I guess you could say this story is like a square as it has four sides to it.
In order to understand my journey and where I am today, I need to tell you about these four sides.
Cystic Fibrosis and sport
The first side is about a girl who was born with a chronic lung disease called Cystic Fibrosis and how netball is ultimately saving her life.
If you look up Cystic Fibrosis the first definition that pops up is ‘an inherited life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system. Cystic fibrosis affects the cells that produce mucus, sweat and digestive juices. It causes these fluids to become thick and sticky. They then plug up tubes, ducts and passageways‘.
This is pretty spot-on, but what it doesn’t say is how many times a person is admitted to a hospital for treatment to fight infections and bugs or how we struggle to walk due to low lung function capacity – about the life expectancy of 44.
I’m a fighter and after two back-to-back hospital admissions as a 7-year-old, my parents got me into sport. It would take another 15 years for me to have my next admission.
I am very lucky to say that I have a natural talent for most sports.
Once I started playing competitively, I soon began making rep teams and then higher-level sides too.
When I was younger I did not want people to know I had cystic fibrosis.
I wanted to be known as that “great netballer” or “great touch footballer”, not “she’s good at netball considering she has cystic fibrosis”.
So, for many years CF wasn’t something I addressed. It was a part of my life, but it wasn’t what I focussed on and I guess I never have.
Yes, I did treatments every day and my physiotherapy, but my focus was on my goals and that was to make rep teams and be selected for higher representation.
It was probably not until Year 11 at school when I made a high-level touch football side and competed at the National Championships.
We were silver medallists to Queensland.
My training for this tournament involved travelling to Newcastle every weekend on top of home training programs, as well as my representative netball and basketball.
I realised after this that I should be proud to have cystic fibrosis and be able to achieve what I have.
Leaving school was a potential worry given all the school and underage representative sports would stop.
However, I was still determined to play netball which is my greatest passion and reach the highest level I am able to achieve.
To do this, I trained in the gym five days a week.
Yes, this is wonderful for my CF, but what motivated me was netball and always being better, faster, stronger and fitter.
I love the game and after playing state league for my town Orange, I decided to travel to Sydney and trial for a metropolitan club in order to play in Sydney.
I was elated to be selected to play Division 2 Metro League last year and this meant commiting to an 8-hour round trip to Sydney three times a week.
Unfortunately, my season came to an early end due to a serious injury (more on that later).
This is what drives me and it’s just a bonus that all the hard work for my passions in sport is also saving my life.
I’m often told how lucky I am to be so well with my CF and compete at the levels I do, but the truth is I’m not lucky – I just work hard.
Taking my hair off
Again, Google Doctor will tell you ‘alopecia is a condition that causes people to lose hair from a single area or from multiple areas of their head, face or body’.
I’ve always had super thin hair and unfortunately have never really been able to grow it and after I finished school I made the extremely tough decision to shave my hair off and get myself a wig.
I used to wear the wig to play netball until one day I was playing State League and realised I was too worried that my wig would fall off.
It was impacting my ability to play.
So I made a very scary decision to take my hair off and finish the game bald.
I felt comfortable enough to do this because of the environment created in the netball community, I felt safe and like I wouldn’t be judged.
I haven’t looked back – I haven’t played in my wig since.
During a match, I was photographed without my wig and the Swifts happened to get a hold of the image.
They were really impressed and proud of the environment that had netball created in order for someone like me to be able to do this.
So they invited me down to a game to meet the team and do the coin toss.
I’m going to leave this here and come back to it after I tell you about the next side.
My ACL ruptures
I guess you’re probably wondering well what else is there?
There’s already a lot going on in the story but yes there is more.
At the end of 2013 I ruptured my left ACL for the first-time playing touch football.
I worked my butt off for the next 12 months rehabbing.
When I came back it was again touch football season and after a few games I re-ruptured my left ACL.
Before my surgery I was told to get super strong with my quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles as it would aid me in my recovery.
I realised whilst I was waiting for my surgery and building the strength that I could run, I could do stair sprints and I could jump.
After the second reconstruction I spoke with my physio and I questioned if it was possible to not get a ruptured ACL fixed.
He said to me that he had recently seen some studies that professional athletes in the NBA and NFL have been returning to the game without getting their ruptured ACL repaired.
After another long 12 months of rehab I finally got back on the netball court.
I once more felt a twinge in my knee while trialing for a rep squad.
Now anyone who has done their ACL knows it is excruciating pain.
But this one? I hardly felt any pain and continued on with the trials.
I later thought maybe I should just get my knee checked out.
I had another MRI scan and my ACL had snapped for the third time.
Yet there was no pain.
I decided not to have it repaired and since then I have gone on to play State League and Metro League Division Two in Sydney. Having no ACL has not impacted me at all.
To my extreme disappointment towards the end of my season in Sydney, I ruptured my right ACL for the first time.
Yeah, the other one.
I made a decision at that moment that I was not going to get it fixed because I had already been playing for the last four years with no ACL in my left knee and I knew from my own experience that it was possible to play with no ACL.
For the last 8 months I have been working my butt off to be able to get back on the court, my goal is to get back to where I was playing in Sydney.
I have doubts and I have concerns but I suppose that is only normal especially when my world is playing netball, it’s my motivation to keep well, to keep me out of the hospital so stopping is a scary prospect.
All I can do now is continue to work really hard and give it everything I’ve got.
Briony Akle and the Swifts
I was lucky enough to meet the Swifts players and also head coach Briony.
This was one of the best experiences of my life and what I really took out of it was the girls who I idolise at the professional level – they are just humble people.
They took me in and were genuinely interested in me and my story.
They were inspired by me, just as I am inspired by them.
What really warms my heart was this was not just a one-time event.
Since 2018 the players have still been in contact with me, followed me so they can check in, see how I’m going.
They are truly great people.
Netball is saving my life
I think this is really important to highlight the true kindness of our professional athletes in our game.
They are not just figures on the TV that we see, they are humans and they are truly good people.
Being able to connect with both Briony and Paige really brings me true happiness and inspires me to continue and be the best I can be.
Having a connection with them means the world to me, more than they would even know.
Even though my journey has been rough and will continue to be rough for the rest of my life as I fight to be here every day, these are the things that drive me and bring true sunlight into my life – I can’t thank them enough.
I always say Cystic Fibrosis is not who I am it’s just something I have.
This is my whole package of what I’ve dealt with throughout my young life so far it hasn’t destroyed me but made me stronger and more determined.
If I can inspire one person to fight for themselves in their own lives then sharing my story will have been worth it.