Here I am at the 2018 WAIS Awards as part of the athlete panel with another recently retired athlete, Olympian Steve Bird.
I'm not sure how long the Q&A felt for those of you who went, but for me up on stage it flew by! If I could kick, I would be kicking myself (sorry, paraplegic joke!) because I missed out on such a great opportunity to express a few things to my fellow female athletes!
Here is what I should have said when asked about my method of deciding to retire:
Having to consider retirement is inevitable as an athlete because you cannot compete forever. We aren't superheroes. Sometimes we stop being good enough for selection, sometimes we get injured beyond repair, or sometimes we fall out of love with the sport. None of those things happened to me. I was just "up the duff".
Rio 2016 would have been my 3rd Paralympics. Sadly my team didn't qualify so my "post-Rio" plans became my "instead of Rio" plans. Then when a certain someone was asked in an interview if anyone on the Gliders would now retire, that person said I would because I was having a baby. Not only is my womb occupancy my business, but don't assume females need to retire from sport to have babies!
So almost a year later when my daughter Chloe was finally born in February 2017 (yep, do the math folks!), I was determined to prove that person wrong and 10 weeks later I played my first game as a mummy athlete in the WNWBL.
Female athletes shouldn't have to retire to become mothers. We are strong, kick ass human beings! If I can push a 3.6kg object with a 36.5cm circumference out my hoohaa with no drugs, then I can organise a few extra things in my day to make being a mummy athlete possible. (Side note: the 'no drugs' thing was because I couldn't actually feel my contractions. Para perk!)
I managed to keep focused on being an athlete in amongst all the glorious (cuddles!) and not so glorious (poonamis) aspects of being a first time mum. With a FIFO husband away for weeks at a time and no parents living in WA, I relied on a lot of random people to help me with Chloe while I was training. Replacing a few boob feeds with bottles of expressed milk meant I could handball Chloe to anyone wanting a court side cuddle (as long as they did the odd nappy change too).
Chloe also travelled interstate and overseas numerous times with the Gliders and Red Dust Heelers, where she was passed around the staff and my teammates (if hubby wasn't there too) so I could continue being the athlete I wanted to be. Being a mum is hard. Being an athlete is hard. But when you have goals to kick, you do whatever you have to do.
After a year on maternity leave I returned to casual work and shortly after that the WAIS Wheelchair Basketball program was created, which is amazing! I wish it was created 5 years ago!
So suddenly my world was a mix of super early wake ups, late nights, day care drop offs, training sessions, work, and all things mum like toddler playgroups & swimming lessons, and researching ways to hide veggies in food. I eventually started to feel like I was burning the candle at both ends whilst holding a Zippo lighter in between. But I soldiered on because there was a World Championships to train for!
I was tired. All. The. Time. Not to mention moody AF! I knew I was still a good mum, but deep inside I wanted to be a great mum. Chloe didn't deserve a melted candle mum. My daughter deserves an Optus Stadium mum.
So over several appointments with Jo the WAIS sports psych, we started chatting about possible retirement and how I can make sure I can come to a decision and be 100% happy with it. I created lists of why I wanted to keep playing basketball and why I wanted to retire from elite sport. I still loved playing basketball for Australia and I certainly wasn't that broken yet. There is so much fun to be had and so much honour playing in the yellow and green. I also worried a heck of a lot about how much I would disappoint certain people like my husband, my parents, my coaches, my teammates if I stopped playing.
However, the other list was almost double in length. It was filled with my love for my family and all the things we could do without having the training commitments and the financial burdens of being an elite athlete (because if you think female athletes don't get paid enough, try being a female AND disabled athlete!). I needed more energy in my day to be the mum I wanted to be for my daughter and that point trumped everything else. And if you can't put in the training, then you shouldn't be on the National squad.
So in May 2018 I finally made the decision to retire from the National team, and in August 2018, at the World Championships in Germany, I played my 211th and last game of wheelchair basketball for Australia, with my family watching from the sidelines. You would think holding in a secret retirement would have been distracting to me but I had enough experience under my belt that I didn't let that impact me. But as soon as that final buzzer sounded, the dam of emotions broke and I cried at the knowledge that my 13 year career with the Gliders was over. But as a friend recently reminded me: "don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." A Dr Zeus quote apparently, but completely true nonetheless.
It is totally possible for female athletes to be mummies at the same time. There are plenty of us out there. I am not going to pretend to be the only one. As long as our NSO's and SSO's continue to support us (like BA and WAIS did for me) then Australian sport shouldn't be losing amazing athletes to retirement for motherhood goals.
I was a mummy athlete for 18 months, and if I was dealt a different hand of cards I probably could have gone on a lot longer (winning Powerball would help!). But my circumstances are what they are and I am happy with the choices I've made.
I can't wait to be that mum cheering her kids on from the side line, acting like she knows all the rules.