Multi-talented Australian cricketer Jemma Barsby was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis – but she’s refusing to let the condition get in the way of her love for cricket and goal of representing her country.
Some people wouldn’t call my life ‘lucky’, but I do… For starters, I was raised in a very sporty family, which – for a full-of-beans kid like me – meant I had a great outlet for all that energy. Our family’s backyard cricket games were super competitive, and while at first I just wanted to get better so I could beat my dad, big brother and family friends, I soon fell in love with the sport itself, and knew that I wanted to pursue it at an elite level.
I discovered pretty quickly that I could bowl with both arms, which is highly unusual. It’s so unusual, in fact, that a lot of people discouraged me early on in my training from working on my left arm bowling. The traditional thinking saw it as pointless – why waste time working on your non-dominant arm? Luckily, I ignored them. And spurred on by an incredibly supportive coach, Andy Richards, I realised what an asset this unusual ability could be, and decided to actively embrace and strengthen it.
My training began to pay off when I was 15, and found myself making my elite cricketing debut for the Queensland Fire. From there, I’ve been lucky enough to make the Australia A side and been able to travel to some pretty magnificent and interesting places, including New Zealand, England, Dubai and Sri Lanka.
Then, in June 2015, at age 19, I heard the three words that would change my life forever: “You’ve got M.S.”
I was floored.
It had all started with a niggling shoulder injury that wouldn’t heal. At that stage, my biggest concerns were whether I’d need surgery, or have to miss part of the season… Instead, I got the life threatening diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. I am very lucky that I was diagnosed early, with only a few lesions. These are being controlled by a new trial drug, which to date has slowed the growths down. Though there have been some incredibly difficult times, I am still able to play the sport that I love. There are a lot of people with this condition that can’t walk, see or function without pain… I know how lucky I am!
Playing cricket isn’t the most ideal sport for someone like me, as one of the biggest triggers for M.S. is heat. I am fortunate to have a very supportive network at Qld Cricket as well as a wonderful supplier, Artic Heat, who’ve made ice vests in my team colours, which are designed to help manage my symptoms by keeping me cool on the field.
It’s been thrilling to witness the rise of women’s sport over the past few years, particularly many of the sports traditionally dominated by men. I now play in the Women’s Big Bash League – a.k.a. the Australian women’s Twenty20 competition, which launched in 2015. It’s been awesome to be part of this new league, and it’s exciting to see so many young kids – especially girls – come to our games at the Allan Border Oval and the Gabba. Hopefully this growth will continue, and we’ll see women’s cricket go on to reach new heights and new audiences.
These days, I’m focused on becoming the best cricketer I can be, and love that I get to call this my ‘job’. I’m working hard on my ambidexterity, and my major goal is to be able to bowl with both arms as effectively as each other, across all levels of cricket.
Aside from playing professional sport, my biggest dream ever since I was a kid was to own a successful coffee shop. So my second job – working as a barista at a Brisbane café called Stalled Espresso – suits me to a T. I have a good memory for people’s names and orders, and love taking them by surprise by ‘predicting’ their skinny double-shot latte before they’ve had a chance to say it! I feel lucky to have not one but two jobs that I enjoy, and to be laying the foundation for a fulfilling life after cricket.
If there is one piece of advice I can give, it’s to not take life for granted, as you never know what’s around the corner. I’ve become acutely aware of this in recent years, and the shift in perspective that followed my diagnosis has made life seem more precious; everyday stuff seems more meaningful now. Also: surround yourself with good, positive people. The people around me are the real secret behind my success, and I’m grateful for them every single day.
Are you inspired by Jemma? Follow her lead and becoming a Kiss Goodbye to MS Champion by fundraising today!