Heidi Prowse was 16 and about to enter year 11 when she decided to apply for boarding school. She did the entry exam and filled in the forms herself, and then presented them to her parents.
She already knew she wanted to be her own person.
"My parents were very supportive people but I really wanted to step out and do something on my own and take ownership of what I could do," she says.
So Heidi left Oxley High in her home town of Tamworth and enrolled into Hurlstone Agricultural High School, a government, academically selective school in south-west Sydney. She didn't know a soul. Within a day, she was singing the national anthem at the assembly. Within a year, she was elected a prefect, unheard of, usually,for a newcomer.
Not that it was easy at the start.
"I was very homesick," she says.
"I remember one day a teacher, who I'm still in contact with now, said to me, 'You can either sit there and cry or you can get busy'. And I haven't stopped since."
That busy-ness and drive led earlier this month to a ceremony at the National Gallery where Prowse was named Telstra ACT Business Woman of the Year for her work as chief executive officer with Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT), which helps people with mental illness to be empowered and tell their story to workplaces, schools and community groups.
Three years earlier, she was announced the ACT Young Australian of the Year for starting the annual Santa Speedo Shuffle which has raised more than $500,000 for Cystic Fibrosis ACT, the organisation for which she was then the chief executive.
Her dad Brian Bock, a federal police officer in Canberra from 1971 to 1985 who now runs a gardening service in Tamworth, nominated his daughter for the Telstra award.
He was thrilled that she won the ACT section and will now head to the national awards.
"She's a self-achiever," Bock, 73, says.
"The more pressure you put on her, the less interest she has. If she has her own goal, she will go to the end of the earth to achieve it. If someone says she can't do something, she'll just bloody well prove she can do it."
Prowse, 32, is proud that she has taken the unconventional route to the top, without a traditional tertiary education, completely off her own back.
She left high school and worked as a circulation clerk at the Northern Daily Leader newspaper in Tamworth. She also worked alongside her dad, mowing lawns in his business. And she wasn't afraid of hard work. Brian remembers he and his daughter one time taking the whipper snipper to 16km of tree lanes on a local horse stud.
She also worked at a local sports academy, did a business course in Sydney and ended up working in Sydney for Camp Quality, in fundraising and event management.
"I was asked to come in for an interview with two other applicants who had years of experience," she says.
"I remember dad telling me that if they asked me what my weakness was, to turn it into a strength. So, I did say, 'I don't have the experience in this role but I think I'm able to work with the organisation and learn what it is you need me to contribute'. And that ended up being what they were looking for."
Her role was to work with grassroots community groups fundraising for Camp Quality, whether it was a ute muster, barbecue or fun run.
"Every event was different," she says.
At the beginning of 2011 as the Camp Quality fundraising manager, she was seconded to Canberra and her life changed forever.
She soon met her future husband Andrew Prowse at a mutual friend's house party in Canberra. They had even gone to school together at Oxley High. Their sisters knew each other but they only knew each other vaguely.
They started dating and Andrew eventually told her that he had cystic fibrosis, a genetic, life-threatening disease that damages the lungs and digestive system and, for which, there was no cure.
She already knew a bit about cystic fibrosis. She was at school in Tamworth when the country band The Wolverines released 65 Roses, their song about cystic fibrosis.
"I remember mum saying to me, 'Carla's little brother has cystic fibrosis' and that was Andrew," she says.
"So when he sat me down to tell me, I said, 'I already know but I really appreciate you thinking you could tell me'."
Prowse never saw the disease as a deterrent for their relationship.
"It was just never a problem," she says.
"He's just my kindred spirit. He's my person. It's never been hard. He's just someone I want to spend all my time with."
What was a problem was that he lived on the northside and Prowse lived on the southside. (Andrew won that battle, they now live together north of the lake, but Prowse is stubbornly president of the South Canberra Netball Association. Her mum Ruth Bock, who runs an aged care facility in Yass also coaches netball with her daughter.)
"I get to enjoy all of Canberra, I'm very lucky to live in this town," she says.
After meeting Andrew, Prowse also started working for Cystic Fibrosis Australia, eventually becoming its executive director. She started the Santa Speedo Shuffle, a crazy fundraiser in which people ran around Lake Burley Griffin in their speedos in the dead of winter. It was a hit.
Within six months of the couple moving in together, Andrew's health worsened as he battled infections, lost lung capacity and the medical options started to run out. He lived for two years in virtual isolation, at home, only seeing nurses for weeks on end, unable to work. The current coronavirus self-isolation is a piffle by comparison.
The couple was still able to marry, at her dad's place in Tamworth. They also decided to try for a baby through IVF.
"The day we found out our [embryo] transplant hadn't been successful, was also the day we found out Andrew's infection had returned," Prowse says.
The couple has not ruled out trying again for children. But they are focused on their fur baby Monty who is "absolutely spoilt".
Andrew says Heidi has "definitely made me a better person".
"We complement each other very well," he says.
"She's the most driven, dedicated, selfless person I know and she is easily the biggest award winner in the Prowse clan, the favourite daughter-in-law."
He was listed in 2017 for a double lung transplant. Just 26 days later, he got a call that organs were available and he needed to get to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney straight away. The couple is incredibly grateful to the donor's family and understand their grief is part of their story.
"I pushed him into emergency as he was in a wheelchair and on oxygen and he walked out carrying his own bags nine days later. The transformation was incredible," Prowse says.
Andrew, who has been able to return to work as a public servant, says, "Heidi has been with me every step of this journey". His immune system will always be compromised and now, with the coronavirus pandemic, is a particularly dangerous time. But Andrew says it has been a big shift for him to see other people having to wear face masks and go into self-isolation. In a strange way, it makes him feel no so alone.
As far as her career goes, Prowse says she is focused on empowering the people she works with and can never imagine working anywhere but the not-for-profit sector.
She wants Mental Illness Education ACT to continue to "do good things", to be an organisation that breaks down the stigma around mental illness but does so "with business principles and innovation and has a really powerful heart".
"It's also about people," she says. "I am part of an organisation that can change people's lives."
And that teacher from Hurlston Agricultural High? That was Sandra Hackett, who at the time was the head teacher for welfare in the boarding school, looking after 120 teenage girls.
She says Heidi arrived at the school a quiet, shy person. But she was destined for great things.
"Everything she did, she did brilliantly," Sandra said.