Mellberg glides through the Tokyo dream

Bree Mellberg was just a little girl when she proudly predicted to her parents what her future would hold.

She told them that one day she would be known to the world as an elite Australian athlete and will represent the green and gold at the highest level; a dream that is the result of passion and belief within. From a very young age, Mellberg had her sights set on greatness.

Fast forward to 2021, and although life may have taken a slightly different turn in the sporting code that the La Trobe Elite Athlete Program (LEAP) member represents, it didn’t deter Mellberg from reaching the goal that she set as a young girl all those years ago.

Ultimately, Mellberg made her dream of representing Australia a reality when she took to the court as a member of the Australian Gliders Wheelchair Basketball team at the recent 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, describing the experience as a ‘dream come true’.

“It had such a moment of being surreal because it was right up until the last minute whether we knew that we would even be going at all,” Mellberg said.

“So, I think that there was a huge element of going ‘oh my goodness, this is actually happening’. (It was) such an honour to be representing my country in such a unique Games.”

Despite the excitement of experiencing her first Paralympic Games, Mellberg admitted the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic hindered the Glider’s preparations in the lead up to the competition. With key players being deemed ineligible to compete and the inability for the team to complete their training camps, it meant that the road to Tokyo was a bumpy ride.

“For us, we haven’t played an international game since December of 2019; that was the last time we played an international tournament,” Mellberg said.

“Through different circumstances, we lost four of our key players which meant that we went to Tokyo with a completely new look team that hadn’t actually played any international minutes together as that look team.”

Despite enduring a tough campaign in Tokyo facing quality opposition and going down in four of their five games, the Gliders finished the tournament on a high with a dominant victory over Algeria. While disappointed not to progress to the finals to have a shot at a medal, Mellberg said the Gliders could take plenty from their Paralympics experience.

“What I was really proud of and I think what a lot of people could see is growth throughout the games that we played,” Mellberg said.

“When you look at it in that sense and look at all the pieces of the jigsaw, I’m incredibly proud.

“We are looking for definitely an improvement in Paris (in 2024), but I look at the experience we’ve gotten from here and this is an amazing springboard for the next couple of years.”

With key players absent from the Gliders’ campaign, Mellberg took on an expanded role throughout the Paralympics. This led to greater court time than she was initially expecting, but Mellberg said she was happy with her ability to adjust to the needs of the team.

“Previously, my role in the team had been seen as a relatively minor role that I’d only play a couple of minutes, get a few things done and then be subbed off,” Mellberg said.

“My position in the team changed quite significantly because of the changes that happened in our line-up, which meant that I then was getting ten minutes a game, which was a very different role for me to play.

“Because of that, I really had to step up, dig deep and work pretty hard in terms of what I wanted to get out of that. I’m really confident that every time I hit the court, I did the best that I could have done under all the circumstances that we had.”

Mellberg has not only been an inspiration in a sporting sense but also off the court as well studying a PhD as a cancer researcher at the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science (LIMS).

Mellberg has always had a keen interest in science and completed a Bachelor of Biomedical Science with Honours at La Trobe’s Bendigo Campus prior to undertaking her PhD. Her PhD focuses on understanding cell polarity, which is the cell’s capacity to know direction so it can divide, communicate and secrete in the right direction.

“I wanted to find a PhD that challenged me, I wanted to find something that I found really interesting that was a little bit left afield,” she said.

“The Institute offered a whole heap of different options that fitted in really well with the lifestyle that I wanted to have. I understood that doing a PhD was actually going to be very hard, but they were willing to accommodate the demands of my sporting career as well.”

When asked about what she would say to the future generations who may also have aspirations to compete in the world’s showcase sporting event, Mellberg warns ‘it’s a lot of hard work’. But ultimately, with a determination and willingness to compete - all things that make up Bree Mellberg - you have the key to success.

“I would say that if you know you want it, work hard,” Mellberg said.

“Happily make sacrifices; I think that’s what’s really important. You need to be making decisions based on what your goals are and what you’re really passionate about. I think that’s really important.”