When you lose your passion for your favourite sport, it’s time to take a break. But what happens when you regain that passion? You make a comeback, of course.
Melinda Weaver knows all about that. Having represented the Aussie Spirit 107 times from 2007-2014, she is no stranger to top-level international softball.
But with a thriving business, a mortgage and not as much time on her hands, she stopped playing softball after the 2014 World Championship. Not just for the Aussie Spirit, but at any level.
“I started my own business, took some time off the sport to enjoy some other things,” Weaver says. “You get consumed by softball training, softball games, softball travel, so I just took some personal leave.”
But after an extended break, she felt like giving it another go, due to what she says was “a burning desire to compete again at the best level”.
Her comeback was a success, to say the least. After strong performances for Queensland at the Gilley’s Shield and for the Aussie Spirit at the Asia Pacific Cup, Weaver found herself back in the Spirit team for the 2018 National Pro Fastpitch season and the XVI Women’s Softball World Championship in Chiba, Japan.
Having not played softball at any level for so long, Weaver says getting back into playing mode wasn’t easy. “It wasn’t so much that it was tough on the body, it was more about reaction time, game awareness, game knowledge. It was certainly a little bit slower than I anticipated.
“It took a while to get that agility back and get the reaction skills back again.”
As an exercise physiologist with her own business in Brisbane, Weaver knows a lot about getting bodies back in shape. “It gives me an appreciation of what’s going on in my body. But it’s great to have our strength and conditioning coaches and physiotherapists who work with elite athletes. “
Despite Weaver’s long absence from the team, Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow is confident she will be at her best over the next few months. “Mel brings experience, versatility and a strong competitive attitude to the team,” Barlow says.
“She’s been out of the game for a few years but was on the mark straight away at the Gilley’s Shield and showed her ability to raise her game to the international level at the Asia Pacific Cup, which she has a good track history of doing.
“Mel won’t settle to just be on the team, she will want a starting spot and will do what it takes preparation and performance wise to present herself with the best chance to achieve that. And she will also have an expectation of winning.”
To give herself the best chance of claiming a starting spot, Weaver has been moving around the diamond. “My preferred position is second base, and that’s what I’m training for,” she says. “But it’s good to have the versatility to be able to play in the outfield if required.”
Weaver doesn’t plan for her comeback to be a one-year wonder. The lure of a possible place in the 2020 Olympic team will keep her motivated for a while yet. “As a little girl you always dream of playing in the Olympics, so there’s that burning desire to be in Tokyo in 2020,” she says.
“But I’m very mindful that I’ve been out of the game for quite a few years and there are a number of stepping stones for Australia to qualify for the Olympics.”
While many of the Spirit players will be in the USA for the first game of the NPF season, Weaver will not join them until midway through the season.
“As a business owner and having my own career, as well as mortgages to pay, unfortunately although we are classified as an elite sport we certainly don’t get paid like elite athletes. So I won’t be there at the start. But it gives me a great opportunity to keep training with some of our specialty coaches here in Brisbane.”
Now 31, Weaver has come a long way since she abandoned tennis as a pre-teenager and answered a newspaper advertisement to try her hand at softball. “I was fortunate to have a very good coach, who led me through not just the softball journey but also life while I was growing up,” she says.
Almost 20 years later, that coach, Bernie Rooke, is still a mentor to Weaver – “not so much as a softball coach, but just communicating about softball and about life in general”.