It was a few short weeks before the start of the 2021 Sal’s New Zealand National Basketball League. After the aborted season the previous year due to Covid, hopes were high that the squad the Southland Sharks had assembled had a real chance to challenge for another national title.
Alex Pledger knew it. The big man was getting set for a fifth season with the Sharks and with the quality of talent around him, he was filled with excitement for the season ahead. Twelve hours later he was a cancer patient.
Today, a little over two years removed from that fateful day of diagnosis, Pledger is readying himself for what will be a remarkable return to the basketball court, signing on with the Sharks for the second half of the 2023 Sal’s NBL season.
“To be able to repay a little bit of that support that the Sharks showed me and hopefully be able to do something meaningful on court this year, I’m really looking forward to that opportunity,” Pledger said.
“I’m feeling great. I’ve been back in training, trying to see if the legs have anything left in them. It’s not going too badly, and I’m really excited for the opportunity and getting down there.”
The former Tall Black and veteran of both the Australian and New Zealand NBLs has made a quite remarkable recovery and as an ambassador for Bowel Cancer New Zealand, together with wife Bailee, the 36-year-old can look back with immense pride on how he and his support network attacked his treatment.
“I’m cancer free, basically. The first operation, the chemo treatment after that and the second operation I had in November last year all went as well as you’d hope, and the body has bounced back well.”
“It’s hard to put into words. When the doctors analyse everything, do all the scans and tests and put a plan together, sometimes plans don’t work the way you want them to. In this particular case they did, but it definitely wasn’t easy.”
“It was scary and it took a long time and even when you get the news that particular parts had gone well, there’s always the fear that you go in one day and they tell you something that you don’t want to hear but fortunately so far that hasn’t happened and I’m really pleased with how it went,” Pledger said.
Beating cancer is one thing. Returning to the basketball court is another entirely, but it was always a key focus for Alex during his recovery.
“I always wanted to get back out there and being able to be given that chance, I’m just really thankful for that. And for it to be happening in May when it’s Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is really special.”
Pledger is taking part in Bowel Cancer New Zealand’s Move your Butt 2023 challenge, to help fund Bowel Cancer NZ's free patient support services like physio, counselling & financial assistance.
To make a donation or to find out more, please visit: https://bowelcancernz.grassrootz.com/move-your-butt-2023/alex-pledger.