Australian Gliders Bree Mellberg finds her basketball calling

In wheelchair basketball, Bree Mellberg has found her calling.

When you love competing and have a desire to improve every single day, you are bound to find success in life.

Bree Mellberg, 26, from Bendigo, could’ve so easily accepted her fate and been angry at the world for what it had done to her. But instead of giving up, Mellberg channelled her strength and determination – both of which are otherworldly – to reach new heights.

Mellberg recently returned from Europe as a member of the Australian Gliders –  Australia’s women’s wheelchair basketball team – and always dreamed of representing Australia on the world stage.

But it wasn’t in basketball… at least not at first.

Mellberg started her athletic life as a diver. She was talented enough to book her spot to the 2008 FINA world junior diving championships in Germany, competing in the 10m platform.

She had high hopes for her sporting future, but had to put her diving dreams on hold in 2013.

An accident on the trampoline left Mellberg with a broken neck and unable to continue life on the diving board.

Four years later, she has found her new calling; wheelchair basketball. Mellberg admits she had never considered wheelchair basketball before a friend introduced her to it two and half years ago.

“I never would’ve thought of (wheelchair basketball) myself,” Mellberg said. “It was one of those things where a friend said ‘why don’t you give it a go, see what you think’, and I instantly loved it.”

Unlike other wheelchair sports she had previously tried, wheelchair basketball proved the perfect choice for Mellberg.

“It allowed me to push really hard and it felt like I could play a sport, because before that I had really struggled to have a go with wheelchair sports – I found it quite difficult.” Mellberg said. “Whereas I felt like basketball was something that came pretty naturally and I just loved it from the get-go.”

The differences between basketball and diving are fairly significant, but many of those traits that helped her become a world-class diver have transitioned over to the hardwood.

“I think my diligence and commitment with diving really taught me how to train,” Mellberg explained. “I was able to really quickly pick up on basic skills because I knew how to train.”

Furthermore, performing on the world stage in diving held her in good stead when she hit the court for Australia at the recent Continental Clash in England.

“With my representation of Australia in diving, I’d had that experience already,” Mellberg said.

“Of course it’s different with basketball, but because I’ve done work previously on dealing with pressure and stressful situations, I felt that I was able to handle the stress well because they were familiar to me.”

Bree Mellberg

Bree Mellberg has flourished in wheelchair basketball. Picture: PAUL GALASKA

Mellberg certainly doesn’t take her on-court success for granted. She was told she would struggle to be an ‘unfit female’, let alone represent Australia on the sporting stage, but with her positive mindset and countless hours of rehab and preparation, she finds herself pushing her body to new limits.

“I never thought I’d get back to anything close to this. I was told that I would be lucky to get to the point of what they consider an unfit female – which is being able to hold down a job but not really do much more than that,” Mellberg said.

“I had a lot of doubts about my body on how it would go after my injury, but I was so amazed with what I was able to do. I never thought I’d get to this point again – it’s pretty amazing.”

Competing at the Continental Clash, and coming away with a bronze medal, was an experience that Mellberg won’t soon forget.

“It was very exciting and it was a big learning experience with it being a team event because it is very different to an individual sport.” Mellberg said. “I was amazed at how well we worked together as a team.”

“Being a rookie, I felt very supported by the senior players. Although it was pretty nerve-racking the moment you get out on the court in the green and gold, I felt very supported by the team around me and never felt like I was out of my depth.”

It’s not just the many hours of work put into focusing on her rehab program since her accident, but the total dedication to her craft and continual improvement that makes Mellberg’s story so inspirational.

Her commitment to training with the Kilsyth Cobras and Gliders sees her travel to Melbourne, from Bendigo, multiple times a week. Whilst she admits the travel is tiring, she credits the support she has received from others as a key to helping her manage.

“The travel can be quite fatiguing – it takes a lot of time management and pre-planning.” Mellberg said. “Especially managing my uni commitments and basketball, it really is about looking after both my body and my time and making sure that I eat and sleep really well.”

“Kilsyth have been great and I really appreciate that support, as well as The Bendigo Wheelchair Braves – everyone there has been really supportive. The girls from Kilsyth and the Vic Gliders that I train with have just been absolutely incredible.”

“I’ve been very, very fortunate with the opportunities that I’ve had and the support that I’ve been given. I’m really excited about the future.”

Studying Biomedical Science at LaTrobe University in Bendigo provides Mellberg with another opportunity to challenge herself – one that she relishes.

“I absolutely love it.” Mellberg said. “I’m one of those kids that loves uni and loves to be challenged and that is exactly what this degree does for me.”

Currently in the final year of her degree, the future is very bright for Mellberg – both on and off the court.

Whilst the thought of representing Australia at the Paralympics isn’t at the forefront of her mind, there’s no doubt it would be the icing on the cake of Mellberg’s incredible comeback story.

“For me it’s always a process.” Mellberg said. “It was the same in diving as well; that the focus needed to be on the next competition in front of you and ultimately the reward at the end is going to those big events, whether it be World Championships or Paralympics.”

“I find that if you focus too much on the end goal, you miss the great experiences and competitions that you can have along the way.”

Competing at the Paralympics would also fulfil a goal that Mellberg voiced to her Mum when she was very young.

“If I get there, that would be the most amazing experience of my life. When I was six years old, I told my Mum that I was going to go to the Olympics, so we’ll see what eventuates.” Mellberg said.

With the work ethic and passion that Mellberg possesses, one thing is for sure; she won’t leave any stone unturned as she strives to be the very best version of herself.

Feature image courtesy of Paul Galaska

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