Two careers, one long-distance relationship
After four months apart, I had my husband home for a night. One night. Then I left at 7am on the Saturday for our game in Adelaide against the Thunderbirds, and he left for Melbourne on the Sunday to join the Rebels.
We both know that this is definitely not normal. But, with both of us being athletes, we said before we got married, ‘We’re going to put sport first while we’re young and then be a married couple later’.
We love each other and want to be together for the rest of our lives, so getting married for us was really important. And because we trust each other so much, we’re able to have that distance between us and it still just works.
There’s definitely good and bad days, though. As soon as I get to training I have to leave everything at the door, but there are times where we miss each other terribly, and you think, ‘Enough is enough, I want to see my husband’. I’m sure he’s in the same boat.
But, no matter what, if I have a bad training session or a bad game I’ve always got Nath to go and call and debrief with, and I know that I’ve got the love of my life waiting for me whenever we’ll see each other again. And now that he’s back in Australia, he’s only a flight away – and a two-hour time difference is pretty beautiful.
The hardest part is if you’re watching on TV and he gets injured. That’s the worst time to be away from each other and it’s the same for him. It’s a horrible feeling that you can’t be there for them, you just don’t know what’s going on, and you’re hours and miles away. That’s what I struggle with the most.
And if he’s having a bad day or he’s sick – and he has cystic fibrosis, so he gets really sick – then being apart really kills me. But I’ve just got to look at the big picture perspective and know that we’re both chasing goals and dreams at the moment, so we’ve just got to keep on keeping on, don’t we?
‘ALL I WANT IS YOU TO BE THERE’
Nathan was with Western Force the first two years I was with Fever. We used to use the Force’s gym facilities, and I never knew until much later that all the boys used to watch from up the top – spying on us! I met Nath when our teams had our Mad Monday on the same day and we started hanging out from there.
I knew I was leaving to play for the Queensland Firebirds the next season, so I told him straight away, ‘I’m going back to live with Mum and play netball over there, so I’m just not looking for a relationship’. But on the day I had to say goodbye to him, we both burst into tears. We didn’t realise how quickly we’d fallen for each other.
Once I’d moved away, it was off and on for a little bit. Nath would call me a lot but I’d kind of palm it off to focus on netball and my new team and environment. Then, out of all the places in the world that he’s played, he happened to have his 50th match in Brisbane, and he asked me to go. He said, ‘All I want is you to be there’.
But I didn’t read the message properly and he left the tickets for me at his hotel and I thought they were going to be at the stadium. So I went to the game and I couldn’t get in.
I begged him to let me take him out for breakfast the next day because I felt horrible and he was pretty cranky but he said yes. From there, we were kind of back together and that’s where our long-distance thing began, I guess.
On the day I had to say goodbye to him, we both burst into tears. We didn’t realise how quickly we’d fallen for each other.
By my second year at Firebirds, we tried to see each other as much as we could. My coach Rose Jencke was amazing about it, and I happened to break my wrist as well and so I went and had a few weeks with him, just to hang out and get on top of life again. It’s hard having two different schedules, and rugby takes him all over the place so, for a while, we’d just see each other when we could. But I guess when you know, you know.
It was a tough decision to go back to Fever after we won the premiership in 2015. I got re-offered at Firebirds, and living with my Mum was great because I’d been out of home since I went to the Australian Institute of Sport at 15. But Khao Watts left Fever and they contacted me to say the wing attack position opened up, and it felt like a bit of a sign. With Nath being there as well, I thought, ‘I think I just need to give this a shot’.
Something was just telling me to do it, and I’m so glad I did.
SHE SAID YES
The week I moved back, Nath said, ‘We’ve got a photo shoot at Cottesloe for The West Australian newspaper, now that you’re playing for Fever again and me for Force’.
I was, ‘Yep, no worries, do I have to wear a uniform?’ And he was like, ‘Nah, wear what you want, just something nice’. And I said, ‘Oh, I think I should give Fever a call then to let them know’, and he was, ‘No, I’ve already done that’. And he’s the most organised person in the world, so I didn’t second-guess it.
