Last year, a gaping hole was left in many Suncorp Super Netball fans’ hearts as their favourite player announced her retirement from elite netball. Madi Browne is a netball idol who has played professionally since 2006, so it is a shock to the system to think that professional netball will go on without her as many have only known netball with her in it.
But Madi Browne isn’t done playing netball yet.
Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Browne spoke in length about her love for the game and the decision to retire from top level Netball.
“I have retired from that level of netball, I have not retired forever,” Browne said.
“Retiring is saying I’m done at this level, not that I am never going to play netball again.”
Like Liz Ellis, Cath Cox, and Sharni Norder, Browne has stepped away from professional netball but joined her local team which just so happens to be Victorian Netball League side, Geelong Cougars.
The road back to local netball hasn’t been easy for Browne, who has struggled physically, mentally, and emotionally to get back on the court.
The 2020 Season
When Browne announced her retirement prematurely in round 9 of the 2020 season it was to undergo her third knee surgery in five years. And it is not how she thought she would see the season out.
She recalls the 2020 season to be exhausting as she was recovering from a second ACL injury
“When we got to the SSN season in 2020, I was still recovering and it would take me 23 hours of a day to prepare for that 1 hour of enjoyment,” she said.
“I was like there’s got to be more to this.”
Browne recalls finishing each game by wrapping herself in as much compression as possible and praying that her knee wouldn’t swell. The condensed season took a massive toll on her recovery and led to her overexerting her injured knee.
“A lot of people don’t know this but when I got the results of my scan the doctors said if you play on this you will need a knee replacement or you possibly will never play netball again,” Browne said.
“When I did decide to step away the doctors were like ‘thank god if you had played you would have blown your knee to smithereens and would be in so much strife.’”
The tough decision to step away was made so she could value her future life and kids.
“I want to run around with my future kids, not say oh run along and walk behind with a walking stick,” Browne said.
“I love netball, but I have to be smarter with it.”
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What many fans have probably forgotten is that Browne playing netball at this level for so long is a miracle in itself as she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis in her right knee at 18 months old.
“Doctors said she’s going to be on medication but keep her active, she just may never be a sporty kid.” Browne said
“It’s thanks to my parents who thrust me into sport from such a young age and pushed me to play netball, basketball, athletics, and swimming”
“It was never a guarantee [to play elite netball]. So I think what a bonus that I got to do it for so long at such a high level when I could I have been on medication and really struggled.”
To highlight, Browne has played; in the ANZ Championship from 2008, the Suncorp Super Netball from inception, 61 tests for the Australian Diamonds and she has received some of the highest netball accolades including the Liz Ellis Diamond.
After finally playing with her sister, Kelsey Browne, in the 2020 season, she had pretty much done the impossible.
Browne’s Road to Recovery
“I have now had three major knee surgeries and only I (and my support crew) know how that feels and how hard recovery is. The first one I thought was going to be the hardest because I had no idea what was ahead but that was probably the easiest,” Browne recalls.
“This last surgery was bone stuff, two meniscus repairs, and cartilage repairs …and as much as it was supposed to be the quickest 12-18 weeks it has taken 6-9 months.”
Browne refers to her recovery as like a rollercoaster of good patches and bad patches. She noted that in previous recoveries she has fraughted the idea of seeing a psychologist but that this time was different.
“there has been so much change in my life and I don’t know what I am doing,” Browne said.
“at some points (during recovery) I was like I should just give it all away.”
“(in 2020) My body had said enough is enough, I guess getting back to playing with the (Geelong) Cougars is the first step to seeing if I can still do this.
“Recovery is like five steps forward two steps back. My physical side is finally ready (to play netball again) so it is about the mentality now and being confident that my body can do this,” Browne admits.
For her, it is about going in completely ready with nothing to hold her back because she believes, like any good sports player, that if you are too cautious in your first game back you are more likely to injure yourself than if you go out and play hard.
Madi Browne debuts in the VNL
Coming back onto the court for Madi Browne is about proving to herself that she is still able to play competitively and for herself.
“I have to know that I can do this, that I want to do it, and that I still love it and have something to give to the sport,” Browne says.
“For the first time netball is not controlling my whole week it is a complement to my life which is nice.”
Browne mentioned she had to ensure she was the right fit for the Cougars and never expected to get any playing time with them. For her, it was more about seeing that she could still play.
“In no way did I come in and demand court time, I was probably training with them for 5-6 weeks and then it was like do you think you can play?” Browne said.
“My first game I was really rusty,” she said, “but my parents were like ooh we got vintage Madi back.
“(Vintage Madi is) free spirited Madi who can let a few balls go and have the confidence to move on and see what happens.”
Playing in VNL, Browne mentions is different ball game in itself; “the pace is different, the physicality is different.”
“Two games down and my mindset is so different from elite netball, where you always want to be in the starting seven.
“The other night my coach went Madi you’re off and I was like yes! I get to watch from the sidelines and suss out my opponent.”
The way Browne recalls her first two VNL games, it is very clear she is just enjoying being back out on the court and playing as much netball as she can.
“Rocking up to my first VNL game, the girls found it hilarious I had never played championship before and were honoured I could pop my Championship cherry with them.”
Before the ANZ Championship, Madi had played for their development squad the Geelong Flyers before riding the bench at Melbourne Kestrels.
“Obviously moving down a level, players want to play their best against me but that’s not my goal.
“Coming on for a little bit of impact and coming back off, I am really enjoying it.
“One of the girls mentioned I am their impact player and I am happy with that…getting out there for even two minutes is just a pat on the back,” Browne says.
Although she is preparing to play for Leeds Rhinos in 2022, for Browne, her future is not about continuing to play elite netball it is about continuing to love the sport and provide service to it however she can.
A 15 year + playing career is nothing to scoff at and one day I hope we see her immortalised in bronze at John Cain Arena for all that she has done.
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