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Mya's medley on song for Birmingham

Frustrated in the pool last year, top Kiwi medley swimmer Mya Rasmussen sought a new start in Brisbane - and now she's off to her first Commonwealth Games.

Burger's down but not defeated by unlucky break

Silver Fern Karin Burger will watch the Commonwealth Games with her leg in a cast, but the outstanding defender is dead-set on returning for the World Cup defence in her native South Africa, she tells Merryn Anderson.

Nana and Tui help Black Ferns wing love rugby again

Caught in a downward spiral after a major concussion, Black Ferns scoring machine Ayesha Leti-I’iga thought she’d never wear the black jersey again. But with the support of family – and a close bond with Ruby Tui – she’s back to her explosive best.

On your marks: Gymnast clears her highest bar

In part 2 of our series On Your Marks, taking Commonwealth Games athletes back to high school, rhythmic gymnast Havana Hopman remembers a NZ team-mate who set her a high bar at Baradene College.

Kiwi diving teen's in sync for Games debut

The youngest athlete in NZ's Commonwealth Games team, 16-year-old Maggie Squire is ready to make a big splash in the diving world. And she has a "good mate" who'll be right beside her, mid-air.

With a four-year age gap and a significant difference in height, they’re an unlikely duo for synchronised diving. 

But 16-year-old Maggie Squire and Frazer Tavener (20) make a great pair - called up to compete at their first Commonwealth Games after just a year diving together. 

They've also become good mates, and are looking to follow the same path outside the pool, to become engineers. 

Tavener and Squire will compete in the 3m mixed synchro in Birmingham - with the extremely technical event included on the diving programme for the first time at the Games.

Squire, who's the youngest athlete in New Zealand's Commonwealth Games team so far, loves the event despite its difficulty.

“It’s definitely a higher standard you have to dive to," she says. "I have to try really hard to jump so I can get to the same height as Frazer."

For Tavener, it’s often a case of using less power and height so their dives are perfectly synchronised. He can adjust the fulcrum on his board for the stiffness.

“I have to make the board really stiff when I’m doing synchro just to try and keep everything in time, keep the height the same and make sure we hit the water at the same time,” he says. 

For such a recent pairing, Squire and Tavener gel very well together - both in diving and outside the sport. 

“When we started doing it, we didn’t realise we’d actually be quite good at it. So it was a little bit of a surprise,” Squire laughs. 

Tavener agrees. “We get along quite well, so it’s going to be fantastic to be able to share that experience with someone I’m good mates with.” 

Squire and Tavener competing their mixed synchro dives at the national championships in May. 

Squire, now in Year 12 at Takapuna Grammar School, has managed to balance diving with her academics, even doing Level 3 subjects this year in order to graduate a year early. 

She’s hoping to study engineering next year (but considering a gap year first), after being inspired by Tavener, who’s studying part-time at Auckland University. 

Tavener is full of praise for his quiet and modest diving partner.

“She is incredibly smart, really driven, both in diving and outside of diving. She’s also really kind to other people as well, really wants the best for other people,” he says. 

Squire is competing in the 1m and 3m springboard in Birmingham - two events she recently won at the Diving New Zealand national championships. 

She started making a splash on the world scene in late 2019, at the age of 14, in her first FINA Grand Prix events. In Kuala Lumpur she made the semifinals, finishing sixth in the 3m springboard.

Just as her senior diving career was taking off, Covid lockdown hit and Squire was limited to training over Zoom. 

“It was definitely really difficult; those are some pretty big comps [the Grand Prix] and they were an amazing experience,” she says. “Having Covid come along right at that time really put a physical and mental block on the training I could do.” 

When lockdown restrictions eased a little, Squire and her fellow Auckland divers could get out of the house and made use of what was available - jumping from backyard trampolines into pools, and even off the wharf at Murray's Bay on Auckland's North Shore. 

Returning to training after all of Auckland's lockdown levels, Squire was quickly back to her world-class form. 

“I just had even more love for the sport than I did before and it was just so exciting to be back," she says.

NZ's diving team heading to Birmingham, including Squire (far left) and Tavener (second from right). Photo: Getty Images

New Zealand are sending eight divers to Birmingham, the largest contingent of Kiwi divers ever selected for the Games. 

Squire will be away from home and school for eight weeks - first to the world championships in Hungary in a fortnight, then a Grand Prix in Italy, followed by a training camp with the Australian diving team in the UK before the Commonwealth Games start at the end of July. 

Luckily, they’re a tight-knit group. “Everyone going over with me I’m really close friends with," Squire says. "We train together every day so it’ll just be a really awesome trip.

“It’ll be really exciting to meet the other athletes in the New Zealand team [at the Games] and talk to them about what they do.” 

Squire was recently awarded a FINA development scholarship, which will help her with the cost of travel and training for a year.

“It was really exciting news. It's really helpful having it there to know that I can go to these big competitions which will give me so much experience for the future,” she says. 

Along with support from family, who drive her to training every day, Squire also has sponsorship from Mike Walczak and his company Signify which has helped her to compete overseas.

At the world champs in Hungary, Squire will compete in the open women’s 1m and 3m events, as well as the mixed synchro with Tavener. And she might team up for the platform synchro with 17-year-old Mikali Dawson, who’s competing in the 10m platform at Birmingham. 

“It will be so amazing diving with all the top divers in the world, it’ll be so cool,” Squire says. It will be her first world champs. 

“I’m definitely a little bit nervous because it is a huge opportunity. But I just want to go there and try my best and see how well I do.” 

Their relationship outside the pool complements Squire and Tavener's synchro skills. Photo: Bex Charteris

Despite her youth, Squire has been diving for around eight years; her promise first spotted by her swimming coach when she would dive at the start of a race.

“I definitely wasn’t the most naturally talented diver when I started, but after a lot of practise and the love of the sport, I started to get a lot better,” says Squire, who's been to national championships since she was 12.

Getting the call to say she was going to Birmingham was "super exciting", but also a weight off her chest after balancing diving and school for so long. “It was also a big relief after doing so many trials and competitions - that was a lot of hard work. It was just a relief to finally be like ‘Oh woah, I’ve made it’.”

While Squire’s plans for study and work next year are still up in the air, one thing for certain is her continued ascent through the diving ranks. 

Tavener, who’s been diving for seven years, knows Squire has a bright future. 

“It’s fantastic to be able to see someone four years younger than me stepping into the senior scene at the same time with so much potential,” he says. 

“She’s going places for sure, coming in at such a young age and setting the bar so high. I’m excited to see the career she can make for herself.” 

Pushing our female athletes to top of the mountain

As New Zealand's ski season starts, a bold challenge has been laid down to give female skiers and snowboarders equality on the slopes, Sara Essig Webb reports. 

One of the things that vexes World Cup freeskier Laura Wotton most is being told by coaches she should "ride like a guy".

"What? I'm not a guy," Wotton says in a new documentary that lays out the obstacles faced by New Zealand females in snow sports. "I want to be told you should ride like a girl, or look up to this girl."

Kiwi girls and women have been wowed watching Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, Alice Robinson and Jess Hotter climb to the top of snow sport's world stage.

But Laura Hedley knows that’s not enough.

As a girl who grew up in the mountains, Hedley is now the general manager of the Cardrona and Treble Cone ski areas, a role she’s held for the past year. And she and her team are spearheading a campaign to inspire wāhine to take up snow sports – one Instagram post at a time.

The “All In” campaign challenges everyone in the New Zealand ski industry to commit to equal gender representation in snow sports media.

A young girl is shown the ropes on Cardrona's beginners slope last weekend. Photo: Troy Tanner. 

The project came about during a journey of self-reflection by the team who run Cardrona and Treble Cone.

