Netball: Mother who won't hang up the bib

By Lee Rowberry

Despite motherhood and several failed attempts at retirement, netball is still as much a part of Julie Seymour's life as it was 15 years ago.

This week Seymour, 35, is embarking on her twelfth national netball championships at Auckland's Trusts Stadium and insists it is her love for the game that has carried her there.

The extent of her netball career came flooding back last weekend as her Canterbury side settled into the Hobson motor court in Hobsonville.

"I was looking around thinking, 'This place looks familiar' and then I realised I stayed here with Canterbury in 1992. It was quite embarrassing really."

But Seymour's lengthy netball career is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Silver Ferns captain and most valuable player of the 1999 world championships are just some of her credentials, not to mention giving birth to three children along the way.

After falling pregnant with her son Harrison in 1999, Seymour naturally thought it was the end of her playing days.

But as she eased into motherhood and regained her fitness she found the sport beckoning her back on court, and had no reason to fight it.

"Back then, when netballers had children they didn't really come back, so I kind of based my decision around that," she said. "At that stage I was mentally over it, but that soon changed."

By 2001 she was back in the Canterbury Flames National Bank Cup side and the Silver Ferns.

Later that year she led Canterbury to their first national provincial title in 17 years and helped successfully defend it a year later after captaining New Zealand at the Manchester Commonwealth Games.

Then came Hannah, now 3, and Josie, 18 months. With three children under five, Seymour was adamant she would not go back.

"I really didn't think I could do it," she said. "But here I am."

As a keen athlete and former Canterbury 400m and 800m champion, regaining fitness was, like motherhood, second nature.

Physically, Seymour is in the best shape of her life, but she attributes her resilience to her family and having had those years away from the game to refresh mentally.

She believes playing netball makes her a better mother, and provides balance in her life.

As the game gathers professional status, she feels she can justify the commitment and time spent away from her children.

"Playing for me is now like a part-time job and I feel better about doing it knowing I can contribute financially. It's great being a mum, but it's also great having another focus."

Seymour says the social side of the sport is still a major drawcard, as is the opportunity to feed her competitive streak.

"I still enjoy going off to training and travelling with the team and as long as they keep picking me I'll still get out there and give it everything. As long as I'm still having fun, I'll play."

Now, in 2006, she is eyeing her fourth national title, having also won the coveted prize with Wellington in 1996. That year, Wellington broke Auckland's 10-year reign, an achievement Seymour remembers fondly.

"That was when Auckland had the likes of Sandra Edge and Joan Hodson - basically the entire New Zealand team, so that was huge for us."

That she has gone from playing alongside netball greats to becoming one seems to elude Seymour. Despite an illustrious international career she remains humble, and says Canterbury coach Tania Hoffman, garners respect from players and management.

"She's a mentor - she leads by example and brings so much to any team she's involved with. Even with her age, she's still a very youthful midcourter and has the fitness and speed of those much younger. She's always so calm and never has an unkind word to say."

Seymour picked up a haematoma on her right thigh against North in the opening round of the championship in Christchurch two weeks ago. But that isn't slowing her down - further proof of her resilience and exceptional fitness.

Having been a part of two world championships and two Games campaigns, Seymour has yet to claim a major international trophy.

A New Zealand squad will be named tomorrow, but despite talk of a possible international recall, and the thought of a world title in Fiji next year, Seymour maintains that is not where her focus lies.

"If they picked me of course I wouldn't say no, but that's not really why I'm playing now. Yes, I've never won a world champs, but that won't make my career any poorer."

This week, Seymour's sights are firmly set on the national title and with the likes of herself, Vilimaina Davu and promising up-and-comer Jade Topia in the mix, Canterbury look more than capable of taking it out.

"We have a really good group of players and if we can get it right on the night then there's no reason why we can't."

JULIE SEYMOUR

Born: March 29, 1971
Birthplace: Wigan, England
Height: 1.71m

International career

Silver Ferns debut: 1994 v Australia.
Test caps: 75
Voted outstanding player of tournament at 1999 world championships where New Zealand finished second.
Commonwealth Games silver medal Kuala Lumpur 1998, Manchester 2002.
National Bank Cup: Flames 1998, 2000-04, 2006; Shakers 1999.

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