MOTHER OF ALL ROLES

LAURA GEITZ, AUS­TRALIA’S MOST POP­U­LAR FE­MALE ATH­LETE, RE­VEALS HOW SHE KEPT HER PREG­NANCY A SE­CRET FROM HER TEAM­MATES – EVEN AS THEY WON THE GRAND FI­NAL

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Stellar Contents - Words FRANCES WHIT­ING Pho­tog­ra­phy JEREMY CHOH Styling MA­RINA AFONINA

In a Stel­lar ex­clu­sive, Aus­tralian ath­lete Laura Geitz shares her ex­cit­ing baby news – and re­veals how she hid her preg­nancy from her team­mates.

Laura Geitz took a deep, steady­ing breath. Gath­ered in the dress­ing room around her, the Queens­land Fire­birds had just won – in a nail-bit­ing 69–67, dou­ble ex­tra-time fin­ish – the 2016 ANZ Net­ball Grand Fi­nal against the New South Wales Swifts, and Geitz, their cap­tain, had some­thing to say.

Ru­mours of Geitz’s re­tire­ment had been swirling for weeks; one player had sent her a text that morn­ing that read: “If this is your last game, we’re go­ing to play our hearts out for you.”

An­other Fire­bird – un­able to stand the sus­pense any longer – had whis­pered in Geitz’s ear dur­ing the grand fi­nal’s post-match lap of hon­our, “Are you re­tir­ing?”

“I’ll tell you in the dress­ing room,’’ Geitz had whis­pered back.

“Oh, God, that means you are,” the other player groaned.

Now Geitz looked at the team who had just won its third con­sec­u­tive premier­ship, smiled at their ex­hausted, elated and ex­pec­tant faces in the dress­ing room of the Bris­bane En­ter­tain­ment Cen­tre, and be­gan…

“I want to thank you so much for the most amaz­ing year, and for be­ing the most amaz­ing bunch of peo­ple,” she said. “What you’ve achieved is so fan­tas­tic and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this team but, as you’ve prob­a­bly guessed, I do have some news.

“This will be my last game in the pur­ple dress [the Fire­bird’s dis­tinc­tive uni­form colour] for a while. I’ve been of­fered the most amaz­ing job op­por­tu­nity for next year that I just can’t turn down. You get to a point in your life where you re­alise that when some job op­por­tu­ni­ties come along, they are just too good to let go.

“So, next year,” she con­tin­ued, “I am go­ing to be… a mum.”

Af­ter a long, stunned si­lence, the dress­ing room erupted.

SE­CRET-KEEP­ING IS not usu­ally in Laura Geitz’s playbook. Brought up in the tiny Queens­land town of Al­lora, about 150km south­west of Bris­bane, on her par­ents Ross and Juanita’s 600-ha cat­tle and grain prop­erty, Geitz, 28, was raised to be a straight shooter (in more ways than one).

Ross Geitz, who died in a farming ac­ci­dent in May 2013, in­stilled in Geitz lessons that re­main with her “every sin­gle day”, in­clud­ing the im­por­tance of “play­ing life with a straight bat”.

So for Geitz, who is now 15 weeks preg­nant, “keep­ing mum” about be­com­ing one, par­tic­u­larly from her team­mates, was no easy task.

“Oh, I was just bust­ing to tell some­one,” laughs the stat­uesque 185cm-tall net­baller, “but we [Geitz and her hus­band Mark Gil­bride, 35] wanted to get through that first trimester to make sure ev­ery­thing was pro­gress­ing as it should be­fore I told my net­ball fam­ily, or it found its way into the me­dia.

“But I was just bust­ing to let it out, par­tic­u­larly to the Fire­birds, and I kept think­ing, ‘How am I go­ing to get away with this?’ We are al­ways get­ting changed to­gether, al­ways wear­ing crop tops, and I could see my boobs were get­ting big­ger, I was just wait­ing for one of the girls to say, ‘Whoa, what’s go­ing on there?’” laughs Geitz in a de­light­ful, hearty rum­ble.

“Plus, I’ve had morn­ing sick­ness, so I kept wor­ry­ing I was go­ing to have to go off court to vomit.”

Re­mark­ably, Geitz played – and won – three matches in the early stages of her preg­nancy. There was the July 17 con­fer­ence fi­nal against the Swifts, the July 24 ANZ semi-fi­nal against the South­ern Steel, and the grand fi­nal against the Swifts on July 31, when she was nine weeks preg­nant.

“Look­ing back now, I’m pretty amazed I pulled it off,” she says.

More amaz­ing, how­ever, for Geitz is the fact she is preg­nant at all – this baby, she says, is some­thing of a mir­a­cle, a gift she was not con­vinced she would ever re­ceive.

Pro­fes­sional sport takes its toll on fe­male bod­ies; their cy­cles are of­ten ir­reg­u­lar or non-ex­is­tent and Geitz, who also led the Aus­tralian Di­a­monds to vic­tory against the New Zealand Sil­ver Ferns in the 2015 World Cup, says she was no ex­cep­tion.

“I’d had one cy­cle in six months, and I re­mem­ber our team doc­tor said to me: ‘You have to let your body re­alise it’s fe­male, it’s not a ma­chine.’ So

“Look­ing back now, I’m pretty amazed I pulled it off”

we were un­der the im­pres­sion there was no chance of me fall­ing preg­nant when I was train­ing so hard.