According to research they undertook, their social media audiences are made up by nearly 45 percent women. But in the winter of 2020, only 29 percent of skiing and snowboarding content featured women.

Posts showing women actively participating were scarce – just 15 percent. In many cases they were a single snapshot within a longer clip featuring mostly men.

“At the end of 2020, our team took stock of gender representation in our social media content,” Wānaka-based Hedley explains. “It quickly became clear that we were perpetuating gender stereotypes, often reducing women to ‘lifestyle’ content.”

With the Cardrona skifield opening last weekend to kick off the winter season, and plenty of snow falling on our mountains, the Southern Lakes ski areas have released two films. The first is a celebration of great skiing and snowboarding, showcasing the talent of wāhine in the mountains.

The second is a short documentary about the experience of women in the New Zealand snow sports industry. The documentary, ‘All In,’ (watch below) features interviews with top talent from across Aotearoa, including Freeride World Tour champion Jess Hotter, Olympians Cool Wakushima and Janina Kuzma, up and coming female athletes and women’s health professionals who play a critical role behind the snow sports scene. It looks at the differences in media, biology and culture for female skiers and snowboarders.

“All In is a celebration of Kiwi women in snow sports, highlighting the challenges that many face, while discussing hopes for a more equitable future in the New Zealand snow sports industry,” Hedley says.

They already made a start on righting the imbalance last winter.

Cardrona and Treble Cone ensured 50 percent of their social media content featured women. In 2022, their two biggest pre-season campaigns – the annual earlybird season pass and multi-day pass sales – have exclusively showcased images of women in snow sport.

“This was a first in New Zealand and proved that focusing on women in sport can be incredibly powerful - both inspirational and driving commercial success,” says Hedley.

"Mark my words - we are catching up," Jess Hotter in 'All In'.

Looking ahead, Cardrona and Treble Cone have committed to equitable gender representation in all marketing media, encouraging more people to find their passion in the mountains. They are challenging other snow sports brands to join them.

“We know this is just a good start – it’s not all that needs to be done,” says Hedley. “We’ll keep asking ourselves and others the questions that need to be asked. We’ll listen, we’ll learn, and we’ll keep making change.

“However, this change can’t be something we do alone.”

Nic Cavanagh, chief executive of Snow Sports NZ, is aware of the underrepresentation of women in high performance snow sports coaching around the world.

Numbers are more evenly split at the participation level, where the largest fields in New Zealand’s alpine ski races last year were the U12 and U14 girls. Cavanagh notes World Cup alpine ski racer Alice Robinson has had a significant influence on younger competitors.

World Freeride champion Jess Hotter at Treble Cone. Photo: Troy Tanner. 

So why are there so few female coaches?

“International travel is a big part of it,” Cavanagh points out. "The coaches spend at least half the year overseas, following the international competition circuit. It’s a pretty tough gig for anyone, male or female, especially if you have a family."

As an organisation, Snow Sports NZ has reflected on their approach to supporting women who want to train toward high performance coaching. This could include starting the process of recruiting female coaches for the high performance programme much earlier in the pathway, “nurturing and developing at the instructor level,” Cavanagh says.

Right now, six of the 11 athlete performance staff at Snow Sports NZ are women. Jane Stevens, adapative and para sport development manager, serves on several International Paralympic Committees. Doctors Sarah Beable and Nat Anglem work with athletes, parents, coaches and performance support staff on education initiatives around women’s health.

"A lot of people have been concerned with an athlete getting her period on race day... but it could be their performance superpower,"  Sarah Beable in 'All In'



Last year, Snow Sports NZ put alpine coach Lucy Brown forward for the Women in High Performance Sport project, Te Hāpaitanga, which gives female coaches mentors and networks.

Fiona Stevens has just been voted onto the FIS Council, the board for all snow sports disciplines led by the world body, becoming the first New Zealander to sit at this table.

While there are wins on the board and on the mountain, more can be done, Hedley insists.

“We've started a programme called Ride Tamariki, for the kids in the region to come up the mountain and experience it,” Hedley explains.

She grew up believing every child could benefit from time in the mountains. Her mother was a ski patrol nurse and her father was a ski instructor.

Olympian Cool Wakushima at Cardrona. Photo: Troy Tanner. 

Hedley rebelled against the family tradition and started snowboarding at a young age.

“My parents were adamant that the mountains were a good place for us to be growing up,” she recalls.

Today, five senior managers report directly to Hedley, whose leadership extends across 16 departments and influences the work of up to 900 staff between the two resorts. She cites the influence of female leaders in the Southern Lakes region for growing her confidence and preparing her for the general manager role.

“I’ve had these amazing people around me. We ask our staff to give everything they’ve got,” she says. “So guests leave feeling that they’ve got this mana from being up there; they feel better for being on the mountains. If we’re asking our staff to do that,we need to do that for our teams.”

Hedley’s brand of leadership is learning on the job, and has certainly been shaped by the mountains. In one breath, she can champion a national movement around equity and diversity. In the next, she sounds like a fangirl, speaking of New Zealand’s first winter Olympic gold medallist Sydowski-Synott and and World Freeride Tour champion Hotter.

"If you see what girls are doing now on snowboards and skis, it's absolutely phenomenal. I'm so stoked to have that behind me, to grow into the rest of my life as a woman,"  snowboarder Corrah Phillips in 'All In'.

The world is watching the Southern Lakes, and Hedley knows this is the moment.

“They are showing that they are so strong,” she says. “And that it’s possible to be on the world stage in snow sports, even when you’re from New Zealand.”

Young guns fire in Black Ferns and Pulse triumphs

What did netball and rugby's main events at the weekend share in common? The energy and exuberance of youth, Merryn Anderson and Suzanne McFadden discover.

You may not think you could draw too many parallels between the Black Ferns grinding down world No.3 rugby nation Canada, and the Pulse walking over the Stars in netball’s premiership grand final, both played out on Sunday afternoon.

Yes, two sides dominated their encounters. The Pulse smothered the Stars from the get-go in their 56-37 title victory in Wellington; the Black Ferns taking a little longer to evade the clutches of Canada, running out 28-0 winners with a more complete second half in Auckland.

But there was something else the two big matches of the weekend shared: The youth in both winning sides stood up to the test of professional sport.

You’d like to think that puts both netball and rugby in good stead for the future.

Of course, the national sides in both codes are desperate to be at their absolute competitive best in the very near future. The Black Ferns when they defend their world title at home in four months’, and the Silver Ferns to deal with their unfinished business at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next month.

Suzanne McFadden was in the crowd as the Black Ferns made positive steps forward, while Merryn Anderson watched the young Pulse side make history – twice in one afternoon.

***

PACIFIC FOUR SERIES: BLACK FERNS 28, CANADA 0.

Wayne Smith, the Black Ferns’ new director of coaching, was glad he’d read the text messages from Ruby Tui.

The sevens star, who’s thriving in her new 15s environment, messaged Smith and told him to keep an eye on an 18-year-old Auckland midfielder named Sylvia Brunt at the Black Ferns camp.

“I didn’t know she was,” Smith admits. “But she sent me texts saying: ‘You’ve got to see this girl play’.”

Then Brunt was called into the Black Ferns squad of 32 as a travelling reserve for the Pacific Four Series, but on Sunday made her debut in the black jersey against Canada.  

Black Ferns captain Ruahei Demant (right) congratulates Sylvia Brunt on making her debut in the black jersey v Canada. Photo: Getty Images.

And, when she did, somewhere around 50 minutes into the clash, the bottom of the Waitākere Stadium grandstand erupted. The Sylvia Brunt fan club – made up of Auckland whānau, Ponsonby Fillies team-mates and Mt Albert Grammar school-mates – screamed and wildly waved huge homemade banners.