In the car on the way there, it started to sprinkle rain and he was a bit more flustered than usual, and I was like, ‘Mate, it’s just a bit of rain, it’s all good’. He just seemed a bit anxious. When we arrived, it was a photographer I’d never seen before, which was unusual, but she played her part really well.
She said just to start off in the field so she could get some long-distance photos, and as we were walking out there I could just tell he was a bit nervous. I was like, ‘Nath, it’s only a photo, it’s all good’, and then he started saying how grateful he is and it was all lovely, and I turned around and he was on one knee with this ring.
It just came from absolutely nowhere. We’d just been together a year and a bit and it was amazing, but it hit me for six. I had no idea it was coming. The photographer took all these photos because both of our families are from over east, and our grandparents, as well. He wanted to capture that moment for them.
It was a Friday night, and even though we usually just stay in and get a pizza or something, he was like, ‘We’re going out to dinner tonight,’ and I was, ‘Do we have to? I’m exhausted’. As soon as we got to the restaurant, I could see this TV with our photos on it and was thinking, ‘What is that?’.
He’d flown my family and his family and a few of our closest friends over to Perth for a surprise engagement party. So he killed it. It was amazing. I guess it was a good thing I said yes!
Nathan pretty much organised the wedding from over in France. I did two things: the DJ (so I could choose all the songs), and the desserts (because two of my netball mates do desserts). Everything else was him, and he wasn’t even in Australia. In terms of organisation he is ridiculous, but I try and keep him a little bit more chilled, because he tends to stress a little bit more than I would.
We got married in 2016 at Yallingup in Margaret River. I had a three-day pre-season Fever camp before the wedding and he was flying in from France, so I hadn’t seen Nath for about three months before I walked down the aisle. It was pretty special.
I’d have to ask Nath how much time we’ve spent together since, because that’s his department, he’s all over that stuff. I just know it’s not very long. He was supposed to move back permanently this week, on Tuesday. That was our countdown.
After his English season with Bath, he was going to hang the boots up, for a little while at least, and be home. But then a few weeks ago he called me after training and said, ‘I just got offered a contract at Melbourne Rebels. What do you think? Because obviously we’re not going to be living together again’.
I always say to him, ‘Go, do whatever you want’. I put myself in his shoes as well and we both understand that sport is such a short-term thing, and you want to take any opportunity. I try to be as supportive as I can, so I said, ‘Of course, go and take it and do what you need. That’s awesome.’ He was home for one night.
THE FAMILY PHARMACY
We both have chronic illnesses. We joke that our fridge and cupboard are like a pharmacy with the amount of medicine we have.
I was 17 years old when I was diagnosed with type one diabetes, and I just said to the doctor, ‘Can I eat chocolate and can I play netball?’, and he said, ‘Well, yeah you can…’ and I was like, ‘OK, it’s fine then!’
I kind of thought it would just mean eating jelly beans for the rest of my life, and it’s far from that. I take about four needles a day depending on what I’m eating, and I do my bloods a lot. It’s just a lot of organisation and in some ways it’s made sure I’m on top of things more, that I’m sorted for the day, so that’s probably been good for me. But I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone, because it’s just not easy.
In the 2014 ANZ Champs grand final, with all the nerves and adrenalin, my blood glucose levels were skyrocketing. I just couldn’t see or think properly. So I jumped off the court, took some insulin and got on the bike and tried to get them down as low as I could. I still wasn’t happy with where they were, but I got put back on. Unfortunately, it was almost too late for our team then.
The older I get, the more I grow and understand my body. But it’s a tricky one because no two diabetics are the same, so you can’t really go to the doctor and ask, ‘What can I do here or what can I do there?’ because they don’t have the answers. It’s a bit of trial and error because everyone’s completely different.