“But I’d had some pains and I thought, ‘Oh, some­thing’s not right,’ be­cause when you’re an ath­lete, you’re aware of every lit­tle nig­gle. My doc­tor said to have a scan just to check ev­ery­thing was all right, and it was, but be­cause it was too early to show, the scan didn’t show I was preg­nant.”

In­stead, one night a few weeks later, “af­ter a mas­sive din­ner”, Geitz pulled up her shirt at her and Gil­bride’s in­ner-city Bris­bane home and said: “Look at my stom­ach, it’s so bloated, I’m so un­com­fort­able, and he said, ‘Babe, could you be preg­nant?’ And I said, ‘No way.’”

But at her hus­band’s urg­ing, she re­trieved the preg­nancy test she had bought a few weeks be­fore at her lo­cal chemist, along with an ovu­la­tion kit, when the cou­ple had be­gun dis­cussing start­ing a fam­ily.

“I re­mem­ber when I bought them, the young guy at the chemist, he was about 19 years old, said to me, ‘How ya go­ing… been busy?’” she re­calls.

Geitz gig­gles, then shares her de­light – and in­cred­u­lous­ness – at the mo­ment the preg­nancy test re­vealed it wasn’t the mid-week In­dian take­away that had her feel­ing so full, but her first child.

“We were so happy – stunned – but so happy.”

Moth­er­hood is a game-changer for Geitz, who is due in early March next year, and will hang up the pur­ple dress next sea­son to cheer on her beloved Fire­birds and Di­a­monds from the stands.

But “netty” is in her blood, the sport she has felt at home in since she first picked up a ball at 13 years of age at Scots Pres­by­te­rian Girls Col­lege in War­wick, a small town in south­east Queens­land, and “ev­ery­thing changed”.

“I was pretty shy in high school, I’d moved from my tiny state school in Al­lora to a much big­ger high school, and I felt so… awk­ward.

“I was so tall, I had the world’s worst hair­cut and I felt self-con­scious… just this walk­ing bean­pole with bad hair.”

But net­ball turned her height into an ad­van­tage. Geitz caught the eye of tal­ent scouts who soon re­cruited her to play for Queens­land in the Un­der-17 Aus­tralian Net­ball League, and from there her star has kept ris­ing.

She is now ar­guably Aus­tralia’s most pop­u­lar fe­male ath­lete, known equally for her on-court fear­less­ness as her off-court earth­i­ness.

“We were un­der the im­pres­sion there was no chance of me fall­ing preg­nant when I was train­ing so hard”

She is, af­ter all, a coun­try girl and one whose ties to the land re­main strong, with her mother Juanita, older sis­ter Carla, brother-in-law Jim and their two chil­dren, Harry and El­lie, still at the fam­ily farm in Al­lora, con­tin­u­ing the legacy Ross Geitz be­gan.

In late 2013, Geitz and Gil­bride bought a “week­ender” at Al­lora, plant­ing the seeds of coun­try life for their own budding fam­ily. “Although we won’t be able to move back there full-time, I want my kids to know what it’s like to play be­neath that wide, open sky, to ride mo­tor­bikes and horses, and feed the chooks, and get that dirt be­neath their fin­ger­nails.”

In be­tween, Geitz will keep her eye on the ball with Net­ball Queens­land, ei­ther, she says, in men­tor­ing or coach­ing, and also through her bur­geon­ing ca­reer with the Nine Net­work, where she hopes to have a role in its free-to-air broad­cast­ing of net­ball in 2017.

The de­tails of her ap­point­ment at Nine are still be­ing fi­nalised, but there is no doubt Geitz will con­tinue to be, both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, a tow­er­ing pres­ence in the game, while, as al­ways, keep­ing her feet firmly on the ground. Her dad taught her that, she says. Los­ing Ross Geitz al­most three and a half years ago – who died three days af­ter be­ing thrown by a steer on the Al­lora prop­erty – has been tough on his youngest daugh­ter. Grow­ing up, she was “his lit­tle shadow”, fol­low­ing him around the prop­erty and at cat­tle sales, where every­one, she laughs de­light­edly, thought she was his son.

“I was such a tomboy, they’d see me and Dad and say, ‘G’day Ross, geez your boy is shoot­ing up.’

“I wish he was here to meet our child, of course I do, but I know that he will be, in how we bring our own kids up.

“My dad taught me that it doesn’t mat­ter what sort of suc­cess you have, what’s re­ally im­por­tant is to work hard every day, and treat every per­son you meet with kind­ness and re­spect.

“He showed me what kind­ness can achieve, that it’s also ca­pa­ble of mak­ing its own lit­tle mir­a­cles.”

LAURA WEARS Max Mara dress, world. max­mara.com; Ellery top, ellery­land.com; Cé­line ear­rings (worn through­out), par­lourx. com; (op­po­site page) Ellery dress (with zip-de­tail), as be­fore; Em­po­rio Ar­mani pants, ar­mani.com; Ver­sace shoes, miss­louise.com. au; F

LAURA WEARS Max Mara coat and skirt, world.max­mara.com; Top­man hoodie, (02) 8072 9300; Lucy Folk ear­rings, lucy­folk.com; Zara shoes, zara.com

GIRLS ON FIRE (left) The Fire­birds cel­e­brate their 2016 ANZ Cham­pi­onship vic­tory in July; (right) Geitz with her hus­band, Mark Gil­bride, and dog Char­lie.

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