Brunt responded. “She made a massive impact, she sparked up that field,” her captain, Ruahei Demant said, after the Black Ferns’ victory. “I’m so excited for her future in this jersey.”

Tui first saw Brunt aged 16, when they played in the Fillies together: “I thought she was in her mid-20s, just the level of rugby intelligence she had.

“Sis is so quiet, she’s really polite. But as soon as she crosses that white line, something happens... Like Wolverine, she transforms. That kid is going to be one of the greats, eh.”

The other Black Ferns debutant in the game, 22-year-old Amy du Plessis, made quite an impression as a next-gen Fern, too. Playing at centre, du Plessis was strong on both attack and defence, and linked up well with Brunt when she entered the game.

Her searing break down the left wing (despite cramping up) near the end of the game, was finished off by Tui for her second try of the match.

“That’s probably the best game I’ve seen Amy play,” said Smith, noting the work South African-born du Plessis has done on her game with All Black centre Conrad Smith as her mentor.

Smith was full of compliments for the home side, who made it two from two in this series after their 23-10 win over Australia in heavy rain last week. He also called Demant (who started at second five next to Hazel Tubic at No.10) “probably the best player in the country at the moment”.

And yet for a second time, the Black Ferns struggled in the first half to avoid handling errors, link up passes or score tries. Even with a brisk wind behind them, they led only 6-0 at halftime thanks to two Tubic penalties.

The Canadians, ranked third in the world, put in some big hits on defence and looked threatening on attack just before halftime. But the breeze died, the Black Ferns made their connections more often, and a Tui chip-and-chase try opened the gates for three more New Zealand tries (including one each from 20-year-old lock Maia Roos and flanker Alana Bremner).

Tui credited fellow wing Ayesha Leti-I’iga with coaching her in her kicking game. Meanwhile, Leti-I’iga showed off her power for a second week straight, relentlessly piercing Canada’s defence and earning player of the match.

"Our wingers are world-class aren't they?” Smith said. “You can see why we want to play some rugby because you've got to use your great players.

“Ruby hasn't played a lot of 15s, but it's incredible how she picks things up. She's been working on that kick for three weeks. To do it under pressure - she's special.”

Black Fern Ruby Tui prepares to tackle Canadian Pamphinette Buisa at Waitākere Stadium. Photo: Getty Images. 

Even down to 14 women twice during the game, the Black Ferns’ exceptional defence still kept a disappointed Canada scoreless.

Sticking with Smith’s philosophy to see everyone in the squad take the field this series, a different XV will line-up in their last game in Whangārei this Saturday, against the United States (who beat Australia, 16-14, yesterday). It will help the Black Ferns coaching team come closer to finding their best squad to defend the World Cup in October.

The connections are growing with each game and training, Demant reassures.

“You guys are only seeing 80 minutes of it, but those connections are coming every day when we step out on the training field as well,” she says. “There’s a lot of work the coaches and players are putting into, not only the game plan, but our whanaungatanga [a sense of family connection]. And there are so many benefits of that, and this is one of them.”

***

ANZ PREMIERSHIP GRAND FINAL: PULSE 56, STARS 37.

The Central Pulse turned out with the youngest team in the ANZ Premiership this season, with an average age of 22.

After finishing fifth in netball's elite league in 2021, few predicted them to flourish this year with such a young team; their oldest player – Kristiana Manu’a - just 26 years old.

But it turned out to be a dominant performance from the Pulse, both on Sunday and throughout the season. They‘d won 10 of their 15 games in the regular season, with four of their five losses being five goals or less. And their 19-goal trouncing of the Stars was the biggest grand final winning margin in the history of the national league.  

Vital midcourter Maddy Gordon played her 50th ANZ Premiership game on Sunday, aged just 22. She was elated at the win, speaking to LockerRoom after the final whistle.

“It could have really gone either way, so I’m so stoked the girls could pull through,” she said.

Gordon, who returned from a knee injury part way through the season, believes the youth of the Pulse was key in their success. “We’ve had such a good vibe in the team; we really wanted to go out there and play for each other,” she says.

Pulse shooter Tiana Metuarau evades the defence of the Stars' Elle Temu in the ANZP grand final. Photo: Getty Images. 

Among the young guns who played their role in the Pulse’s success this season were 20-year-olds Tiana Metuarau – their co-captain - and Paris Lokotui, who had her season cruelly cut short by an ACL injury. Parris Mason (19) and Amelia Walmsley (18), who both came off the bench yesterday, were also crucial in Central Manawa’s victory in the second-tier National Netball League this year.

The Pulse’s latest title makes them the most successful ANZ Premiership team, winning the final in 2019 and 2020 as well.

Manu’a put her side’s final success down to the young side’s consistency.

"Before the game started we said ‘No matter the result, we want a consistent 60 minutes’, so that's what we did. And I’m absolutely elated with our performance tonight,” the crafty goal defence said.

It was a scrappy first five of those 60 minutes, but the Pulse were the first to settle and an explosive six-goal run at the end of the first quarter gave them a nine-goal lead.

Pulse goal shoot Aliyah Dunn didn’t miss with her first 14 attempts, with several tricky no-look assists from Metuarau helping them to a 15-6 lead.

Every time the momentum looked to swing the Stars’ way, a yellow dress would charge through, and the Pulse’s lead grew to 11 goals at half-time, 26-15. The damage had well and truly been done, and the Stars never made a dent in the home side’s lead.

With the win secured, Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie introduced her bench players to the court in the final stanza, rewarding all of her 12-strong side with a grand final experience.

Gordon was full of praise for McCausland-Durie, who returned to the Pulse after a year away in 2021.

“She is honestly the best coach, knows how to bring a team together, and knows how to make them laugh,” Gordon said. “I’m really stoked that she came back and so excited that she’s back again next year.”

Manu’a, who returned from Australia to suit up for the Pulse this season, was grateful to McCausland-Durie, too. "She's been absolutely amazing to give me a chance to come over here to Wellington and play,” she says. “I'm so thankful."

With the Silver Ferns trialists announced on Wednesday, Pulse goal keep Kelly Jury would no doubt have caught the eye of coach Dame Noeline Taurua, sitting in the noisy, sold-out crowd.

The MVP of the match, Jury played all but three minutes and had eight gains, four intercepts and seven deflections. She limited the normally dominant Stars shooter Maia Wilson to just nine goals in the first half.

One of the standouts of the season, Jury (who's just 25 by the way) was almost speechless after the win. "All season we've been looking for that complete performance and what a day to bring it,” she said.

Despite being on the losing side, Stars goal defence Elle Temu still had a strong showing in her pursuit of the black dress, finishing the game with six gains and six deflections.

Emotion was visible on all of the Stars’ faces, but none more than Anna Harrison, who officially confirmed her netball retirement at 39.

Stars coach Kiri Wills was quick to reflect on the season as a whole. "We could quite well be at home watching this on TV, but we're here and we fought really hard to get here,” she said post-match.

“My team in time will be able to hold their heads high because they played some brilliant netball this year."

Irene van Dyk gives rangatahi a voice

WATCH: Our most celebrated netballer, Irene van Dyk, talks openly about growing up in Apartheid South Africa, the backlash of becoming a Silver Fern and retiring on her terms in the latest Pure As video.

She also tells Suzanne McFadden how she’s now giving back by ensuring NZ’s young netballers have a voice.

Irene van Dyk is living the dream.

Eight years after she retired as the world’s most recognisable netballer, ending 20 years at the top of the sport, van Dyk is still very much immersed in the game.

Now she’s giving back - focusing on giving rangatahi a voice, so they can help shape the future of netball.

Living in Hawkes Bay with husband Christie, van Dyk’s new professional role is Netball New Zealand’s participation manager of youth and heads netball’s pioneering youth board.

