In 2020, Ella Fotu was a Tall Fern planning to play professional basketball overseas.
Covid-19 led her to change teams, just not in the way she thought.
Fotu graduated alongside members of her new team, a troop of 26 new firefighters, at Fire and Emergency's National Training Centre in Rotorua on Thursday.
"The best part of this course has definitely been the people," Fotu told the Rotorua Daily Post.
"They're a great bunch here for sure, and you go through so much with one another."
While the fire service now feels like the perfect fit for Fotu, the possibility hadn't come up until recently.
"I was coaching and the mum of one of my girls came up to me and asked if I'd ever thought about [being a firefighter]. It was random."
That mum was a firefighter who later invited Fotu to visit her station so she could see what the career could be like.
Then a friend of Fotu's father, also a firefighter, gave the sportswoman another nudge.
"I had to do something about it. It was like the universe was speaking to me."
Now, after 12 weeks of tough early-morning rises, juggling an intense training and assessment timetable with finishing her environmental science course by correspondence, Fotu says the journey has definitely been worth the work.
"[Being a firefighter] is a job of all trades. I feel like I've become a builder, a sparky and a mechanic too.
"It's a physical job, involving teamwork, helping others and being a positive role model, especially for Pacific girls.
"The course has been tough, but I've enjoyed it. Being a firefighter ticked a lot of boxes for me."
The fire service has also ticked a lot of boxes for Fire and Emergency graduate Alex Schofield.
Schofield first considered becoming a firefighter about 10 years ago but an opportunity came up to move overseas. When he returned to New Zealand after nine years, the desire hadn't gone away.
"I was a mechanic before this and I wasn't dissatisfied, but I was looking for a new challenge," Schofield said.
"I wanted a job where I didn't need to sit behind a desk, a job where I could progress my career."
One very personal event finally pushed Schofield to change his perspective and his career.
"My father suddenly passed away. The fire service was there to help me when I needed them.
"It was at that point where it clicked in my head. I wanted a job with a purpose."
Schofield said during his 12-week stint as a recruit-in-training, he missed being able to spend time with his wife and two-year-old daughter.
"The toughest thing was being away from my family. Everyone here is there for each other, but I still missed my home life."
But Schofield has enjoyed the challenges of firefighter training and the camaraderie he has built with his classmates.
Schofield's proud family were present to celebrate his graduation on Wednesday.
During the ceremony, the 26 graduating recruits performed simulations to showcase their new skills. This included cutting someone free of a motor vehicle accident and extinguishing a high-rise building fire.
New recruits were each assigned to one of 66 career fire stations around New Zealand.
The 26 firefighter graduates will be deployed to the following areas:
Auckland - 9
Waikato - 2
Wellington - 7
Otago - 4
Southland - 3
Nelson/Tasman - 1