When Jemma Barsby first started to get a sore shoulder, she thought little of it. She’s an athlete after all and had just bowled close to 40 overs in a weekend preparing for the inaugural Women’s Big Bash. The 20 year old simply shrugged it off as muscle strain.
Then her fingers went numb.
After weeks of the same problem Jemma decided to visit her local GP who ran a series of tests.
“I didn’t have my Mum or Dad with me at the time because you go in there thinking it’s going to be nothing, it’s just for a sore shoulder,” Jemma tells Sportette.
“I walked in there and the doctor said ‘we’re still going to be friends right?’ and I started to get really nervous and worried about what she was going to say.”
She told Jemma she has Multiple Sclerosis.
“I was trying not to cry to be honest, because I don’t really like to cry in front of people and then when she said to still have your goals in life and not to give up on them. That’s when it sort of hit me that it was pretty serious.”
You go in there thinking it’s going to be nothing, it’s just for a sore shoulder
Up until then Jemma’s goals had always centred around one thing, cricket. The all-rounder is a lethal off-spinner who can bowl with both hands and was just 15 when she made her first-class debut for Queensland in the National Women’s Cricket League.
It came as no surprise how quickly she rose through the elite ranks, cricket is in Jemma’s blood. Her father, Trevor opened the batting for Queensland back in the 90s, scoring a century in the Bulls first ever Sheffield Shield win and then turned Queensland coach in the following years.
“Pretty much ever since I started walking, I was playing cricket,” Jemma tells Sportette.
“There’s a photo of Dad when he retired, we were sitting down on the pitch and I went straight for the ball instead of getting a photo with my Dad and brother, so it’s pretty much meant to be.”
Jemma was soon selected to play for the Brisbane Heat in the inaugural rebel Women’s Big Bash, the new stage set to showcase women’s cricket like never before. The diagnosis came just months before the opening match and rocked Jemma to the core.
“I left (the doctor’s surgery) and I was just crying. I went out to my car and then of course on the way home I had to get petrol so that was the worst! I had to walk into the petrol station and pay crying,” Jemma says laughing.
“It was hard seeing all my family, they all came over in the afternoon and had another cry session.”
Neurological tests confirmed Jemma’s M.S is mild at the moment, but there’s no telling when the symptoms will escalate.
“It’s the unknown really. I’ll keep living life and then the symptoms might not get worse till I’m 50 or it might happen in a month or so,”
“I’ve just got to keep trying living life and not think about it too much and yeah if it happens, it happens and go from there.”
Heat is one factor that can bring on symptoms which is something Jemma has to constantly monitor playing a summer sport like cricket. It’s something her teammates keep an eye on as well.
“They’ve been really good and just treat me like everyone else. But then when we play our 12th man will always come out with an ice vest during the drinks break as well as a neck ice wrap.”
Cricket and her Big Bash side have become a an outlet for Jemma as she continues to learn more about M.S. Six months have passed since her diagnosis and, in a positive sign, there’s been no change in her symptoms.
Positivity is something Jemma isn’t short of, as we chat, teammate Ash Barty hits a ball in the nearby nets and sends it straight our way, narrowly missing us.
“Good one Ashleigh! You’ll do anything to get on camera,” Jemma yells the typical cricket sledge out to the nets laughing,
“Don’t worry Sam, I saw it coming.”
And that’s Jemma, still laughing, sledging, enjoying life and her cricket just like she always has.
“I just keep thinking there are people worse off than me, there are people in hospitals right now, there are people in wheelchairs that aren’t able to play cricket at all so I just have to keep enjoying my cricket with the girls and keep living life.”
Cricket is in Jemma’s blood and it’ll always be in her life.
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