BREE Mellberg can still recall the moment more than 20-years ago when her dream of representing Australia at the elite sporting level was hatched.
It was as a seven-year-old in Mrs Thomson's class at Spring Gully Primary School in the mid-1990s.
Asked by her teacher for a school assignment what she wanted to be when she grew up, Mellberg was quick to scrawl the words 'a scientist and an Olympian' on a piece of paper.
The 31-year-old is close to ticking off the first part of that equation, undertaking her PhD at La Trobe University in Bundoora, in the biochemistry and genetics/cancer field, with a particular focus on cell polarity.
The second was taken care of this week with confirmation of Mellberg's selection in the Australian Gliders women's wheelchair basketball team for next month's Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Her Paralympics debut next month will cap a 'rollercoaster ride' to the elite level for the Mildura-born, but Bendigo-raised athlete.
Mellberg's sporting journey could easily have taken a different route.
She got her start in organised sport as a four-year-old in gymnastics, advancing to her first national championships at age nine.
By her mid-teens, the daughter of Jennie and Leigh Mellberg had made the transition to competitive diving and within four months she had qualified for her first national competition.
Her switch to diving was fully vindicated in 2008, when was selected for the world junior championships in Germany.
On her return, Mellberg was chosen as 'a shadow squad member' to the team representing Australia at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. But yet another shift in focus - this time to full-time study - led to her retirement from the sport in 2010.
Life for Mellberg would take another and more dramatic turn three years later when she suffered a broken neck in a trampolining accident, which initially left her bedridden and eventually requiring the use of a wheelchair.
Following a lengthy rehabilitation, she first turned her attention to wheelchair tennis, but was forced to abandon plans of a future in the sport due to a damaged right hand.
It wasn't long before she had found a new sporting pursuit - wheelchair basketball.
It's fair to say that since first taking the court in 2015, Mellberg has never looked back.
Proving as adept at basketball as any of her past sporting passions, Mellberg was quick to make her Women's National Wheelchair Basketball League debut with the Kilsyth Cobras in 2016, and one year later made her Australian Gliders debut at the Osaka Cup in Japan.
She was again selected for the World Super Cup in Germany and the Netherlands in 2017 and has diligently spent most of her time away from the science lab since chasing down Paralympics selection.
For Mellberg, who is in Perth for a Gliders training camp, her selection brought a mix of excitement, relief and sheer jubilation, with the team having initially qualified for the Games back in late-2019, but having had to wait nearly 20 months for the chance to take on the world's best in Tokyo, after they were postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's certainly been a very long road and it's been incredibly challenging with the delay of the Games, but I think now it's time to take a big breath and start counting down the days, hoping there are no big upsets between now and when we leave," she said.
"It's been such a rollercoaster ride, but something I will always remember for sure.
"There's been a lot of early mornings over the years - it's been a big effort. A big effort by everyone really.
"As an athlete, you can do as much as you can, but it's all those supporting people around that make a really big difference to you to be able to perform at that level and survive."
A proud moment for Mellberg, one of nine debutants in the 11-player team, is a gratifying one for all involved with the national team, which despite a brilliant history at the Paralympics, surprisingly missed qualifying for the 2016 Games in Rio.
The Gliders were medallists at four consecutive Paralympics from 2000-2012 - three silver and one bronze.
Mellberg, who will wear the number 10 jersey for the Gliders, said the missed opportunity at Rio and the long road to Tokyo had only steeled their resolve to do well.
"Strangely enough it was back in 2019 (qualification), so much has happened since then - it almost seems like a lifetime ago," she said.
"I feel these are the Games where all the expectations go out the window - I think every athlete, first and foremost, just wants to get to the starting line. That's going to be the first challenge with the strict rules around COVID.
"After that, it is about being able to put your best foot forward. There are going to be so many stresses on all the teams when it comes to being isolated from each other and from the area within the village to try and keep all the athletes safe.
"We just need to take every day as it comes.
"We are currently ranked ninth (in the world) and we definitely want to improve on that; just how much we can, I think it depends on the day.
"I really do think these will be the Games of upsets and surprises, given there are so many unknowns that we will have to contend with."
With her seat on the plane to Tokyo booked and another new opportunity set to open, Mellberg could not help but reflect on that day back in grade two when she made known her desire to be a scientist and an Olympian.
"I have it scribbled on a piece of paper I've saved, with big curly letters about what I wanted to be," she said.
"Back then everyone was like, oh, that's really nice.
"To say now I have done both is pretty awesome for me. Most people don't have their dreams come true, or their childhood dreams at least.
"I feel very fortunate this opportunity has come up, I never thought after my injury that I would get another opportunity to compete at an elite level.
"Because of that, I really feel this is such a phenomenal opportunity and I am going to embrace the experience as much as possible."
The Paralympics will run from August 24 to September 5.
I really do think these will be the Games of upsets and surprises, given there are so many unknowns that we will have to contend with.- Bree Mellberg
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