Angela (Ange) Reakes says her return to professional cricket just shy of four months postpartum might seem “mildly crazy”, but it’s now in the realm of possibility.
The stars aligned for the Canberra athlete, who gave birth to her beautiful little girl Winnie via caesarean section in August last year.
Having played cricket from age five, Ange worked through a talent pathway as an underage representative, playing for the New South Wales Breakers and the Melbourne Stars before joining the ACT Meteors in the Women’s National Cricket League (WNCL) and the Sydney Sixers in the Women’s Big Bash League.
So when her fiancee Courtney and she discussed starting a family, naturally, her passion for cricket factored in.
“COVID had ruined my chances of playing cricket the year prior and I didn’t want to be lost to the game,” Ange says.
“Courtney has been exceptional at sharing the load. We share the overnight stints even though she’s working full time.
“It has allowed me to get my training in, sneaking it in while Winnie naps or early mornings while Courtney gets ready for work. Sometimes we both take Winnie on runs, and Courtney pushes the pram so I can focus.”
This was a corner piece of the puzzle that would pave the way to a jaw-droppingly quick return to the game less than four months later and her first WNCL match a couple of weeks after that.
While embracing the high-performance mindset typical of professional athletes, Ange concedes the results surprised even her. But she also knows what went into it.
“I’ve been blessed in my journey back to the sport,” she says.
“I didn’t have too many issues with the pregnancy, I didn’t have a labour and I wasn’t able to breastfeed long which, while certainly not planned, meant my hormone profile returned quickly.
“Then at about 14 weeks, Winnie started sleeping six to eight hours a night.
“All those things made it easier to return to the physical demands of the sport.”
Acknowledging she’s had a “dream run”, Ange says there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach for a postpartum return to sport.
In her case, her other job as a qualified exercise physiologist and strength and conditioning coach helped.
“I understand progressive return-to-play mechanics from a physical aspect,” she says.
“I also got myself an excellent women’s physiotherapist in Canberra, who really helped with my first focus – healing.
“Then there were clear milestones. First, being able to run a certain number of kilometres per week, then doing ‘changes of direction’, anticipated and unanticipated, then gently reintroducing more complex skills starting with throwdowns with a bat and throwing balls.
“Eventually it became about upping the ante by 10 to 20 per cent each week until I reached the parameters I needed to play professional sports.”
Ange says even now, she’s not yet back to her “peak fitness”, but that support from Cricket Australia and her team has been a pivotal motivator.
“I’ve always felt my team has had my back. They call me ‘super mum’,” she says.
“One day I was talking to our captain and she told me none of the girls had questioned the time I was putting in or my efforts. They just want me to do the best I can.
“It’s fourteen females empowering another female, just like that, no questions asked.”
In Ange’s experience, the world of professional sports has changed profoundly for women over the decades.
For example, the days of $2500 contracts that barely covered the cost of the requisite insurance, are well behind her. But she reckons remuneration isn’t the only key marker of an evolving field.
She recalls vividly a conversation with Australian sevens star and Olympic gold medallist Sharni Williams about what drove her to become a prominent member of the LGBTQ+ sporting community.
“We both grew up in a very different time in women’s professional sports,” she says.
“She said to me, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’, and that stuck with me.
“There’s a lot of protective language around women returning to professional sports after having a baby and 90 per cent of the time, it’s coming from a good place. But it’s a largely unknown territory and I think in a way, it can hold them back.
“Everyone’s experience as a mum is so different and if I can help another mother’s journey, then that’s awesome. I’m so excited to see where this space can grow and what other mums can achieve.”