“Working for Netball New Zealand is a dream come true. I absolutely love my job,” van Dyk tells LockerRoom. “I’m completely out of my depth, but I learn so many new things every single day.”

That was probably van Dyk’s greatest strength throughout her 217-test career - she was constantly learning, always reinventing herself to flummox the world’s best defenders (often with Christie, armed with a broom, defending her shot in the backyard).

“But I am making a little difference,” she says. “When you do a job that’s the ultimate outcome, isn’t it? And I’m so lucky to have lived through some amazing times in netball and now I can give back.”

In the latest Pure As episode from Netball NZ, van Dyk talks about her goal to make a difference in young people’s lives.

“Netball in New Zealand made me a hero. And I think I have a lot to give back,” she says in the documentary. “When someone becomes a Silver Fern and says: ‘I remember watching Irene and I want to be just like her’… that would be epic.”

Her work to encourage more youth to play netball and have equal opportunities is a far cry from the situation when she was growing up in South Africa during Apartheid. Van Dyk became more aware of the differences between black and white children in sport when she went to university. “There were so many kids out there that didn’t get opportunities; that had the right to have opportunities,” she says.

Having seen New Zealand’s netball landscape “change significantly” in the past three years, van Dyk wants to help usher in more progressive change.

“I’m part of a team who want to grow the game and be innovative to make sure we future-proof netball. We’re giving our rangatahi a voice, because they will be the future of what netball looks like,” the 2003 World Cup champion says.

She admits she's been a little bowled over by what those young voices are saying.

“I listen to them and think they’re so clever for their age; they’re so worldly and knowledgeable. I wasn’t like that at all. In my day it was: ‘You speak when you’re spoken to, Cupcake’. You didn’t have a voice,” she says.

“Politically these rangatahi know what they stand for, they know what they want, they know their values.”

So what is it the next generation of netballers want from the game?

“For them, diversity and inclusion is extremely important,” van Dyk says. “And they want a quality experience - not only as participants, but as coaches and umpires and spectators. They want to see our game grow.”

Irene van Dyk has also ventured into coaching since retiring from international netball in 2014. Photo: Photo: Andy Radka Above Ground Level Photography

She’s enjoying leading the youth board, alongside Georgia Trent - the first student to intern on the Netball NZ executive board back in 2020, who’s been on the youth board since it started that year.

Youth now have a seat at netball tables. Centres throughout the country have youth advisory groups, and now zones are doing the same, van Dyk explains. “So now we will have a multi-tiered system to make sure all of our rangatahi have a voice,” she says.

Van Dyk is able to work out of Hawkes Bay and travels to Auckland once a fortnight to spend two days in the Netball NZ office.

She’s also an ambassador for the new Sport NZ campaign #itsmymove to get girls involved in physical activity.

“It’s really opened my eyes to see there’s so much more than just organised sport. It doesn’t matter what you do, just move and keep physically active - for your mental health, it’s so important,” she says, talking as she does her daily lunchtime walk.

“It doesn’t matter what you wear, where you do it or what you do. As long as you’re happy and it fills your cup.”

Van Dyk is also coaching a netball team, the Hastings High School Old Girls. But one of the most consistent shooters in netball history can’t be convinced to take the court again.   

“They’ve asked me a few times if I’d play, and I’m like ‘Nope’. I believe that it’s the younger people’s turn to experience the game,” says van Dyk, who turns 50 later this month.  

“I train with them on Wednesday nights as their opposition, and they hate it. They say, ‘Oh can’t you just play?’ But my ship has sailed. I’m very happy on the docks.”

She’s relishing the opportunity to coach a premier club team, who are sitting in third in their competition.  

“They’re really competitive, and there’s a really cool culture. We have an occupational therapist, a doctor, a policewoman, two physios, three teachers and two school kids - a really good mix of people, who play their hearts out,” van Dyk says.

It’s the coach’s philosophy that everyone gets court time, every time.

She’s no longer a specialist coach with the Pulse, who'll play in the ANZ Premiership grand final on Sunday against the Stars.

“These days, I can just enjoy watching classy netball,” van Dyk says. Her prediction? “I reckon the final is going to be a doozy, and there’s going to be only one goal in it.”

Irene van Dyk, and daughter Bianca, at a Hurricanes rugby match in 2017. Photo: Getty Images

In Pure As, van Dyk explains why she decided to stay in New Zealand after coming to play for the Capital Shakers in 2000, and how that decision influenced the life of her now adult daughter, Bianca.

There’s a video clip of a young Irene telling the late Paul Holmes why she chose to put herself forward for the Silver Ferns, then having to weather “three weeks of slamming” from some Kiwi netball critics. “They should put themselves in my shoes as well, because I came over here to have a better lifestyle with my little girl,” she told the broadcaster.

A talented netball shooter in her own right, Bianca van Dyk studied at San Diego State University on a rowing scholarship. She's now living in Wellington working for Netball Central as participation lead.

“She’s doing my old job,” her mother laughs. “She absolutely loves it - netball is in her blood.” Every Tuesday, mother and daughter see each other on a nationwide Zoom call with others helping to boost netball participation. 

Van Dyk has no regrets that she brought her family to New Zealand, their home now for 22 years.  

“The opportunities I’ve been given, the lifestyle Bianca has had; it’s mind-blowing. It’s the holistic view, not just the sporting side of it, everything that has added to my life," she says.

“It’s unbelievable how the people of New Zealand have taken me in, and I just want to give back everything I can. And I count my blessings every single day.”

In two seasons so far, Pure As has gained a global reach of over 5 million and more than 3 million organic video views.

All episodes will be launched with an exclusive first watch through www.silverfans.co.nz, and shown on LockerRoom each week. Wat the first episode, Sulu Fitzpatrick, here, and Sam Winders here. 

Sorting out the Silver Ferns

Who's in your Silver Ferns dozen for Birmingham? LockerRoom's netball pundits size up the candidates ahead of the national league grand final.

It’s the tournament all Kiwi netball fans wish to forget. The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games campaign marked the lowest era for the Silver Ferns, missing the final for the first time since netball was included in the Games in 1998.  

A dismal fourth placing under the coaching of Janine Southby was only redeemed by the events 15 months later, when New Zealand ended a 16-year drought with Dame Noeline Taurua leading the Ferns to victory at the 2019 World Cup.  

With little international netball since due to the global pandemic, it’s hard to know exactly how teams will stack up going into next month’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, but Kiwis – fans and players alike – will all want to erase memories of the Gold Coast and replace tears with a shiny piece of gold.  

In a domestic season interrupted by Covid, many players were knocked down by the virus, missing games and trainings, forcing match reschedules. It’s not just the lost court time that made an impact - some players are experiencing long Covid and struggling to return to full fitness.  

The lingering physical effects of the virus could have a significant impact on the Silver Ferns triallists, named after this weekend's ANZ Premiership grand final between the Pulse and the Stars. Especially for players who caught Covid late in the season and are still on return-to-play programmes. 

Since 2019, the Ferns have seen legends retire, like Maria Folau, Laura Langman and Casey Kopua - all bowing out with a fairytale finish. And with Katrina Rore and Jane Watson, two more of the victorious World Cup team, both missing Birmingham through pregnancies, it’ll be a new-look Ferns side.  

The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games marked the lowest point in the Silver Ferns' history. Photo: Getty Images

Taurua now has the dilemma of whether to choose young players to gain the international experience to usher the Ferns into a new era - like earlier this year where NZ finished third in the Northern Quad Series - or to go with the tried and true, picking those who’ve proven they have what it takes to take home the silverware.  

While we here at LockerRoom don’t claim to have the netball intellect of Dame Noels, we’ve put together a list of who we might see go for gold. The Silver Ferns will take 12 players to Birmingham, with allocated spots for reserves too.  

