studying for a university degree, she now hopes to use her growing profile to get more females into sport.
      "I know what sport has given to me in my life, what opportunities I've had and the lessons I've learned about myself and about life," Perry told CNN.
      "It has been an unbelievably special experience for me. It's something I feel truly fortunate to have had.
      "On a basic level too, leading a positive and healthy lifestyle and good self-confidence and body image knowledge is really important to teach to young girls.
      "I think sport can play a really positive role in young girls' lives and be great to see as many of them playing sport as possible."

      Hanging out with my little friends. www.pullonyoursocks.com.au @mcgrathfoundation

      A photo posted by Ellyse Perry (@ellyseperry) on

      Perry was seemingly always destined for sporting stardom -- her mother Kathy was a swimmer, while her father Mark was an accomplished cricketer and squash player.
      She had her choices, but football and cricket appealed most.
      Perry reels off her heroes -- ex-Socceroos stars Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer and Mark Viduka all get a mention, as does former Australia batsman Michael Hussey.
      An avid watcher of the English Premier League, she was already clued up on the sport by the time she started kicking a ball around the yard.
      Even as a child, Perry, a self-confessed tomboy, was already showing promise.
      Coached by her dad, who still performs the same role now, she wanted to emulate the batting style of her older brother Damien.
      Growing up, she played for a local Sydney team and regularly taught the boys a lesson or two -- describing those days as some of her "fondest memories."
      "It went down fine. They knew me pretty well, I was just one of the boys when I was playing," she says.
      "After a few years of playing against the same teams in competition, they saw me as one of the boys as well. I had some really great experiences."
      Perry's rise from the park to the pinnacle has been rapid.
      In 2007, she made her international cricket debut for Australia, becoming the youngest male or female to have represented the country in the sport.
      Two weeks later, she won her first cap for the "Matildas" -- Australia's women's football team -- in an Olympic qualifying game against Hong Kong.
      In 2008 she was awarded a contract by Cricket Australia -- the first time it had handed out such a deal to its female players.
      Perry had to switch from sport to sport in order to ensure she played in the major tournaments.
      In cricket, she has won three world Twenty20 titles plus the 50-over World Cup in 2013, and helped the Matildas reach the last eight of the football equivalent in 2011.
      Her goal in the quarterfinal defeat by Sweden was one of the best of the tournament, despite coming in a losing cause.
      Perry -- who is engaged to Australian rugby player Matt Toomua -- has since focused mostly on cricket, with the Southern Stars dominating on the global stage.
      The tournament, which drew record audiences from across the globe, gave yet more evidence that women's sport is becoming increasingly popular.
      And it's not only in the U.S. where female sport stars like Serena Williams, Alex Morgan and Abi Wambach are stealing the headlines.
      In Australia, which hosted the recent Netball World Championship, the home fans went wild as their women won the title.
      In the UK, where Perry helped Australia's cricket team win the Ashes this month, the success of the England women's football side and Jessica Ennis-Hill's heptathlon gold medal at the World Athletics Championship in China has helped an upsurge in support for female sports stars.
      "I think it's a pretty special time for women's sport at the moment," Perry says.
      "In terms of the Matildas, they did very well at the World Cup and captured a lot of people's attention.
      "There was a lot of talk about their matches by people who probably hadn't watched women's soccer before -- they watched the World Cup, which was wonderful.
      "Similarly with our netball team winning the world championship. There's a real groundswell of support around women's sport.
      " A lot more people are aware of it which is fantastic. It's a great opportunity to seize on that momentum and help grow it in Australia and internationally."
      It's not just sport that Perry is in to -- she is also studying for a bachelor's degree in Economic and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney.
      She studies while on tour with her teammates and makes time for charity work back home with a number of organizations.
      It might sound like a hectic life, but Perry believes she has the "easiest job in the world."
      "I play sport all the time," she says with a smile.
      "For me it was always about enjoying what I was doing and trying to get better, playing more and more sport, getting on different teams.
      "I don't think you ever contemplate what comes with it. For me it was always about enjoying what I was doing and trying to get better, playing more and more sport.
      "I'd never have expected all the attention and never thought it would be the case either.
      "It has been a surprise but it has been lovely to get such wonderful support."