At 17-years-old, Maddy Proud took to the court in her first top flight netball match for the Adelaide Thunderbirds. Ten years later, she stepped out for her 100th professional match as the leader for the NSW Swifts. It's been a journey full of ups and downs, including a season-ending knee injury and a premiership, but it's a career "rebirth" she credits for her continuing growth.
Making her debut for the Thunderbirds while completing her year 12 SACE (South Australian Certificate of Education), Proud was forced to grow up quickly as she balanced study, a professional netball career and a burgeoning social life.
It was a steep learning curve for the teenager. Her weekdays were spent at school and training, while her weekends would be spent travelling the country or across the Tasman to represent the Thunderbirds. She jokingly compares herself to fictional Disney character Hannah Montana, a teenager living a double life as a normal high schooler as well as a professional singer.
The days were hard and long, and at times overwhelming, but support from world class teammates, her school and her family put her on the path to an impressive career.
"There's so many things I learnt and I'm so grateful for my time in Adelaide, it's where I got my first opportunity and I learnt so much about myself," Proud told ESPN from her hotel in Melbourne where the Swifts are currently undergoing isolation.
"It was a really pivotal year, but also one of the most fun in my career and life.
"It was definitely not easy, and parts of it were all kinds of crazy at times, some of the things were overwhelming, I'm sure my parents would say there were nights when I came home and it was all too much; school work and the netball side of things. But I was really lucky that I had so much support, from school and then on the flipside when I was with the Thunderbirds. Sometimes at the airport I'd have Erin Bell helping with my PE homework, Nat helping with nutrition, Renee Ingles doing something else for me. So the family that we created there was super supportive.
"But I think being a 17-year-old and being put in such high pressure situations was definitely daunting at times and could have been scary, but I think the support I had around me made it that I was really able to be comfortable in those situations and I think that that's helped me in my career moving forwards."
Playing with her idol Nat von Bertouch as well as some of Australia's best in Renee Ingles and Bec Bulley, was a dream come true for a young Proud, who'd first picked up a netball at four-years-old. She took every opportunity to learn and was quickly brought under the wing of her older teammates as she continued to grow from her experiences.
"So much of what I learned was around work ethic. Bec, Renee and Nat are three of the most hard working people I've ever met, they all had their own different ways of helping me. Nat had been my idol, we played in the same position and so for me it was just watching her and trying to emulate her. Along the way she'd obviously give me a lot of tips and a lot of support and everything like that.
"Renee, we'd often play on each other at training and she actually took Cody [Lange] and I under her wing in those first few years, we almost became like her kids she'd call us, we'd go to her house for dinners and she'd take us to trainings and whenever I'd play on her she'd always give me that real in the moment feedback.
"Bec, I remember she pretty much ran the defensive end, she was just incredible in her netball knowledge and the amount of knowledge that she was willing to give to people, but again her work ethic, she's an absolute workhorse, so to now have her as a coach at the Swifts is pretty incredible and I knew she'd end up doing that.
"I'm super, super grateful for the incredible role models and support I've had throughout my career."
The 27-year-old would go on to play 44 matches across her six-year tenure at Adelaide, before she'd pack her bags and take a chance joining the Swifts for the inaugural season of Super Netball. It would be a "rebirth" according to Proud after her career began to stall at the Thunderbirds.
It was the hardest decision she'd ever have to make, leaving the comfort of an established position, her family and her home town. But it was also the best decision she could have made, growing into one of the best and well known players in the league as well as earning her place as joint captain of the Swifts.
"Coming to Sydney was like a rebirth in a way in terms of netball and I just love what we've been able to develop at the Swifts," Proud told ESPN.
"I feel like it was a real way for me to get out of my comfort zone, after playing for the Thunderbirds for a few years, it was sort of time, particularly from a netball perspective, to take that next step and I really felt I could do that coming to Sydney, a fresh environment and forcing myself out of that comfort zone.
"To this day it was probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make. I remember just feeling sick at night, juggling my options and working out what I was going to do. It took me a really long time to decide what to do and I think at the end of the day it came back to needing to come out of my comfort zone and I felt in terms of my netball career I'd started to plateau for a little while.
"I remember talking to people that I was close to at the time and they were telling me it had to be my choice and at the end of the day it was all up to me. It was so tough and took me a really long time, but it wasn't until I sat down and thought about it that everything at the Swifts just made sense; the team they had, their focus and the coaching staff at the time. Everything about the team made it feel like it was going to be the right decision and to this day I haven't looked back."
Joining the Swifts in 2017, Proud would solidify her place within the squad while she grew as a midcourter before she was rewarded for her efforts with the captaincy position in 2019. A natural leader she was the obvious choice, while she was in peak condition, and without doubt in the form of her career. But as her side built their position at the top of the Super Netball table, she would be struck down cruelly with an ACL injury during the Swifts round seven win over the Firebirds. It would prove to be another pivotal moment in her career as she watched from the sidelines as her teammates claimed the Super Netball title.
"It's interesting to look back on now. I learnt so much in that year and whilst I'd give anything to go back and be playing in that grand final I don't think I'd be the player or person I am today if it hadn't been for that injury.
"The start of that 2019 season I felt like I was playing the best netball of my career and in that sense it made it almost equally as easy but also equally as hard when it did happen, because at least I knew I was in great form, I'd started to build and started to make a name for myself as a player, so then when it was taken away it felt like I'd done all this hard work and I'd have to do it all over again.
"I really made a decision early on that I would give absolutely everything I could to the team and do whatever I could to help them win while I couldn't be on the court. My rehab gave me such a focus and I still lived each week as if it was game week; still travelling with the team, still going to games. It was exhausting and hard and everything like that, but I had a real focus on getting the team to where we needed to be."
Spending close to 12 months on the sideline rehabbing her injury, she was given the time to reflect on just how far she'd come on her journey and if her love for netball was still as strong. Luckily for Swifts fans, she couldn't love the game more and her time away has taught her to make every moment count.
"It taught me how much I missed netball and how much I love netball, and I think when I look back on my ten-year career I was in year eight of that at the time and sometimes you start to think 'do I love it that much, maybe I'd be ok without it', but as soon as I did it and as soon as I stopped playing I missed it so much.
"I think that was really reassuring for me that I was in the right place, doing the right thing, this is what I want to do and love to do. So it's like the idea you don't know what you've got till it's gone, that was definitely true for me. Now I go into every game with the mentality of what if this is my last game, everything can change in the world we live in right now but also with injuries or selection, so my mindset has shifted to make every moment count and leave no stone unturned."