White Fern returns as health woes overcome
Nicola Browne is returning to international cricket with a renewed energy she never imagined she'd find.
The 28-year-old White Ferns all-rounder retired from the top level in August last year, saying her desire had disappeared, but due to a new diagnosis and treatment, she is back and can't wait to be involved again.
Browne, who in 2010 was the ICC Women's World T20 player of the series and ranked sixth in the world bowling rankings, was originally diagnosed with TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder) in January last year.
However, by October, after seeing another doctor, she was told she also had coeliac disease – a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine when gluten is consumed and can result in failure to thrive, and fatigue.
That was the answer to why Browne, a veteran of 108 one-day games and 34 Twenty20s for New Zealand, felt the "flame had kind of extinguished".
"One [TMJ] caused pain, which depleted my energy, the other one [coeliac disease] just depleted my energy," she said.
A major downside for Browne was having to change her diet to become gluten-free.
"There was a lot of people gluten-free around me and I was just like: man, imagine having to live like that, not being able to have the bread and Weet-Bix and pizzas and pasta. I just couldn't imagine it. I was quite upset after that because anyone that knows me, knows how much I love my food.
"It totally feels like I hail from Italy, the amount of pizza and pasta I used to love."
But now the likes of pizza are not missed because she doesn't remember what they taste like.
After retiring, Browne continued to play domestic cricket for the Northern Spirit, wanting to mentor others, and by December, with renewed vigour and success, people asked her what the heck she was doing not playing internationally.
She chatted to some close friends in the White Ferns, then a selector rang her and Browne got in touch with coach Gary Stead.
Browne's treatment involves a two-year process and she is fortunate not to suffer from some of the worst symptoms.
"But I don't react, so I've got to be extra careful because I can't tell when I've eaten it," she said of the gluten.
"So I've got to keep my blood tests going to ensure it hasn't snuck back in."
After retiring, Browne, with help from the New Zealand Players Association, secured her first fulltime job, as a digital project manager with economic development agency Opportunity Hamilton, with her contract running until June.
Being in business has opened her eyes to the possibilities ahead in cricket.
One of her aims is to become a professional, most likely through sponsorship from businesses and utilising their global networks as "sport's a global language". "We can be smarter about how we go about things, there's not always just one way to achieve that," Browne said.
She also now has a wider view and wants to help others after being more "selfish" previously.
"One thing over the last year that's really changed for me is that it's not about me any more, it's about others, other athletes, other youth, other women, just other people wanting to achieve their goals.
"And if I can provide a pathway that paves the way a little bit more, then hopefully people can get to where I got to faster, and then excel past me, that's kind of where the passion lies now."