Taking a break is often a good way for athletes to recover from injuries, give their body a rest, then return to their sport refreshed and ready to go.
Verity Long-Droppert has taken that principle to its extreme, being out of softball for almost three years before deciding to give it another crack at the elite level.
That sounds like a near-impossible task, especially for someone working in such a demanding job as a lawyer, but Long-Droppert has accomplished it and has earned a spot in the Aussie Spirit team that will play in the National Pro Fastpitch league in the USA this year.
Long-Droppert’s name may not be familiar to softball fans who have followed the Spirit over the past few years. But she has represented Australia 60 times, even if the most recent appearance was at the 2012 World Championship in Canada, where Australia won a bronze medal.
After that tournament, Long-Droppert then took time off to finish her law degree. Her break became even longer when she suffered a severe wrist injury. But once that injury healed, and with the 2018 Gilley’s Shield to be played in her home town of Perth, she decided to give top-level softball another go.
“I was sitting around the dinner table with a couple of my friends who played and found out the tournament would be in Perth,” she says.
“I didn’t really know what to expect after having a few years out of the game, but I missed competing and I missed the game, and I was really excited about the opportunity to represent Western Australia.
“I worked really hard in the lead-up to Nationals. I did everything I possibly could to get my body and mind ready, but the competition at that level is tough, so it was an unknown entity.
“But when I was playing again I thought, ‘Oh wow’ and it was reminding me of what it was like. Our competition has improved a lot since I last competed and it took me a few games to get back up to speed and be a contributor. But getting a chance to play Asia Pacific gave me a chance to keep that momentum going.”
The way that Long-Droppert played in Perth showed that the speedy outfielder had lost none of her ability during her break from the game. In fact, she found she could run even faster than she had done before her layoff.
“I actually surprised myself a little bit coming back from the break. I seemed to have picked up a little bit of speed, which was surprising and good as well.”
Another strong performance for the All Stars at the Asia Pacific Cup in Sydney did not go unnoticed, with Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow among those paying attention.
“It’s great to have Verity involved in the NPF as she brings a lot of international experience, and going into this new challenge and a different environment her experience and influence will be important,” Barlow says.
“Verity has returned to the sport after a three-year break and is looking to get more games under her belt to continue to get herself back to the form of when she left.
The NPF will play a significant role in that and certainly help fast-track it.
“It is great for the depth and competition for spots we are trying to create to have Verity back in the National program.”
While representing the Aussie Spirit won’t be a new experience for Long-Droppert, playing in the NPF will be.
“Everyone’s situation is different, but for me, not having played for so long, it’s an opportunity to play in one of the highest-standard leagues in the world and get some quality game time,” she says.
“My expectations are that it will be an extremely tough competition, we’ll have a rigorous schedule and I’ll be placed into an elite training environment where we get the opportunity to play the game we love almost every day. That’s an environment that you want to be a part of.”
Long-Droppert, 29, is not looking too far ahead, but it’s clear she will have some decisions to make, both professionally and with her softball career, after the NPF season.
“When you’re an athlete your career kind of ebbs and flows with what else you have going on. I’ve got to find the balance this year to take the opportunities that come with my sport and then revisit the career side of things, without parking it completely, at a later date.”
Having started playing softball at the age of 11, Long-Droppert represented WA and Australia at junior levels and has held softball scholarships from the Australian and Western Australian Institutes of Sport. In 2007 she represented Australia at the World University Games and at the Junior World Softball Championship in the Netherlands, winning a bronze medal.
In 2010-11 she played professionally for Legnano of the Italian Softball League.
With a high-level professional career and playing softball at international level, Long-Droppert is in a position to be a role model for young female athletes. It’s a responsibility she takes seriously.
“In Australian society, sportspeople take on the mantle of role models. When you have young people looking up to you and watching you play you have a responsibility to acquit yourself with integrity on and off the field.
“The Aussie Spirit softball program, even though I’ve been out of it for a few years now, has done a really excellent job of being great role models for our community.”