It sounds like tennis: the familiar ‘tock’ of racquet on ball, the gentle pad of each bounce, the squeak of rubber as players move across the court. Another regular training day at Melbourne Park, Australia's tennis capital, but the squeaks aren’t from shoes and come instead from Luba Josevski’s rubber tyres. Luba is an ANZ employee, Young Victorian of the Year, and a star of wheelchair tennis.
Thirty-one year old Luba has had her ups and downs, but the regenerative power of sport, and Luba’s own competitive nature have helped drive her from the brink of a life limiting physical disability, to becoming a champion athlete.
“Sport is completely under-rated,” she says. “I can say with 100 percent certainty that it has changed my life.”
Moment of Truth
When Luba was 12, she and her family faced a serious, life-altering decision: suffering from a blood disorder – bilateral tibial hemimelia –since birth, and having already undergone numerous surgeries and treatment, doctors advised that her condition was so severe she would need to amputate both her legs to protect her spine.
“At the time, I was young and I wasn't thinking about the future,” says Luba, now a Dispute Analyst at ANZ. “I couldn't face such a big decision at that age and I just chose not to deal with it. But that moment of truth always loomed.”
As her condition deteriorated and life became more constrained by her disability and the pressure on her back, Luba finally made the toughest decision of her life. At 15, she decided to go ahead with the operation.
“I couldn’t go in halfway. I felt I had the maturity to deal with the repercussions.”
With support from family and friends and an indomitable spirit all of her own, Luba healed and grew in confidence with her new physique. Soon enough, she was ready to try new experiences when she discovered tennis at the age of 21.
Luba admits that casual play quickly became an obsession. “Once my competitive side kicked in, I couldn’t stay off court. You can always get a better forehand, backhand or serve.”
Next came the wheelchair tennis tournaments, first on the domestic circuit and then internationally. Luba did well enough to join the circuit and – with a highest world ranking of 27 (to date) – Luba has played in tournaments all over the world representing Australia in international team events.
An inspiration to many
Luba has been a role model in the sport and has shared her story with many people living with physical disabilities. Her passion and ability to inspire others earned her another title when she was named Young Victorian of the Year earlier this year, after someone who heard her speak on the radio decided to nominate her for the accolade.
“I love Melbourne and I love Victoria. Having the award presented by Melbourne Mayor Robert Doyle was an extra special moment, especially as I’ve been a fan for a long while.”
She says it marks something of a coming of age for disabled sports, raising the profile of athletes who are dealing with serious physical or intellectual disabilities.
“It’s an opportunity to speak out about how we can better integrate those with disabilities in wider society. I want to get everybody involved.”
Her employer, ANZ, is keen to help facilitate the next part of Luba’s courageous journey: “ANZ has been more supportive than I could have imagined.”
“ANZ was on the Paralympic list as being an organisation keen to employ people with disabilities. I spoke to them, laid out my situation, including the need to spend 15 to 16 weeks a year on tour, and they were encouraging and supportive.”
Game, set and match
Out on the practice court, Luba cuts an impressive figure as she rifles shot after shot over the net. Our Young Victorian of the Year has plenty to teach us all about facing life’s numerous challenges.
“We all have perceived limitations,” she says. “I think the trick is to keep pushing the boundaries, and encouraging those around you to achieve their goals too.”