Netball: Mother on a mission

By Suzanne McFadden

The Silver Ferns have had plenty of dilemmas, both on and off the court.

Not too long ago, evergreen centre Julie Seymour - the most experienced Fern going into next month's world championships - had second thoughts.

In her own words, she went through a meltdown, questioning why, at 37 and with three young children, she was putting herself through the rigours of international netball again.

"It was a 'poor me' moment," the 82-test veteran says. "I was asking myself, 'What am I doing? This is ridiculous. I'm the only one who has to organise three kids just so I can go to training, and then I have to leave them.' I was tired."

The week Seymour discovered "I'm not perfect" came a couple of months ago, at the start of the Silver Ferns' final training camp regime leading into their world title defence. And it took the sage words of a former Ferns captain to snap Seymour out of her momentary blues and make her more enthusiastic than ever to defend New Zealand's world title.

Seymour bumped into Belinda Colling, her captain at the 1999 world championships, at Dunedin airport after the Silver Ferns' three-day biking expedition along the Otago Central Rail trail.

"She reminded me that I had made the choice, and it was a wonderful opportunity that I'd never have again.

She sent me a great letter full of little pearls of wisdom, and two chocolate bars - energy chocolate and a Time Out."

One of those pearls was to take time out for herself - to put her feet up when Seymour's youngest child, two-year-old Josie, was napping, rather than wrestling with the vacuum cleaner.

When Seymour played at her last world champs - that unforgettable event in '99 where the Ferns lost the final to Australia in the dying seconds, 42-41 - she didn't have those qualms.

Voted player of the tournament in Christchurch, Seymour had a teaching job but no children. But today, she wouldn't have her life any other way.

New Zealand's vice-captain has got to be forgiven for wavering occasionally - it's been the toughest year of her life. Her mother, and great supporter, died in April, on the eve of the Silver Ferns' tour to England.

Seymour is a "solo parent" at home in Christchurch for the first half of every week, while her husband, former All Black and sevens star Dallas Seymour, works in Wellington with Sparc.

She relies on the help of close friends, her father and sister with babysitting while she trains. And boy, does she train. She is, and always has been, a fitness fanatic and is one of the quickest and most agile members of the Silver Ferns, regularly topping fitness tests.

The Silver Ferns' training camp schedule of the last two months - five days on, 10 days off - has been invaluable, says Seymour, a former New Zealand captain, for getting to truly know the players around her. The on-court understanding is a critical part of the Ferns' game plan, and has been lacking since major changes to the side that won Commonwealth Games gold last year (only six players remain).

"Last time in the Silver Ferns, I'd known the players for years and years. You take that understanding for granted, but it's priceless," she says.

"You need to know that person next to you. You've only got hold of the ball for three seconds before you've got to let it go to someone. You need to know exactly where they will be standing, how high they can jump, without having to search for them.

"It's not too hard - you're not writing a new manual on it; you're not going back to form one netball practice.

"We've played lots of games in camp which is so important. Sometimes you can talk too much about it."

A couple of weeks ago, Seymour unearthed a diary she kept during the 1999 world champs. It was finely detailed, down to who played which quarter, but stopped abruptly two days before the final. She never completed it.

"I remember being so excited about having a world championships in my home town. We'd played only one test against Australia earlier in the year, and we'd beaten them by 11 goals. We were feeling like, 'yes, we can do it'," she recalls.

"When I watched the All Blacks' quarter-final loss, I felt that sick feeling again. I thought, 'I know what you're going through right now'. I remember that feeling in the changing rooms, and the next morning, and the next. It's like a black hole and it stays with you for a long time.

"You pick yourself up eventually, but even talking about it now is hard. It sounds a bit ridiculous, doesn't it?"

This will be Seymour's third and final attempt to win a world championship title, after '99 and '95, when the Ferns were knocked out in the semis. But it's not the end of her netball career.

"I'm going to play the Tasman Trophy next year. I have always thought it would be great to have something like a Super 12 for netball," she says.

"I've played through the different leagues, but this is the beginning of something greater for netball. I've come this close; I'd like to have a try."

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