Dale Budge is a sports writer for the NZ Herald.

Hockey: Anita McLaren - I haven't retired

Anita McLaren runs with the ball during Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photo / Getty Images
Anita McLaren runs with the ball during Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photo / Getty Images

It's not quite at the Mark Twain "the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" level but former Black Sticks skipper Anita McLaren is reassuring fans she hasn't retired.

McLaren, nee Punt, took an indefinite break from the sport after the Rio Olympics to re-charge herself mentally and physically but is promising to return at some point.

"I have not retired even though everyone seems to keep telling me I have," McLaren tells herald.co.nz. "I would love to be back playing hockey but I need to give back to my work - by having this time off I will be fresher and more mentally in it.

"I've [always been] hungry for it - it is the training side and the travel. This body is getting a little bit old and it doesn't like getting out of a car after sitting there for two hours and trying to run around chasing after some 20-year-olds.

"I'm not done. I haven't retired."

McLaren has put all her energy into work this year as she tries to make up for time she took off leading into and for the Rio Games.

"It has been a long time. I held my hockey stick for the first time the other day and she had a few cobwebs that's for sure," the 29-year-old said.

"I have been trying to relax. I had a lot of time off work for my Rio preparation so I have been pretty much just been working. I am trying to get ahead for when I decide to return to the group and need more time off.

"My focus is on next year and I will need a lot of time off so I am trying to do as much as I can work-wise to get myself ahead and build up some credit so when it comes to next year I can get that time off then.

"I am definitely missing being around the team. The competing side I love - I love playing for New Zealand - and I am very much missing that."

For players like McLaren, who have been in the national side for two Olympic cycles, the demands get harder and harder to maintain as other areas of life become more important.

"We are semi-professional but we act like we are professional athletes. It is six days a week and some days it is double training. I live in South Auckland and work in South Auckland so I have to head over to the gym on the Shore and I need to be there before 6am because I need to leave at 7am so I can get back through an hour and a half of traffic for work. Then you work your day and head back over to the Shore for training. Then I run around for two hours and then head back home. That is a very big hole for my body and also mentally.

"You are not doing it for the money side you are doing it for the passion and representing your country is such a huge honour and something that keeps me going for it even though it isn't making me a millionaire."

A return to club hockey will be the first steps McLaren takes along a path to returning to the Black Sticks environment. She will sit out next week's Hawke's Bay Cup but hasn't made a decision on whether she will make herself available for the World League Semifinal in Brussels in June.

"I'm not ruling anything out at this stage.

"I still have to make that decision and first of all I need to get back into playing some hockey so I will be playing for the mighty Howick club and we will just go from there.

"I can't just walk back into the team - I have to prove that I am good enough. I will get put through all my paces and be checked to make sure I am up there to be able to get back in the squad let alone the team to go to world league 3."

- NZ Herald

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