Most people know former world squash champion Dame Susan Devoy as a highly competitive straight-shooter.
What many might not know is that she is also a genuinely entertaining speaker with a great sense of humour.
Guests at the Cornerstone Trust fundraising luncheon in Te Awamutu were treated to stories from her impressive career, as well as life since retiring at just 28.
Devoy explained that she grew up in a large family in Rotorua - the only girl with six older brothers.
She spent her early years at squash courts, watching her brothers play, so decided she may as well join them.
“They were certainly talented but liked the social side of squash more. I had a drive to be better and was self-motivated to improve.”
She left school at 17 and after many years of having to fundraise for every opportunity, she felt extremely fortunate to be funded $20,000 to start her professional career. Two other people turned down grants so that she could compete overseas.
“That’s why it’s so wonderful to see such great support of these young people at the Cornerstone luncheon – especially the diversity and those competing in minority sports.
“I know how hard it can be - I was a female in a minority sport.
“There was no such thing as sports science or anything when I started. From when I was about 10 years old I just ran 3km to the squash courts, trained as long and as hard as I could and ran home again.”
That determination to achieve paid off - she was dominant in the late 1980s and early 1990s, winning the World Open on four occasions and the British Open eight times.
Although her retirement in 1992 was a surprise to many, she took on many more challenges off the court.
In the following years she was on the Auckland DHB board, chief executive of Sport Bay of Plenty, Squash New Zealand board member and New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner.
In 1992 she was the youngest female to be knighted (at that time) in New Zealand.
While she was a household name then, today she says many people don’t even know who she is.
“A while back I was running to catch a plane and the scanner didn’t accept my ticket that had my title and name.
“So I had to go to the Air New Zealand counter to get help and the young girl there looked at my ticket and said ‘What’s DAM mean’?
“I didn’t want to sound pompous and explain about being knighted which makes me a DAME, so I said it’s just a nickname.
“In return, I got a right royal bollocking for using incorrect names on ticketing. She said I was lucky to even be getting onto a flight, but she would let me off this one time!”
MC Steven Holloway then led a Q&A session – covering everything from her family - husband John and four sons - and her ability to still play squash, to her involvement in Celebrity Treasure Island.
Holloway also interviewed local athletes, who have been Cornerstone Trust grant recipients, highlighting their achievements.
One of those recipients, Brylee Gibbes, collected the Martin McTamney Award for an outstanding achievement during the past year.
As part of dance crew Yung ID, Brylee (18) was a silver medallist at the World Hip Hop Championship held in Arizona.
This year’s auction saw a range of items bring in top prices, including a golf trip ($1400), a fishing trip ($1400), a bed ($2000), a holiday homestay ($2300) and painting services ($4100).
Funds raised from the luncheon will support local athletes onto the world stage.
For more details or application forms, contact Cornerstone Trustee Jeanette Ballantyne (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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