Shooters

The shooting circle has been the main area of question and concern in the last year for the Silver Ferns, with the attacking third likely to be the least experienced in the Birmingham squad.  

Only just returning to a full 60 minutes of play after having her second child, Ameliaranne Ekenasio has been open about her struggles to meet Taurua’s demanding fitness standards. One of the standouts of the 2019 World Cup team, her return to form came late in the ANZ Premiership and with the Ferns playing five games in seven days, the gruelling schedule is sure to test the silky shooter’s endurance.  

If Taurua chooses to look for another goal attack, young Tiana Metuarau should get a recall. The 21-year-old made her long-awaited Ferns debut in October, with five seasons of ANZ Premiership experience under her belt. What the Pulse shooter might lack in volume, she makes up for in her ability to move the ball through the midcourt, and her connections with her goal shoot.  

Maia Wilson was not chosen for the last two pinnacle events, but has cemented her spot as the starting Ferns goal shoot ever since, and has proven capable of standing up to the physical Australian defence. Despite a few wobbles with the Stars, the 24-year-old always bounces back (she shot 96 percent in the Stars’ 63-57 elimination final victory over the Mystics this week). Expect to see Wilson named in the 12.  

The star of the Stars, Maia Wilson will attend her first pinnacle event if the Silver Ferns selectors choose her to represent the Ferns in Birmingham. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

Stepping up for the Magic this year, veteran Bailey Mes showed a return to the form that’s kept her on the Ferns’ radar for the past decade. Able to slot in at either shooting position, plus wing attack, the 33-year-old’s recent form - plus her 72 international caps - make her a valuable choice.  

But Taurua could turn to a younger shooter - like Jamie Hume, who’s made a real impression with her turn-and-shoot style in the Stars’ most recent games – or the experienced Te Paea Selby-Rickit, who had some strong performances for the hapless Tactix. 

The fourth shooter spot should come down to the battle of the tall timbers. Aliyah Dunn and Grace Nweke stand at 1.90m and 1.93m respectively and are well-known for their accuracy under the hoop. Both have four international caps to their names, but Dunn has been absent from the Ferns for the last four years due to the tough fitness standards.  

Nweke’s season with the Mystics and recent Ferns performance give her an edge, but her recent ankle injury is reason for concern. If Nweke isn’t able to fully recover in time, Dunn might just get the chance she’s been working so hard for this year and earn an international recall.  

Midcourters

Taurua is spoiled for choice in the middle.  

From the inexperienced but youthful and lively middies Mila Reuelu-Buchanan, Kate Heffernan and Maddy Gordon, to a seasoned player like Kayla Johnson, who has pinnacle events under her belt, and made her post-baby comeback in the Northern tour in January. 

Sam Winders is one of a handful of Kiwi players looking to finally get her hands on a medal, after a standout international season. Photo: Getty Images

One of the victims of the post-Commonwealth Games cull and missing the World Cup, Magic stalwart Sam Winders is nearing 50 Silver Ferns caps. Able to cover centre and wing defence, Winders brings grit on defence and a strong voice through the midcourt. The 2021 Silver Ferns player of the year would be an asset to the team.   

The inclusion of Shannon Saunders and Gina Crampton should be a no-brainer, sharing 137 international caps between them. The duo are solid in the midcourt, always maintaining a low error rate and have played many games together at the Steel and in the black dress, so have a strong connection.

If Nweke gets the nod at goal shoot, Peta Toeava might slip into the squad, as their seemingly psychic connection could throw off opposing defenders. But she has tended to struggle against international opponents.  

Kimiora Poi is guaranteed to make the fitness standards – as the queen of the yo-yo test - although she hasn’t been on the selectors’ radar lately, while Whitney Souness could also be in with a chance of selection.  

Poi's impressive yo-yo score: the average elite level for women and men combined is 18.8.

Taurua also could call on Claire Kersten as a centre/wing defence option, while Tayla Earle could be a surprise call-up after a solid season with the Mystics.  

Defenders

Co-captaining the Pulse with Metuarau this year, Kelly Jury is having a standout season. Topping the domestic ladders for deflections and intercepts and second for rebounds, the 1.92m goal keep should be the No.1 pick to hold down the fort from the back, especially with Watson unavailable.  

Another sure selection is Karin Burger, last year’s ANZ Premiership player of the year. With the ability to cover wing defence along with the in-circle positions, Burger is known for her ability to read the game and come up with athletic intercepts.  

The Stars have one of the strongest, impenetrable defensive circles this year, and with Anna Harrison making herself unavailable for international duties, Elle Temu has a real chance of breaking into the Silver Ferns, despite not being part of the current squad or even the development squad at the moment. After the regular domestic season, Temu sits third on the table for deflections, and second for intercepts and would complete a meteoric rise through the ranks if the selectors look her way.  

Elle Temu has not had the chance to wear the black dress, but has put herself in good position to do so after a stellar ANZ Premiership season. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography

Sulu Fitzpatrick will surely be chosen, if not for her skills at goal keep, then for her leadership and knowledge. Always vocal on court, the captain of the Mystics only has 16 international caps, but 13 seasons of domestic experience, and is only getting better with time, having the most rebounds of any player this season. Her Mystics sidekick, Phoenix Karaka, got stronger as her season went on - returning as a mum - and her experience can't be underestimated. 

Potentially on the fringe of the Ferns would be Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Holly Fowler and Kate Burley - all three of them performing well for their respective domestic teams, but may be pushed out by veteran defenders. Kristiana Manu’a has also impressed for the Pulse, but with little time in the New Zealand environment after returning from Australia, it would take a mighty performance at camp to make the step up.  

The Pulse host the Stars in the ANZ Premiership Grand Final on Sunday at 3.30pm on Sky Sport 1. Next week, 27 players will be selected to trial for the Silver Ferns, with trials taking place on June 20-23 with the final team announcement for Birmingham a week later.  

Young keeper Gaze's into future of White Ferns

In a new-look White Ferns team to tackle T20 at the Commonwealth Games, teen Izzy Gaze is ready to pick up the gloves vacated by Katey Martin. And she's had help to get there from another of NZ's great keepers. 

It’s been a dramatic year of firsts for teenager Izzy Gaze.

On the back of a full domestic season for the Auckland Hearts, the 18-year-old wicketkeeper started university in March. She took a part-time job the following month, and, at the end of May, she was named as one of six players offered a White Ferns contract for the first time.

And to top it all off, this week she was named in her maiden White Ferns squad for next month’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

As one of two wicketkeepers contracted - alongside Wellington Blaze’s Jess McFadyen, who's also in the Games squad of 15 - it’s a chance that’s come early in Gaze’s career.

When the White Ferns veteran keeper Katey Martin announced her retirement last month, Gaze knew it opened up an opportunity.

“But I wasn’t expecting anything and I wasn’t getting my hopes up too much,” she says. “It was a little bit in the back of my mind but if it didn’t happen I wouldn’t have been completely disappointed. Because it’s just such a shock thing to happen so soon.”

The chance to become a contracted White Fern does, however, mean she needs to makes some unexpected changes to her life outside cricket.

Gaze is studying a three-year sport and recreation degree at the Auckland University of Technology, but she may need to juggle that with her increased cricket scheduled.

“I’ll chat with them and they’ll help me out and see what’s the best thing for me, whether that’s dropping one of my papers, going completely part-time, or distance learning. I’ve just got to figure that out and see what works best,” she says.

She's already had to hand in her notice at her part-time job with juice bar Tank. 

Right now, she’s ensconced in the White Ferns camp at Bay Oval in Tauranga, with new head coach Ben Sawyer.

The 15-strong White Ferns side to play at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games with their silver ferns.

Although Gaze’s life is now firmly based in Auckland, her journey started over 18,000km away.

