Gender not a barrier for Browne
After spending four years of her life playing elite water polo as part of the Australian squad, Eliesha Browne had nothing left to prove when she returned home to Geraldton two years ago.
With a list of national and international achievements under her belt, including a Junior World Championship bronze medal and months spent training with the Rio Olympics squad, nobody could blame the 25-year-old for taking a step back from the sport.
However this was the last thing on Browne’s mind and she spent the 2016/17 Geraldton Water Polo Association season playing in not one but two A-grade leagues.
After coaching the B52s men’s team the previous year, Browne approached the Association and asked if she could play with the boys this year.
“I was already going to play in the women’s league but I didn’t want to watch the men from the sidelines again,” Browne said.
“I wanted to challenge myself and play with a great bunch of guys that I have known for a long time.
“I knew it would be difficult at times because men are a lot stronger than women but I love the competition and knew it would make me play a hard game.”
After a short trial period, coaches and referees voted to let Browne play with the men.
“At the start a few people said no, they didn’t want to play against a woman and I found that completely understandable because it is a contact sport,” Browne said.
“Even my partner, who also plays for the B52s, said I could only play if I was on his team.
“I told everyone I was happy to take on the responsibility of everything that comes with water polo.
“I know exactly how players kick, scratch and pull and this happens in all levels and in both male and female games.
“To start off with a few of the players didn’t know where to grab when they came up against me but they changed their tune pretty quickly when they realised I was there to give it back just as good as I got.”
While water polo requires an impressive level of fitness Browne said it was also a game of minds.
“Playing against the men you learn when to go hard and when to conserve your energy,” she said.
“It’s about being smart - I had to avoid getting in situations where I was going to get beaten by strength.
Browne spent 10 years living in Perth, training with both the West Australian Institute of Sport while completing a nursing degree.
“Elite polo was a lot of fun but it takes a toll,” she said.
“For a little while there I fell out of love with the sport and it was time to focus on my nursing career and return to Geraldton.
“My family and my partner have always been up here so it made sense to come back.
“I still always played but it was nice to take it back a notch and enjoy the other parts of life.”
Browne believes water polo has a bright future in Geraldton.
“There is so much talent showing up in all of the grades,” she said.
“It is good that we have a lot of juniors to bring up because there will always be players who go away to uni, leaving spots to fill.
“There is a huge age range in each team and everyone bounces off each other.
“I am now playing with girls whose parents I used to play with which is amazing to see.”
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