Irene van Dyk

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - COVER STORY -

Re­tired Silver Fern Irene van Dyk is the most capped in­ter­na­tional player of all time. She is also Net­ball New Zealand’s of­fi­cial am­bas­sador and leads the ju­nior pro­grammes for the Net­ball Cen­tral zone.

Don’t be star­tled if you see Irene van Dyk on the Seatoun beach­front in Welling­ton this sum­mer, coax­ing chil­dren to toss a fris­bee or shoot hoops with her. It won’t be be­cause Irene is miss­ing her only child and “best friend”, Bianca, who’s now at univer­sity in the United States. Rather, it’s the wish of the for­mer Silver Fern shoot­ing star that more chil­dren switch off their de­vices and play out­doors. And our most cel­e­brated net­baller wants to join in. The idea came to Irene ear­lier this sum­mer, when she and hus­band Christie were walk­ing along the beach, barely the length of a net­ball court away from their new home in Seatoun, at the en­trance to Welling­ton Har­bour. “It was a per­fect evening, but there were no kids to be seen. An­other day, I saw two eight-year-old girls sit­ting next to each other on a park bench, tap­ping away on their phones,” Irene says. “I just want to take my goal­post and some fris­bees down to the park, and en­cour­age kids to come out and play. I’d love to see more kids out­side, climb­ing trees and rid­ing bikes. And no one get­ting blamed if they fall.” Chil­dren and an­i­mals top Irene’s list of as­pi­ra­tions for 2017. She aims to help “grow amaz­ing kids”, by switch­ing them off sug­ary soft drinks and coach­ing her very first net­ball team; and is keen to help to find lov­ing homes for aban­doned dogs. In her typ­i­cally gen­uine and un­pre­ten­tious way, Irene fizzes when re­veal­ing she is be­com­ing a coach this year. She’s passed her ex­ams and will lead the Welling­ton High School ju­nior girls team – tak­ing the ad­vice of an­other Silver Ferns’ icon, San­dra Edge, and choos­ing a school that hasn’t had a strong net­ball back­ground. “It’s a place where I can es­tab­lish a net­ball cul­ture and make a dif­fer­ence,” she says. “I want to grow with them.

“We need to start look­ing af­ter the planet. Mother Earth isn’t happy.”

I want to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where the girls feel safe and happy to play, where they can moan and groan about school, then go home happy. We don’t need to win. “But I’d love it if these kids were asked later in life, ‘Who had the most in­flu­ence on you?’ and one might say, ‘Irene.’ I want to be that per­son, who helps kids to be­come the most amaz­ing peo­ple.” She knows she will be en­light­ened too: “I’ll learn not to be too dis­ap­pointed if they lose.” In her day job, Irene will be rais­ing “Fu­ture Ferns” – lead­ing the ju­nior pro­grammes for the Net­ball Cen­tral zone, cov­er­ing the lower half of the North Is­land, teach­ing five- to 10-year-olds the ba­sics of the game she loves. “It’s right up my al­ley,” the for­mer school teacher says with a laugh. “I start with five- and six-year-olds, play­ing on a third of a court, with par­ents hold­ing hula hoops for the goals. No one stands still; ev­ery­one touches the ball. “Slowly but surely, we’re teach­ing kids to learn the rules with­out feel­ing threat­ened by the court be­ing too big or the hoops too high. If you don’t get kids to em­brace net­ball at that age, you’ll lose them to other sports that are flour­ish­ing.” She doubts she will ever com­pletely siphon net­ball from her blood. As Net­ball New Zealand’s of­fi­cial am­bas­sador, she “still has a fin­ger in ev­ery pie… it’s a part of me, and net­ball is my ex­tended fam­ily.” In her im­me­di­ate fam­ily, there’s lit­tle she wishes to change. “Right now, ev­ery­thing is good. I’m con­tent,” the 44-year-old says. Bianca is thriv­ing at San Diego State Univer­sity, where she’s half­way through the first year of a four-year row­ing schol­ar­ship and study­ing ki­ne­si­ol­ogy. Christie loves his job as di­rec­tor of cricket at Scots Col­lege in Welling­ton. “We’re just happy do­ing what we do. I don’t strive to be­come the Prime Min­is­ter.” (Iron­i­cally spo­ken just hours be­fore John Key stepped down from of­fice.) Irene and Christie have ad­justed well to the emo­tional wrench of their daugh­ter’s move across the globe. And Hunter, their four-year-old bea­gle, has prof­ited through many more walks. “Christie and I have al­ways had a great re­la­tion­ship,” she says of her hus­band of 23 years. “We com­mu­ni­cate re­ally well – sit­ting down and gas-bag­ging about noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar.” But this year, Irene wants to spend some time alone – in the wilder­ness. “I want to do one of those three-day tramps where you sleep un­der the stars and to­tally lose con­tact with the out­side world. No phone; no in­ter­net. That’s my dream. On my own. Christie isn’t a big fan of walk­ing,” she ex­plains. She is de­ter­mined to stay ac­tive – but not overdo it. The most ex­pe­ri­enced player in in­ter­na­tional net­ball his­tory – with 217 tests to her name – Irene no longer sweats it if she isn’t “left in the foetal po­si­tion” af­ter work­ing out. “I go for the odd run, lift some free weights; noth­ing too stren­u­ous. It took me ages to re­alise it’s okay to sim­ply en­joy my run.” Health-con­scious Irene is the face of the Switch to Wa­ter cam­paign, en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple at home, school and work to choose wa­ter over sug­ar­laden drinks. “I don’t think some par­ents re­alise how bad it is – kids’ teeth take a ham­mer­ing from that stuff.” She also wants to con­tinue sup­port­ing the an­i­mal char­ity HUHA (Help­ing You Help An­i­mals), which pro­vides shel­ter for home­less and abused an­i­mals in the cap­i­tal. She’s eter­nally grate­ful to the sanctuary for find­ing new homes for her two Jack Rus­sells, who strug­gled when the van Dyks moved from their Up­per Hutt farm to the city. On the en­vi­ron­men­tal front, Irene’s mes­sage for 2017 is clear: “We need to start look­ing af­ter the planet. Mother Earth isn’t happy.” And nei­ther is she. “I’m tired of driv­ing be­hind peo­ple chuck­ing stuff out their car win­dows. I want to leave this place in a bet­ter state for our kids to en­joy. We need to teach them to look af­ter it now.”

By be­com­ing a coach, Irene van Dyk is tak­ing her love of net­ball to a younger gen­er­a­tion.

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