“Dad worked for Adidas for about 13 years, and he and Mum lived in the Netherlands for a decent amount of time,” she says.  “I just happened to be born there [in 2004, the year after Katey Martin first played for New Zealand]. So that’s a pretty cool thing.

“For the first seven years of my life I lived outside of New Zealand - in the Netherlands until I was 18 months old, then in Hong Kong for four years followed by Singapore for just under two years. When we came back, and I slotted straight into Year 4 [at school].”

With the help of the principal at Campbells Bay School, Gaze’s love of cricket started to really develop.

“Our principal, John McGowan, would go out at lunchtime and get everyone out playing cricket on the field. And I just joined in with that,” says Gaze, who ended up playing in the school team.

“Growing up, whenever we used to come back to our holiday place at the Mount we’d always play beach cricket, too.”

Gaze rounded out her school years at Kristin School in Albany. They didn’t have a girls team, so she played in the boys team in Year 7 and 8 and was also playing club cricket at Takapuna.

“My first coach at Takapuna, Damian Cancare, was a big influence on me. He put so much time into those teams. He’s always been, and is still, so supportive,” Gaze says.

Gaze also unexpectedly found herself supported by a White Ferns legend.

“I’ve kept ever since I started, I never really bowled,” she says. “I really started working on my keeping the first time I got into the Auckland U15 side. Around that time, me and Mum discussed whether I should get a batting coach.”

Gaze’s mum, Karen Morgans, called on her friend, former White Fern Kirsty Flavell, who was the first woman to score a double century in test cricket. Flavell put them in touch with her old White Fern teammate and wicketkeeper Rebecca Rolls.

“It turned out she was two in one - for keeping and batting - so I started off keeping and batting coaching with her when I was about 12 and I’ve continued the keeping coaching ever since,” Gaze says.

“I’m keen to work with her for as long as possible; she’s been so good. I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am without all her coaching and support.”

New cap Izzy Gaze at White Ferns net practice in Tauranga. Photo: James Bennet NZC

The next step in schoolgirl Gaze’s progression was the senior ranks at Auckland, making her Super Smash debut for the Hearts against the Wellington Blaze in 2019, aged just 15. She also made her 50-over debut that season, before a significant injury saw her cricket career paused.

“In November 2020, I broke my collarbone right before the season started, so there was no domestic cricket that season,” Gaze says.

“This past season was my first season keeping for the Hearts and I had a bigger role batting. I was pretty lucky to play every game and get the opportunity with the gloves. I guess it went well.”

When she reflects on her cricketing journey so far, Gaze highlights two people in particular - her mum and dad.

Her mum is the scholarship manager for the Tania Dalton Foundation and dad, Andrew Gaze, is CEO of the Coach for Life Foundation.

 “Mum and Dad have been so supportive and I thank them for everything; all the trips to Eden Park from the [North] Shore,” Izzy Gaze says. “Early mornings feeding me balls. I’m just really grateful for all their support.”

Both parents are proud of their daughter’s achievements, and Morgans reflects on the path that’s led to this point.

“Stunned is the first word that pops to mind when Izzy shared the news with us,” she says. “It’s a privilege for Izzy to get this opportunity.

“We’ve always encouraged our girls to be active and had a family rule that they had to play a team sport through to the start of high school. Izzy took that to mean she could put her hand up for every sport going and had a go at rugby, basketball, tennis, hockey, touch and cricket as a youngster. But it’s been hockey and cricket for the last five years.”

Andrew Gaze is quick to acknowledge others who’ve helped their daughter progress this far.

“Izzy has been fortunate to be surrounded by awesome cricket whānau and role models through her Takapuna club where she played her first premier game as a 12-year-old. And through the Auckland Cricket age group programme and now as a member of the Auckland Hearts,” he says.

White Ferns keepers Izzy Gaze (left) and Jess McFadyen work with keeper coach Freddy Anderson. Photo: James Bennett NZC.

The talented teen has had the chance to soak up the White Ferns environment before and it was also an opportunity to strike up a relationship with McFadyen.

“I went to one of the White Ferns camps last year in Nelson and spent a bit of time with her, keeping and doing drills which was really great,” Gaze says. “It’s so good to have two keepers at training. I’m keen to get to know her better and work with her.”

Now she will be taking part in the White Ferns camps as a fully contracted player. With three camps scheduled (two at Bay Oval and one at Lincoln) before the Commonwealth Games squad departs for England on July 11, it’s time to show New Zealand Cricket she’s deserving of the faith shown in her.

“I think first of all it’s about soaking up the excitement,” she says. “I want to take every opportunity and learn from everyone, because everyone’s got so much knowledge, and see what I can take onboard.

“If I get an opportunity to play then I’ll work my ass off and try my best to play hard and go well.”

On your marks: Flying hurdler to Games lifter

In the first of our On Your Marks series, taking Commonwealth Games athletes back to high school, Suzanne McFadden walks the Rangi Ruru School grounds with weightlifter Emma McIntyre, who began on a very different sporting path.

Emma McIntyre remembers the moment her sporting career took flight.

She’d just started at Rangi Ruru Girls' School in Christchurch, and her parents had come to watch her run in the Year 7 and 8 athletics day.

They were surprised by what they saw.

“Mum and Dad were like, ‘She’s actually quite fast. Shall we see if she wants to do athletics?’” McIntyre, now 31, laughs.  

It’s unlikely that at that moment they thought: One day our daughter will return to England, the country where she was born, and compete for New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games.

In weightlifting.

There’s been quite a seismic shift in McIntyre’s sporting endeavours - from the promising young hurdler to national champion weightlifter. Some of that change was determined by the Christchurch earthquakes.

But being comfortable to switch codes stems back to her years at Rangi Ruru.

***

It takes McIntyre a little while to get her bearings when she returns to her old school in the heart of Merivale. Imposing modern buildings have sprouted up since the 2011 earthquake, and a $9 million sports centre is taking shape where the language block once stood.

But the grand 100-year-old homestead, Te Koraha, where the four Gibson sisters established Rangi Ruru in 1923, still stands at the centre of the school.

McIntyre, born in the London town of Kingston Upon Thames and moving to Christchurch when she was 10, sits in Te Koraha’s boardroom - with its rich wooden panelling and stained glass windows - and pores over photos of herself as a teenage athlete.

There she is, flying over a hurdle, and sprinting down the home straight of the old QEII Park track, sadly damaged beyond repair in February 2011.

Emma McIntyre (centre) competed for Rangi Ruru at national schools athletics champs. Photo: Rangi Ruru School

“That was my favourite event, the 100m hurdles,” McIntyre says. “Everything I did was short - sprints and long jump. We had a good school relay team, we won bronze at nationals one year.”

At the 2007 national schools champs at Whanganui’s Cooks Gardens, McIntyre was competing against Black Ferns Sevens speedster Portia Woodman in the seniors sprints. In the juniors, Julia Ratcliffe and Nicole Bradley battled it out in the throws, and Portia Bing was running and leaping. They’re all off to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

“So many of the top lifters have come from gymnastics or athletics backgrounds; they’ve always done dynamic movement,” McIntyre, a 64kg class lifter, says. “Very few females have gone straight into lifting.”

Athletics wasn’t all McIntyre tried her hand at. “Hockey, soccer and touch for a season - just trying to find something I really enjoyed,” she says.

“I think the main difference between Rangi Ruru and other schools were the opportunities, in sport and in subjects. I had so much choice and they allowed you to explore whatever you wanted to do, in a safe and supportive environment.

“It’s important you don’t get pushed into something you don’t want to do. You’re not going to challenge yourself if you’re not doing something you enjoy.”

Equestrian was her Wednesday school sport; Rangi Ruru is the only girls’ school in the South Island with a dedicated equestrian programme.

