Monday, June 17, 2024

Lauren Jackson returned to basketball at 41. When she told her eldest son, he called her a ‘liar’.

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At the age of 41, Lauren Jackson decided to make a basketball comeback.

It’s a testament to her strength and ability. But it wasn’t the painful rehab and gruelling training that was the hardest part of returning to the sport she loves the most. It was telling her two kids about her decision.

Jackson has long been considered the GOAT (aka greatest of all time) in Australian women’s basketball. Her last Olympic games was in 2012 and she retired from the sport in 2016 after a routine leg wax while recovering from an ACL injury went bad.

“With that type of injury, it was so painful when it happened. And initially, I was like, ‘Oh there goes everything,'” she reflects on Mamamia’s No Filter podcast.

Watch: Parenting 101. Post continues below.

Then in 2021, she made the big decision to give basketball another shot.

“I was mentally and emotionally in a really good place. Work was good, life was good, kids were good. The Australian team asked if I’d be willing to do some physicals and see if I was interested in trying to make the 2022 World Cup team. I didn’t feel like I had anything to lose. So day by day I would train and it was just one of those opportunistic things,” she explains.

Then the Olympic qualifiers came knocking. It took Jackson a bit of convincing, though she credits her mum for giving her the reassurance she needed.

“She’s been so supportive of my career. She said to me, ‘If you don’t go to the qualifiers and the girls [the team] don’t qualify, you’ll feel s**t.’ That’s what got me over the line.”

Jackson acknowledges that her two boys did struggle with the fact their mum was returning to basketball, and therefore she wouldn’t be at home as much.

“I got called some choice names by my five, and seven-year-old kids. My eldest called me a ‘liar’ for returning after retiring. They’re really kind, gentle kids. But for the past few years I haven’t spent huge amounts of time away from them. The sacrifices that we have to make, it’s brutal. I cried.”

The feelings of ‘mum guilt’ were well and truly present, she notes.

“They don’t understand the enormity of the Olympics. Now we talk about the Olympics, we read through books about Paris. That’s accumulated over a period of a time and it’s got them to the point where they’re pretty excited about it now. If I make it, they’re excited about the prospect of going overseas.”

Mamamia’s No Filter guest host Libby Trickett asked Jackson what her routine is like now… and let’s just say it’s rather jam-packed.

“When I was playing at 15, I thought I had no time whatsoever. Even in my 20s and 30s I didn’t know how good I had it. Now it’s up at 5:30am to make lunches, get the kids ready for school, take them to school, train, do work, then physio. I pick the kids up from school, take them to their sports or appointments. It’s just non-stop. Then you do it all over again every single day,” she says.

“I think basketball has given me an outlet though. My life feels fuller now.”

Throughout her career, Jackson has battled anxiety and depression. After her injury forced her into retirement previously, Jackson says it was the mental rather than the physical requirements of her comeback that have been the greatest challenge. 

“When I had the injury, I felt like I was letting everybody down. I didn’t feel like I had the support network either, and I really closed myself off to everybody. That’s what mental health does.

“But I knew I couldn’t go back down that track again. And I’ve been very committed to that.”

Listen to the full interview with Lauren Jackson here. Post continues after audio.

Now at 43, Jackson hopes the Paris Olympics eventuate well.

“I feel confident that I’m fit enough. I’m playing well enough to make the team. It’s just now whether my body holds up. And that’s ongoing every day, something I’m always working on,” she explains.

As for what life will look like post-Olympics… it’s too far to tell, says Jackson, though she is looking forward to a return to more normalcy.

“My parents, my friends, my kids — they’ve always sort of brought me back down to Earth. I love being around the people I trust the most. I’m looking forward to coaching my kids, taking them to sport over the weekend and doing all that stuff with them.”

Hilariously, Jackson says her youngest son cannot stand being at basketball games and watching his mum play.

“It’s too long for him, it’s too loud and he wants to be right with me. He’s run onto the court before the games, like he does not care,” laughs Jackson.

“My eldest son enjoys it though. He wants to be a basketball player, and he wants to be in every sport. I just want my kids to be happy and to be good and kind boys.”

You can listen to the full interview on No Filter here.

Feature Image: Instagram.

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