By MEGAN HORSBURGH
New Black Stick Honor Dillon will never have to explain to her partner what it is like to compete in top level sport. In fact his own experiences inspired her to get there.
Dillon (22) goes out with Daniel Carter, who has just been named first choice first five-eighths in the All Black team to tour Britain, Italy and France next month.
Carter was with Dillon two weeks ago when she got the news that she had been selected out of nowhere for the Black Sticks Champions Trophy team to travel to Argentina.
"He has inspired me with his own career - I've learned from some of the things he does in rugby," she says. "Things like what he does in training or how he mentally prepares for a game."
Dillon was one of the bolters in the squad of 18 named at the end of the NZ Hockey League two weeks ago.
A week later Carter was named in the latest All Black squad to tour Europe. He will be in Italy while Dillon is in Argentina.
"I think there will be a very expensive phone bill with calls between Argentina and Europe," Dillon says.
The Black Sticks leave for Argentina today after a week in camp at the Millenium Centre. The Champions Trophy will be played from November 6-14.
Dillon was selected purely on her NZHL form and was not a member of New Zealand Hockey's development squad, which is a natural platform for many of the Black Sticks to progress through. A fast and skilful striker, she stood out for athleticism and has been selected as part of the search for a natural goal scorer. She only made the strong Canterbury NZHL team for the first time this season, after missing out the year before.
"I was pleased just to make the Canterbury team so I was really excited to make the Black Sticks," she says. "I did have a hint of it leading up to the finals. NZ Hockey asked me for my passport details and my Canterbury coach, Paul Derham, tried to make out it was for a group of players just in case, but I kind of knew."
The Champions Trophy, contested by Argentina, Australia, China, Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand, will be a baptism of fire for Dillon.
As well as taking part in the world's highest ranked hockey tournament - for teams ranked one to sixth - she's also finishing off a double degree.
The timing couldn't have been worse. Dillon sat one final exam in camp with the Black Sticks at the Millennium Centre this week and will sit a further two in Argentina between games.
She has already completed a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Marketing and is now trying to close out a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Psychology. She wants to work in marketing but her career path will change if she achieves her goal of cementing a long-term position in the NZ women's hockey team.
She won't, however, be alone as a "newbie". Two other new caps will be alongside her, players also selected in the quest to develop strikers. They are Jessica Brewster (20) Auckland, and Karlie Maloney (North Harbour), who is the youngest in the team at 18. Eleven members of the team are Athens Olympians.
Dillon says the step up from provincial hockey to playing the best in the world is both daunting and exciting.
The commitment required will put another sporting passion on the backburner. She has been a member of the New Zealand Junior Show Jumping Squad, even squeezing in a event in her home town of Wellington a couple of weeks ago.
She has up until now juggled competing in the ring in the summer and playing hockey in the winter but riding will have to take a backseat for now.
As will spending time with Carter, who she met through university friends four years ago, after she moved to Christchurch to study. The couple have been in a relationship for just over a year.
During the NZHL Carter was playing in the NPC and the two managed to spend a fair bit of time together.
"Rugby is really good like that, partners are looked after really well and we go away with the team a fair bit," she says.
Dillon's availability for future rugby occasions will be limited, however, if her hockey career takes off. She laughs at her partner's ever-increasing profile.
"It's not that great having your boyfriend displayed 10-storeys high," she says, referring to the massive billboards of Carter in Christchurch. "He was away for a couple of weeks when the billboards went up so didn't have to take the flak," she says.
Carter has been singled out as a marketable tool for NZ Rugby.
Dillon could be considered in the same light for NZ Hockey, but like Carter she is keen to keep some privacy and perspective.
Carter is hard to draw on his relationship and while Dillon acknowledges it, she wants to build a name for herself in her own right.
Argentina will provide her first big test.
- THE HERALD ON SUNDAY
By MEGAN HORSBURGH