“That was a big reason I came to this school, I loved horse riding,” McIntyre says. “But I didn’t get my own horse until I was 18 when my parents couldn’t say no to me anymore. I still have friends I go riding with.”

Despite an extensive list of sports on offer at Rangi Ruru, weightlifting wasn’t one of them. “I don’t remember lifting a weight or using the gym,” McIntyre laughs.

She continued athletics after she left school in 2008. “But I stopped a year or so after the earthquakes because there was no track in Christchurch and hurdles are very difficult to do on grass,” she says.

So McIntyre took up the new sporting craze of CrossFiit instead, and quickly became competitive. She’d still be doing it now if she hadn’t been drawn to weightlifting - by a bunch of lifters she’d never met before.

***

The teachers at Rangi Ruru while McIntyre was there, between 2002 and 2008, remember her as a "lovely, quiet, diligent girl", who was "very sporty". And fast.  

Mandy Anderson, the director of sport at Rangi Ruru, started at the school in McIntyre’s final year.

“What’s so fascinating about Emma is that she was a track athlete here at school, but she’s found a different pathway. Who’s to say where sport will take you in life?” Anderson says.

Emma McIntyre spent seven years at Rangi Ruru School before studying psychology at university. Photo: Melissa Cleine 

Rangi Ruru has always had a reputation, particularly in the south, of being a strong sporting school.

For the last two seasons, Rangi Ruru has been crowned the top school at the national schools rowing regatta, otherwise known as the Maadi Cup. Six of their rowers will compete at the world U19 championships in Italy next month. “It’s a reflection of a programme that’s built over time,” Anderson says.

“We’ve had really strong success across different sports as well and we’re increasingly noticing the diversity of sports our young women are achieving in.”

Like Year 12 student Ruby Hewitt, who won the NZ U18 women’s ski title at the junior freeride nationals last year, and is now ranked eighth on the junior world tour. And Year 7 student Hollie Tribble, who was part of the New Zealand Might 11s BMX team who won the Oceania championships in Brisbane in April.

Gaby Smith, in Year 11, has just won bronze at the para world swim series in the US and competes next week at the world championships in Portugal.

Abbey Moody, who you’ll read about later, is a double international in her final year at Rangi - throwing the javelin for New Zealand on Friday at the Oceania athletics champs in Queensland, and then heading to Serbia next month to compete at the world youth women’s water polo championships.

But Anderson stresses success in sport at Rangi Ruru isn’t defined by gold medals or national honours. “While we celebrate success, we want women and girls to love moving,” she says.

“We have a responsibility to help young women find whatever their sporting passion - or their movement passion - may be. Success has got to be about creating what we call ‘Rangi sport for life’. Young women leaving here and saying: ‘I love being active’.

“We have a group of girls who weren’t doing sport but for the last two years have worked tirelessly in dragon boating. They’ve built this phenomenal comradeship through working together.”

The school is promoting Sport New Zealand’s #itsmymove campaign this year to get more girls active.

 Rangi Ruru rowers Annabel Wynn-Williams, Holly Lill and Lucy Leech with some of the school's prizes from the 2022 NZ school rowing champs. Photo: Sharron Bennett Photography

While the school, with a roll of just under 700 girls, can’t provide every code, it endeavours to support athletes in different sports.  

“We do what we can to foster that and support them along their journey. It’s about connecting them to other elements of our programme, like wellness monitoring and access to mental skills,” Anderson says.

Rangi Ruru has the SOAR programme, giving 17 students wraparound support, and helping them build behavioural traits - like work ethic, respect, initiative and generosity - that all contribute to their sports performance, but will ultimately make them better people. 

“It sits outside traditional scholarships. We see general excellence scholarships as a way of recognising it’s not just about you as a sportsperson, it’s about you as a person,” says Anderson. “Developing that component is really important for us as a school.”

***

As with everything she puts her mind to, McIntyre took her time in the classroom seriously. She went on to study psychology at the University of Canterbury, and now works full time for the Department of Corrections, in administration for the psychology team.

“Working for psychologists is fantastic, especially when you’re an athlete - they really care about your health and wellbeing,” she says.

McIntyre fits in her daily training around work - either training at home, in a gym in the garage she and her partner built during lockdown, or at Christchurch City Weightlifting.

The sport of weightlifting had never crossed her mind until 2016, when a group of serious weightlifters joined her CrossFit gym. They saw her lifting and suggested she enter an Olympic weightlifting competition. She qualified for nationals at her first event.

“Obviously, I had to give that a serious go then, and I realised it was impossible to be good at both,” she says. “Weightlifting has got me a lot further.”

Emma McIntyre qualified for Birmingham by winning the 64kg class at the NZ International in February. Photo: Katherine Neilsen Photography

McIntyre is a pretty self-sufficient athlete - her coach, Callan Helms, lives in Dunedin. She almost moved down there, but she feels the cold.

“It’s all done over technology - I send him videos of my technique and he replies,” she says. “It isn’t ideal. But we’re still on the right path.”

She was told if she kept at it, she could go to the Commonwealth Games. “And I was like pfft, I didn’t believe it,” she says. “But at the end of 2019, when I hit weightlifting’s international grade, I thought maybe it is a possibility.”

She had to be ranked in the top six in the Commonwealth to earn selection, and at her last chance - the New Zealand International in February - she nailed it, winning gold with an 87kg snatch and 104kg clean and jerk.

The Commonwealth Games will be just her third international competition, thanks to Covid.

After winning bronze at the Australian Open in 2020, she qualified for last year’s world championships in Uzbekistan. She tried five times unsuccessfully to get an MIQ spot back in New Zealand, so she couldn’t go.

In Birmingham, she’ll be competing against the Olympic 64kg gold medallist, Canada’s Maude Charron.

“It’s very exciting. I think it possibly hasn’t sunk in all the way, particularly with the Covid situation,” she says. “I’m lucky the team going has a number of experienced people to learn from.”

Lifters like one of her role models, Megan Signal in the 71kg class. “At my first nationals, she was lifting huge weights in my weight class, and I wondered if I could lift like her one day,” McIntyre says.

***

Two of Rangi Ruru’s senior students, Abbey Moody and Nora Quigley, have come to meet McIntyre.

Former student Emma McIntyre with Rangi Ruru Year 13 athletes Nora Quigley (left) and Abbey Moody. Photo: Melissa Cleine

Both are aspiring athletes - Moody in javelin and waterpolo, while Quigley is the hockey first XI’s goalie and a hammer thrower. They are boarders and flatmates, who’ve come from other parts of the country to go to school here.

“Coming to Rangi Ruru has helped me find balance,” says Quigley, who moved from Timaru this year, and is also an activist and environmentalist who does work with the Ministry of Social Development.

“The difference here is all the athletes and coaches are incredibly intentional in terms of drive as well as the culture they want to create within teams. 

“They all have a set goal, but they also want to have fun while doing it. In my hockey bag, we have a friendship ball, and at the start of training we pass it around and it reminds us we’re first and foremost friends, then we’re team mates and then athletes after that.”

Moody wants to go to a United States college next year on an athletics scholarship. She came to the school from Marlborough to play water polo. “It’s so great, we’ve built as a team to win the bronze medal at nationals last year - it was history-making for a South Island team up against the dominant North Island teams,” she says.

“The whole atmosphere here is so supportive - they encourage you to go out and give it your best shot.”

McIntyre tells the two young women how, through competing for New Zealand, she’s learned having fun and enjoying the experience is paramount.

“If everyone is relaxed and enjoying themselves, there’s a much higher chance of winning medals. So our focus has been less on outcome and more about the process,” she says.

Quigley asks her a question: “What are you most looking forward to in Birmingham? Anything that’s the cherry on top?”

“Finishing competing and being able to relax,” McIntyre says. “When you don’t have to be focused on yourself anymore.”