It’s also hard because, with netball, adrenalin pumps through you or you get nervous and that shoots your levels up, and when they’re high, your focus just gets a bit blurred – you’re just not the same, and it’s a weird feeling, it’s very hard to describe to non-diabetics. So it’s just a matter of trying to keep that under control.
I absolutely love this game, I’m very passionate about it and I love getting out there and running as hard as I can. It’s almost impossible not to experience that adrenalin rush, so I try to be as chilled pre-game as I can. But there’s definitely days where you’re excited out there, so I run with high levels sometimes because of that.
When Nathan was born, his poor parents were told he’d be lucky to make it to 10 years old. Cystic fibrosis is a thick mucus that fills the lungs and eventually almost suffocates you. I don’t know how his parents have gone through it; they’ve been amazing with him.
When he gets sick, he’s really sick. It’s not just a case of man flu – he’s down and out. He’s said to me that it’s like breathing through a straw. Nath’s the type of guy who won’t give up on anything, and he still goes to training when he’s not feeling great, and I can hear him wheezing through his lungs, but he just pushes on. I just don’t know how he does it. Rugby’s not an easy sport. He’s a pretty inspiring person.
And if he’s having a bad day or he’s sick – and he has cystic fibrosis, so he gets really sick – then being apart really kills me.
The average life span for someone with cystic fibrosis is 37. So it’s really young, but I think that’s why I live the way I live: I just take each day as a blessing, and that’s exactly how we look at his illness, too.
We don’t know what’s in store for him in the future. He’s healthy and happy now, and that’s one reason why I want him to keep playing sport as well, because it’s so good for him.
I’m praying that we grow old together and we both have walking sticks and probably arthritis from our sport, but you just don’t know what’s around the corner, or what’s going to happen when he finishes sport, either, because that’s what’s keeping him so healthy at the moment.
It’s not an easy process for us to have kids, so we’ll probably look into making that decision one day down the track, but at the moment I would just love to have some time with my husband. We’re both too young and too focused on sport, and we’ve got too much to do before we think about that.
We’ve got too many goals and too many dreams to tick off, I think.
SPORT IN THE WEST
There’s been some tough times at Fever, but what I love is that each year the club has grown and grown and you can see it developing. That’s why I wanted to come back here. I love the people who work for the club, Stacey Marinkovich is an amazing coach, it just drew me back.
I want to win a premiership here. I don’t think I can let netball go without doing that. It’s a really special club and a beautiful environment, and city. The girls are fantastic and everyone’s been patient, knowing that it’s building, it’s building, it’s building. We’re onto something pretty good here now.
Going to Firebirds, I really noticed the difference in their training intensity compared with how we trained at Fever. It was at a different level. And being so isolated here, there weren’t the same opportunities for practice matches against other teams as there are on the east coast.
Another big thing in WA is that people are almost happy to not come first if you make finals – fourth is almost good enough – where the mentality I find over east is that if you’re not first, you’re last. It’s do-or-die there, and that’s what coming to Fever: this team culture is changing, the training environment has stepped up, piece by piece it’s finally come together. It’s just taken a while.
With Nathan, one of our favourite things is to get out and play sport together, but I’ve had to ban one-on-one basketball because it gets out of control. I actually had a lady ask me once if I was OK because we were yelling at each other so much!
We’re two such competitive athletes that we try to do a bit more stuff where we can be a team. Something like golf can get pretty spirited – and where there’s clubs involved, that’s not good! But it’s so much fun to go out and play with and against each other. I can’t wait to do that again.
Fever plays in Melbourne twice this season – I couldn’t actually tell you the dates but Nathan will have them jotted down! Maybe in two weeks when the Rebels have a bye, we’ll have a weekend together which will be great.
It’s always a little bit surreal for the first few days when we’re back at home. When we had that one night together, I was kind of touching his face saying, ‘Whoa, we’re together right now. It’s very exciting!’.
We’ve got something special. We’re very lucky. Honestly, I wake up every day and just feel extremely blessed. It’s a good life.