One of the Hampden league's most decorated, long-serving netballers, who overcame serious injury in the twilight of her career, is calling time.
TRACEY Baker is ready to stroll into netball retirement on her own terms after working her way back from a career-threatening injury.
The Hampden league champion feared her playing days would be cut short prematurely when she suffered a serious foot break in 2017.
MORE SPORT: Finals hope: League reveals its plans
But the two-time best-and-fairest winner honed in on her rehabilitation and got back on the court the following season.
Now Baker, a mother-of-four who turns 47 on Monday, is content to walk away after 448 open-grade games across a 32-year career.
The Camperdown icon refused to let the worst injury of her career, which happened at an age when many were already years into retirement, force her off the court permanently.
"I was happy in myself to get back after a bad foot injury and doing my Lisfranc," Baker told The Standard.
"I didn't want to go out like that and wanted to see if I could play."
Baker hurt herself against South Warrnambool in May 2017 and was bed-ridden for six weeks.
She used a scooter to zip around at the netball each Saturday and then had surgery to remove plates in the October.
By Christmas she was back running.
"At the time I was devastated. I remember sitting on the couch after I had my operation thinking 'oh my god, my whole life has just changed? What am I going to do without netball?'," Baker reflected.
"Then the surgeon said 'if you'd like to play sport again, there's no reason why you can't'.
"He said we'd have to take the plates and the screws out and that's what they did six months later."
Baker credits her due diligence for her inspired comeback.
"I did all the right things. I did all I was told to give myself the best chance to walk normally again," she said.
"I went to physio every week - that is what you do to mend things properly."
Baker's commitment to her rehabilitation came as no surprise to long-time teammate Leah Sinnott.
"She is so passionate about the sport and because of that passion, she did everything possible to get her body in a position where she could continue to play," she said.
"I remember when I was going through some injury niggles (throughout my career) and she'd be like 'come on, let's go up to the lake and do recovery'.
"I'd be like 'no, it hurts too much' but she went every week without fail."
The chance to play regular netball alongside her daughters Chelsea, 20, and Krystal, 19, also spurred Baker on.
They did so in 2019 and 2021.
Baker, who is married to Simon and also has two sons Paddy, 17, and Tom, 15, said COVID-19 wiping out the 2020 season forced her to think of her long-term playing future.
The stop-start nature of this season solidified her decision.
"At the start of the year I said to (coach) Brooke (Richardson) 'I reckon this is going to be my last year' and the first few rounds I had really tight calves and Achilles," she said.
"I found out from Charlie Bradshaw, who is a chiropractor, from my foot injury in 2017 that my calf on that leg wasn't as strong.
"I had to build up my calves to take pressure off my Achilles. It is just too hard stopping and starting when you're older."
A desire to see Camperdown's next generation filter through the ranks also played a part.
"You don't want to keep young ones out of the game and the last few years that is what I was thinking, 'am I too old?'," Baker said.
"People would say to me 'you're a long time not playing and if they're going to be good enough, they have to push you out'.
"But they have to get the chance to push me out and if they don't get on the court, how do they push me out?
"That was a bit of a reason behind the decision, the time was right."
Baker, who also had a stint at Cobden in the mid-1990s and a pitstop at Warrnambool and District league outfit Panmure in the mid-2000s, was to play her final game on August 21 before regional Victoria was thrown back into lockdown.
Instead she sat at home last Sunday and watched "a humbling" 45-minute video tribute and "bawled".
Baker said countless people, including her sister Jocelyn Fitzgerald, Sinnott, Maggie Conheady and Emily Stephens, helped produce the keepsake.
It featured those the Camperdown-raised sportswoman, who rates mum Norma Fitzgerald as her biggest fan, played with and against.
"I watched it last Sunday night and bawled," she said.
"It was very overwhelming. Yes, I didn't win a premiership but there were lots of special moments and great memories over 30-odd years.
"I played with 137 different players at Camperdown.
"Leah Sinnott, Emily Stephens, Emma Wright and I played about 14 seasons together in A grade at Camperdown."
Sinnott said she was grateful to play alongside Baker, a dynamic midcourter, as long as she did.
"She imparts such a strong passion and love for the game and that radiates and it's why everyone loves playing with her as well," she said.
"She is probably one of those players who despite how hard she plays and goes at it, she is never aggressive in that type of way, never nasty.
"Some people can be so passionate that they cross that line but she has always had a balance in the way she's been able to tackle the game."
Baker's "go, go, go" nature meant countless opponents struggled to keep pace with her.
"She never had any drop off. You knew you could always rely on her to be at the same pace and intensity for a full game," Sinnott said.
"They will miss her presence on the court and the way she brings people together, they will notice that even more so."
What does retirement hold for Baker?
Golf and cricket are on the agenda but don't be surprised to see her at Leura Oval in the winters to come, playing a part off the court.
Why? The social connections she made through netball will continue to draw her back through the gates.
"I can walk down the street in Warrnambool and someone will say 'g'day' and the kids will say who's that?'," Baker said.
"(I'd say) it's such and such and she plays for North Warrnambool.
"Sport is a great social way to meet people and make life-long friends."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.