World gold Kiwi cyclist didn't know she'd won

New Zealand's latest World Cup champion, Para cyclist Nicole Murray had a long, uncomfortable wait before discovering she could stand on top of the dais for the first time, she tells Merryn Anderson.  

After the ride of her life, Nicole Murray was left in the dark as to whether she'd just won World Cup gold.

When the Kiwi cyclist finished the C5 individual time trial at the UCI Para cycling road World Cup in Elzach, Germany, last month, she wasn’t sure where she sat in the field once she'd crossed the line. There was no cellphone reception at the top of the hill to help her.

Then she was suddenly whisked away from the race course, taken to another town for post-race drug testing. Sitting in a room waiting to fulfil her drug test, without her team around her, Murray was still oblivious as to whether she'd made the World Cup podium for the first time or not. 

Then the New Zealand team manager, Ryan Hollows, came in and whispered in her ear. Murray broke down in tears. 

The Otorohanga-born former cave guide had just won her first World Cup title on the road.

“It was so good," she says. "I’ve always known that I was strong enough to be right up there with the best in my classification, and in those particular races like the pursuit and the time trial, where it’s just pure strength,” she says. 

“But I’d been limited with my technical skills on corners and things like that so it was really great to be able to get on a course where you’re just able to put your head down and go hard.”  

Nicole Murray (centre) with her gold medal after her World Cup victory in Germany. Photo: Paralympics NZ/supplied

Once guiding people through Waitomo Caves, 29-year-old Murray is now a full-time athlete. The world title was the first time she'd ever finished on the podium at a road cycling race.

Murray, who had her left hand amputated below the wrist after an accident as a child, had her first taste of international competition at the 2018 track world champs in Rio - where she won a silver medal. She's continued her rise through both disciplines ever since, making her Paralympic debut in Tokyo last year. 

At the Paralympics, she came close to bringing home a medal. She was fourth in her first event on the track, the 3000m individual pursuit, but admits she was a little disappointed with her performance. 

“My race nerves got the better of me a bit, unfortunately, and that’s something that I’m continuing to work on quite a lot,” Murray says. 

The New Zealand team had trained in heat chambers to prepare for the heat of Tokyo, but then the rain came in for the road race - Murray describing the road surface like a river. 

“I had to take off my glasses cause I couldn’t see and then I had to shut one eye because the rain was like needles in my eyeballs. So I was doing the race with one eye open half the time,” she says. 

“I was happy with how I’d done because I’d never been able to stay with the lead bunch after the breakaway for an entire road race, and I managed to hang on until almost the very end." 

She finished with a personal best of sixth in the road race, and had the same placing in the individual time trial and the 500m time trial on the track.  “I really did my best and was able to walk away proud of what I’d done," she says. 

Murray began her 2022 international campaign strongly, finishing fourth and sixth in the time trial and road race respectively in the first round of the Para cycling road World Cup in Belgium.

Travelling straight to Germany with the Kiwi Para cycling team, Murray was quietly confident lining up in the time trial in Elzach, where conditions were similar to New Zealand on a cool, misty day. And the uphill course wasn't dissimilar to the Waikato hills she trains on. 

“The course itself played to my strengths really well,” Murray recalls.  

“It just started at the bottom of a hill and finished at the top. It wasn’t very technical, you didn’t have to think too hard about the line to take, you basically didn’t have to brake at all that whole race, it was just put your head down and go hard.” 

Once drug testing was over, and she knew she had a gold medal to collect, Murray returned to her team to celebrate.

At the 2020 Paralympics, Murray competed in both the road and track cycling in the C5 category. Photo: Paralympics NZ/supplied

Murray was always an active kid - “almost a bit hyperactive to be honest” - she jokes.

She represented Hamilton Girls’ High School in cross country and was part of the school's first XI soccer team from Year 9 until graduating. 

Her first brush with cycling came after attending a conference for young adults living as amputees, with the participants having the chance to do outdoor activities, like rock climbing and sailing. 

Murray’s athleticism was spotted by Hadleigh Pierson, a Para swimmer who represented New Zealand at two Paralympic Games. Pierson works for Paralympics New Zealand to identify and support future Para sport talent, and saw promise in Murray. 

“He got us in touch with respective coaches of sports he thought we’d do well in," Murray says. "So he got me in touch with the Para cycling coach at the time, Jono Hailstone.

“I came to Cambridge and had a go on the track and really loved it.” 

Murray’s left arm is amputated at the wrist and she rides with some adaptations on her bike in the C5 category. Cyclists in the C1-C5 classification ride a classic, standard bicycle, with the physical impairments ranging from severe in C1 to mild in C5. 

“For the most part, I’m racing people with similar disabilities to me,” Murray explains. 

“A lot of them are either congenital or traumatic amputations of the hand, the same as me. But I think most of them have more of a palm and a wrist, whereas I’m amputated at the wrist so I can bend a little bit at the end of my arm but not a lot.” 

In the build-up to the Tokyo Paralympics, Murray broke her hand six weeks before her qualifying event in Invercargill. 

With the timeline for healing a broken bone six to eight weeks, Murray and coach Damian Wiseman were on a tight schedule. 

“I had to get a little bit more creative and work on other areas to make up for the fact that I couldn’t pull too hard on the start gates out of the track,” says Murray. 

“But my coach is really good at being flexible and thinking outside the box and creative. That's super valuable for Para, because we can’t just follow a normal training plan that you would give to any athlete, like able bodied can. 

“Our disabilities mean you have to be individualised, so this was something that he really did well for me, being able to just roll with the punches like that. It was really stressful but I managed to qualify which was amazing.” 

Murray spends a lot of her time training by herself on the road, the nature of being a Para athlete making training with others more difficult. “It’s a bit of an exercise in mental strength, being on the road for hours at a time,” she says. 

She fondly remembers a training camp in Majorca, Spain, where locals were supportive of their road training - well, most of them.  

“I felt really safe cycling on those roads, the locals were really respectful and understanding of what it’s like to be a cyclist on the road - apart from the goats,” she laughs. 

“The goats don’t move, so you go round a blind corner and a goat is just standing there and you have to go round the goat.” 

A guide at Waitomo Caves for seven years, Murray is now a full-time athlete - in part thanks to the support of her old employers. Photo: Paralympics NZ.

Her self-motivation through the Waikato streets is useful in events like time trials, where an athlete must rely on their own physical and mental strength to finish strong.  

But Murray says she's always had a strong team behind her.

Her family and her work families have always supported her road to success. From her community at Waitomo Caves, where she spent seven years working (the company even allowing her to work just one day a week while training), to Black Water Rafting, who held raffles and contributed funds towards overseas trips and accommodation.

With finance one of the biggest barriers to being an athlete, Murray is incredibly grateful for their support. 

“It’s a barrier that prevents a lot of potentially amazing athletes from getting into sport because it’s just a really hard nut to crack to get to a point where you are funded," she says.

“If you don’t have a supportive workplace or job then it’s pretty much impossible. There’s no way to be able to put in the amount of training that you need to make a name for yourself and support yourself.”

Everyone that Murray works with directly have been very supportive of being a woman in sport, Murray saying her coach goes above and beyond. 

However, there are other spaces where women aren’t celebrated, she says. Including the gym, where some machines don’t go to a small enough setting to fit someone like Murray, even at average height. 

Or at the Oceania champs in April, where Murray won two golds, but the winner's jersey to go along with the medal didn’t fit - it was in men’s sizing. 

“It’s just little structural things always," she says. "It’s the uniform and the kit, stuff like that. But I’ve never been made to feel different from any of the people I work with because I’m a female."

Murray will travel to Canada in August for the next road World Cup event and then the world championships. But for now, it's back to braving the New Zealand winter alone on her bike. 

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