Growing up I can remember my Mum playing netball. Sometimes she would have to bring us along, and we would sit on the sideline, not really understanding what was happening, but feeling proud that our Mum was involved.
My Mum is legally blind. She can see a bit, but not much. She’s a ferociously independant lady who refuses to use a cane, works an ATM by feel and managed (somehow) to raise five children with only eight years between us.
She loved netball. Netball, dancing and singing. Her passions. Obviously her eyesight let her down with two and her extreme shyness let her down with the third.
Now, back in late 198Os in Rangiora, no one wanted an introverted, blind and slow moving-member on their netball team except our local church – they had no choice but to accept her.
So there we were, watching my Mum, proudly joining in on a game she loved. I remember turning to a kid next to me and saying “that’s my Mum”. I didn’t know how the game worked, or exactly how you were meant to play, but I loved that my Mum was involved. I thought that she was invincable.
One Saturday morning, we had stayed at home with Dad, Mum came down the driveway and she was crying. It was obvious that she had sobbed the long walk home as her eyes were puffy and her face was red. We were alarmed. Mum never cried. Ever.
She’d been kicked off the netball team for not paying her fees. The other ladies had waited until Mum had walked the 30 minutes to the courts to tell her she wasn’t allowed to be a part of the team anymore. The church team. We were well known in town for being a family that struggled to make ends meet, often relying on food parcels and hand me downs. And Mum was off the team for not being able to afford the luxury of her netball fees.
And that was that.
When I was old enough, I joined the school team. I also loved netball, and would walk myself down every Saturday morning for our game. Mum struggled to pay for our fees too, but our primary school was a lot more forgiving than our local church and, somehow, our fees always got paid.
It took me a long time to realise that I was always in the bottom team. Always struggled. Could never get to the ball fast enough or catch it on the fly. I loved the game, but was terrible at it. That, in itself, is fine in primary school as no one cares, but once I hit high school, there was no way I wanted to embarass myself by being so terrible at the game. And so I quit. And with it, I quit trying to improve my physical skills. I completely gave up and decided I was ‘more of an indoor person’.
In Year 10, I was diagnosed with leukeamia, and spent weeks in hospital having chemotherapy and battling the effects of all the drugs. In my two years of treatment, what little physical skill I had was lost to the vincristine, steriod and mexotrexate combo that wiped all my energy and affected the way my muscles work. I was often low in platelets to clot blood, and hemoglobin that gave energy, so opportunities to exercise were limited. For someone that had always found it hard- I didn’t need much convincing to ‘take it easy’.
In saying all of this, I have always admired natural athletes. I would love to enjoy going for long walks and slogging it on a hike. I see the satisfaction on the faces of people who do this kind of stuff for fun and deep down I know that I’m missing out. I look at the absolute pride on the face of anyone on the podium for gold and I wish I had the skill and dedication to get there myself. It must be the most euphoric feeling.
When I was pregnant with Zahara, I decided that I wanted to actively promote physical activity with her. I realised I had a chance to give her the skills I wish I possessed myself. So I vowed to make sure that she was raised to love moving, adventuring and exploring.
Being fit and active is so pro-social. As a high school teacher, I see those students who spend their weekends playing sport or are up early in the morning to train. Their social skills, work ethic and self-esteem are such positive attiributes and, from what I can see, they’re too busy to get into any ratbaggery that sometimes comes with that age group.
I’d love for Zahara to be the same. That’s why, at 20 months, I enrolled her in our first dance classes. And why, when My First Gym asked us along, I jumped at the chance. I am confident that if Zahara’s early experiences with movement are safe, fun and challenging, it will set her up for life. Not so she can be in the top sports team, but so that she naturally gravitates towards physical activity as a passion. Done for the sheer enjoyment. Like my Mum.
Who, by the way, is starting ballroom dancing lessons with the Blind Foundation. The light on her face when she told me, took me right back to the netball court. I couldn’t be prouder. I know Zahara will be too.