DEB Madgen first knew her daughter, Tess, of Williamstown, had something special all the way back when she coached her mixed under-eight side, noting she “had a feistiness about her”.
It was a feistiness that was required for along journey that saw Tess play in the WNBA and in Europe before landing back at the Melbourne Boomers, and ultimately making her first Australian Opals Olympic team.
Tess’ dad, Gene, said determination was a trait that was present in all of his kids, starting with his oldest daughter Carly, who is now a psychologist, and Tess’ brothers Jack and Ben, who play for Collingwood in the AFL and South East Melbourne Phoenix in the NBL.
“They weren’t naturally gifted, but they worked out pretty early in the piece that whatever they lacked in athleticism and natural ability, they would make up by grinding and working hard to get better,” he said.
“There were other kids out there better than them, but they didn’t have that determination and raw perseverance.
“When Tess didn’t get picked for Rio, part of me did think she might have missed her chance – timing is everything in life, she’s no spring chicken anymore and she was dealing with massive amounts of rehab from knee and ankle reconstructions. But she had a great WNBL season last year and the door opened again.”
While it is an incredible achievement for the family to have so much sporting success, Deb admits that the transition from hands-on sporting parent to an empty nester made it difficult to watch from the sidelines at times.
“Honestly I really struggled – Tess went to the Australian Institute of Sport, Ben went to college and Carly moved into the city for university within a year or two,” she said.
“We keep in contact every week and we have family chats and stuff like that, and we’re always going to be supportive of each other, but I think they get a lot of their strength from each other.
“They’re all on very similar journeys, and (Carly) is a psychologist, so they have a lot of mental and emotional support from each other.
“That’s the biggest change I think – it’s not just our parenting anymore, it’s a full family thing, which is great.”
With so many sporting milestones and achievements ticked off amongst all the kids, Gene and Deb said the “wow moments” never get old, but that the real joy they get is from the journey they’re on.
“When Ben first got to the 36ers and he was just sitting at the end of the bench, we would go and watch and just sit there thinking ‘wow’,” Gene said.
“Then when Tess got into some state sides and then was playing for Australia, it was another ‘wow’, and then when she won silver at the World Championships in Tenerife, it was ‘wow’.
“We’ve never taken anything for granted because we know that your career can end in a split second, so just enjoy the moments when they come and appreciate the journey to get there.”
Gene also said he believes Tess is the first person from Williamstown to ever make the Olympics, while the Madgens (Tess and Ben) are just one of three families to ever represent the Australian men’s and women’s sides on the hardwood, along with Blicavs (Andris and Karen), and the Daltons (Brad, Marcus and Karen).