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
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.”