Gemma Potter – Appreciating Every Moment
Written by Darren Barker, Features Writer
There’s many sides to a serious injury in sport, well, two serious injuries if we’re talking about specifics to Gemma Potter.
One side is the comeback story, but two is the ability to move on from it and put it in the past. The balance of moving on and keeping it positive but also reflecting on it as part of journey must be a challenging thing, even for someone like me who was about to talk to Gemma about it.
A BRUTAL SEQUENCE OF INJURIES
I was super keen to get an insight into what it was like to rupture not one, but two ACL’s in a matter of years but also wanted to keep the positive energy alive, much like her Canberra Capitals team which we will touch on later.
Gemma’s first ACL was done in May 2021 while competing in the National Championships.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 2022/23 WNBL season where she had fully recovered and whack, in round one it happens again.
Super rough. That moment must have been so tough to accept.
To work your way back, the grind, sitting on the sidelines all those months just waiting, only for it to happen again in your literal first game back is a horrible storyline.
Again, moving on from it must be a big challenge but it’s a part of Gemma’s story now. Question after question, point after point, I apologised for talking about the injuries straight away but she understood.
I had to bluntly ask if she ever got sick of talking about the injuries.
“Yes and no. I think it kind of reminds me of how far I have come and like, how these four wins… they mean a lot.”
I really liked this point. Imagine how much more you would cherish every game, every win, every loss now, knowing that at any stage you could miss the next season. It’s a brutal game.
It’s not even about the points, the rebounds, the assists, it’s simply about being out there and competing once again.
“Trying to keep it light this season, just get back to playing basketball, I kind of can’t be too hard on myself when I haven’t played in two years.”
Athlete’s overseas have often floated the idea that you can come back more athletic in some cases after suffering a serious injury. From a fans perspective I was always curious if that could be true and while Gemma wasn’t sold on the physical front, the mental side was a big yes. Mentioning that you certainly come back stronger mentally and things like your IQ for the game had most likely continued to increase.
THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
I had to talk about this, Gemma’s two Instagram posts in a row, a couple of years ago.
“Been on pause for 2 years and cannot wait to play again” was the caption that came with the first post.
“As many highs as there is, they’re going to be lows and last night was no different. Unfortunately scans have showed that I have ruptured my ACL and strained my MCL.” was the next post combined with a photo of Gemma down on the ground clutching at her knee.
Just a brutal sequence for someone at the beginning of their pro career.
“Something I can look back on and laugh about.”
I’m glad, as it was painful to even think about that moment as I read the two posts.
A light hearted moment was at the beginning of this season when another set of media day photo’s came out to the team. Keep in mind the post before her second ACL happened included media day shots. Gemma was explaining that in her mind it was like a “oh no I can’t post these, not after what happened last time” situation.
We’re all human, we all have these thoughts, even if it doesn’t impact the outcome whatsoever. The old social media / putting it out there curse.
I know you’re wondering so yes, she did end up posting the media day photo’s, but left the caption minimal.
“I kind of always expected myself to do a knee. I don’t know if that makes sense when you say it loud.”
Sorry wait, what?
“A lot of people have like a severe injury within their career and I just knew that I was going to have one.”
I had to ask Gemma to elaborate as I was thrown off a bit by this comment!
“So the first one in a way didn’t come as a surprise. I was like well, here it is.”
Please go on.
“I’m weird with stuff like that.”
You said that, not me.
“I wish I didn’t think like this.”
After the first ACL rupture Gemma said she basically felt like “yeah, this is great, I’m done now, I’m gonna have the best time in my career.”
I liked the positive outlook at the end at least, but what a hit to the gut when the second one happened.
“When it gets taken away, you can’t even go to the toilet without help. That’s when it kind of slaps you in the face with ‘we’re doing this again’.”
“There was definitely a time where the 9-5 job looked a lot nicer than learning to walk again.”
Well phrased, it really makes you think doesn’t it.
“I think being an athlete, the hardest part probably is the not competing.”
