FOR Gabe Richards, receiving WNBL life membership is a recognition for those who have supported her just as much as it is her longevity in the competition.
Richards will be awarded life membership on Saturday at the Bendigo Spirit’s final game of the WNBL season against the Canberra Capitals at the Bendigo Stadium.
“The life membership is a really nice honour in terms of all the time, effort and commitment that you put in being recognised,” Richards said on Thursday.
“But it’s also great for everyone who has been involved, particularly my family from an early age. It has certainly been a long road.”
Richards has played about 270 games in the WNBL – the bulk of which have been with the Spirit.
After playing two seasons with the Australian Institute of Sport Richards later joined the Spirit as a foundation player in 2007-08, going on to set a host of records for the club.
READ MORE – Gabe Richards joins Bendigo Spirit
Richards holds the Spirit records for:
• games played – 234;
• points scored – 2930;
• rebounds – 1835; and
• blocks – 150.
She also ranks fourth for steals (119) and third for assists (330).
But after a decade of grind in the WNBL, combined with a mix of SEABL and netball through the winter, Richards is enjoying a season away from the WNBL and the chance to freshen up her 34-year-old body.
“It has been a long time since I’ve had a break, especially over Christmas, and it had been a hard slog for a couple of years with the Spirit and I just didn’t think my body would be up for it this season,” Richards said.
The life membership is a really nice honour in terms of all the time, effort and commitment- Gabe Richards
“I’ve missed being around a group of friends, but I haven’t missed the game so much just for the fact that I haven’t had the chance to have a break or go away and do family stuff for such a long time.
“Last year at Christmas I got two days back home (Seymour), but this year over that period it was really nice not to have to be somewhere or do something basketball-related.
“Last week we had a family holiday down the beach, so to be able to be out in the sun and not have to worry about your energy levels and getting ready to play on the weekend has been really nice.
“Even the little things like eating dinner at a normal time has been a bit of a revelation because I was so used to training late.”
Richards will be one of three life memberships being awarded on Saturday.
Also receiving WNBL life membership will be Nat Hurst and Kelly Wilson.
Hurst is in her first season with the Spirit after previously playing in seven championship teams with Canberra, while Wilson is now playing with Canberra, but has a strong connection to Bendigo.
Like Richards, Wilson was a member of the Spirit’s back-to-back championship teams of 2012-13 and 2013-14, with the pair close friends from their days together playing in under-14 squads.
“It’s awesome I’ll be getting it alongside Kelly, and having Kelsey (Griffin, former team-mate now playing with Canberra) there as well will also mean a lot, too,” Richards said.
“Kelly and I started playing together in the under-14s… I was from Seymour and she was from the Gippsland region and we’d come together for camps.
“Because we’re the same age group, basically we tried out for teams with each other all the way through, so it will be really good to share this with her on Saturday.”
And that sums up how Richards’ reflects on her WNBL career – not that she’s shut the door on the possibility of returning to the court next season.
“I don’t necessarily consider success based on wins. When you play the sport for so long there’s so many wins and losses along the way,” said Richards, who along with Wilson was also part of the Bendigo Braves’ women SEABL championship team last year.
“Obviously, it’s fantastic when you win championships, but really, it comes down to the people you play with and the friendships you make.
“It’s all about the relationships because sport can be so fickle… you can be champion one day and then at the bottom the next.”
As for weighing up the possibility of returning for the Bendigo Spirit next season: “There’s a lot of things to consider… how it would fit in with work, how my body is feeling, whether I think I could actually still compete, who will be coaching and what sort of team is put together,” Richards said.
“We’ll just have to see what happens.”
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