Canberra netballer Jemma Johnston with her son Samuel. Photo: Melissa Adams
Canberra defender Jemma Johnston will swap nappy changes and bottles for a chance to win a third State League title, using son Samuel as her inspiration for a dream end to her netball comeback.
Six-month-old Samuel has been adopted as Canberra's mascot for its bid to win a third title in four years, but first the team needs to beat Tuggeranong in the preliminary final at Lyneham on Friday night.
He has been at almost every training session and game this season, and Johnston started plotting her return to the court just days after the birth of her first child.
But Johnston, 31, says this season could be her last in the State League as she considers retirement to focus on family and work.
"It's good just having Sam there and knowing he'll probably be at sporting events his whole life ... he's been at basketball and netball since he was days old," Johnston said.
"It's cool to look over and see him on the sideline cheering and having no idea what's going on. He sits there with some little headphones on and is held by whatever coach is free.
"It's good when you win because it's all worth the sleepless nights and going to training. But when you lose, it doesn't matter either because Samuel makes it all worth it."
Johnston hails Canberra Capitals star Abby Bishop as her "idol" for being able to juggle her basketball career and looking after nine-month-old niece Zala.
But soon after Samuel entered the world Johnston was already starting to dream about her own journey back to the court.
She quit Canberra's State League season last year after just one game, when she found out she was pregnant.
She had to watch from the sidelines as her teammates fell short of winning their third title in a row, when they were trounced 53-39 in the grand final against Arawang.
The winner of the Canberra-Tuggeranong battle will play Arawang next week, and Johnston is on board for revenge, slowly building herself back up to play a key role in Canberra's premiership ambitions.
The goal keeper took advice from WNBL veteran Michelle Cosier to avoid rushing into a comeback and potential injuries after a nine-month pregnancy.
Cosier has two sons but was plagued by injury after making her basketball comeback following the birth of her first child.
"Abby is my idol, I don't know how she does it," Johnston said. "Having a child makes you appreciate sport.
"I was thinking about a comeback straight away. Sport is such a big part of my life and I missed it every day. My feet would be jittery when I was sitting on the sideline.
"It's not that safe to come back quickly. Michelle was telling me, 'Don't do it too soon.' I started off with half training sessions, some pre-season, and my coach has been building me up quarter by quarter and I finally played a full game last week."
Arawang beat Canberra in the major semi-final 45-41, with Canberra surrendering a first-half lead.
"This could be the last game for me," Johnston said. "I've said I'm going to retire the last three years and I haven't done it yet, so who knows?
"But I get a twitch every year and think, 'One more season.' It's good for the other girls in the team to see that you can do everything, you can have a career, have your baby and have sport as well.
"It puts a lot of things in perspective, for me and the team as well. And I do try to mother the girls a bit these days."
ACT STATE LEAGUE NETBALL
Friday: Preliminary final - Canberra v Tuggeranong at Lyneham Netball Centre, 7.30pm.