This makes a ton of sense, but don’t worry, during Gemma’s first stint on the sidelines she picked up a new hobby, a new thing to obsess over.
You guessed it, crochet.
(Don’t worry I had to google this too.)
“I was obsessed with it.”
“I was crocheting when I was going out to coffee with my friends and I was like making them all get into it.”
Gemma’s crocheting phase now sounds over, sadly, as she reminisced about the left over bags of thread / wool somewhere in the house.
“I was definitely in my crocheting prime.”
Besides from Gemma’s intense crochet phase, I was keen to know what her life outside of basketball included during this time. While insight proceeded, it was clear that it largely revolved around her “little best friend.”
“He’s my little best friend. Most trainings I will rush home so I can come hang out with him.”
Her dog, Jax, who she got when she did her second ACL. We all heard of ‘COVID pets’ but I personally think ‘ACL pets’ may be a little more special.
That’s enough about not playing yeah? Let’s get into some basketball and positivity.
A SPECIAL TEAM IN CANBERRA
Describe this seasons Canberra Capitals team, I said.
Her face lit up immediately.
“Oh it’s so special.”
“We are probably the most annoying team because we could be down yet we’re still having fun and laughing and if a team did that to us, we’d probably get annoyed, but we still do it to other teams. Not because we want to do it to them, but because that’s just the culture that we’ve set up here. We have fun but once we step over that line we also know that we want to win. We have a job to do.”
I love it.
See, from an outside perspective you feel like this team love playing together. The fun, the laughter, all of it. But you never properly know what a team is actually like and what façade they might be putting on.
“I have so much fun day in and day out and it definitely does not feel like a job when you’re here.”
It’s clear that Canberra really do enjoy playing with one another and speaking of enjoyment, that had to lead into Jade Melbourne. We all know how much energy and positivity she brings to a group, but I had to ask about other teammates that brought at least a bit of those vibes as well.
“Honestly no one is up to Jade’s standards. You probably hear her before you see her most days and she kind of makes a point to try and not let me hear her before I see her.”
“But I think everyone kind of builds off Jade when we see how much she cares and loves our group. You kind of have no choice then to do what she’s doing.”
Gemma name dropped two players here. Firstly, Nicole Munger.
“She will still yell at you and say good morning even though it’s the worst morning in the world, she’ll still be happy and be loving life.”
We all know those type of people, and they’re terrific.
Secondly, Monica Okoye. Specifically the enjoyment everyone gets from allowing “Mon” to understand everything being said at meetings and beyond. Mon is from Japan and if any translating needs to be done, it will be done. Switching words, changing sentences, I could tell Gemma appreciated the bond the team has with Mon and what a bubbly personality she is.
Basketball is a universal language after all.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Now, talk to most young Australian athlete’s and their goals will include landing in the bright lights of the WNBA or NBA. Which for the record I love, aiming big is what it is all about. At the same time I think there’s something special about putting basically all of your attention on being the best damn basketball player in Australia you can be.
“I want to establish myself here in Australia and kind of be that name that people will know.”
“Other then that you know, the WNBA might come, but it’s not the be all and end all for me.”
Clearly if the WNBA came knocking Gemma would most likely throw her hand up in the air immediately but I really rate the honesty of being like no, my focus is the WNBL and what I can do in this league and this country.
“I’ve kind of always said I want to establish myself here, in the WNBL.
“I want to do that for the people in my life. Like, my little sister and stuff play basketball, so I probably want to stay here and see if I could ever play with her. That’d be pretty fun, at whatever level that is.
Playing with her would be pretty special, that’s for sure.”
I think most fans get a kick out of siblings playing together so I’m rooting for this to happen at some stage. Gemma turns 22 in February and her sister Teagan is currently 15 years old so I’m saying there’s a good chance it happens. Two Potters is better than one.
Gemma’s perspective on her future goals was really refreshing. It was largely based around family, home and enjoying where she is right now. Who can’t get around those things?
Oh and the other significant part – how much she loved Canberra and wants to stay there as long as possible.
“I’m just so set here. I love it. I love the life.”
Written by Darren Barker
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