Adversity brings out different things in different people, some don't deal with it well, some thrive because of it. Portia Barcello is definitely in the latter category.
The year 11 Marlborough Girls' College student celebrated her 16th birthday just last month, but last week she was one of four Marlborough players named in the Tasman under-19 netball squad. Still eligible at that level for another three years, and in her debut season in the Marlborough premier competition, the modest teenager said her selection very much came from left field.
"I definitely didn't expect to make it. I actually just went over for the experience of the trial ... it was pretty cool to make it considering I had no expectations."
Despite her relatively small size for a defender, the talented and athletic Smog Two goal keep/defence has been one of the standout players in the premier competition this year. It's a challenge she is relishing and learning a lot from and although wins have been scarce for Smog Two thus far, Portia said getting beaten most of the time only drives her to work harder.
Unsurprisingly, it is exactly that kind of determined attitude that has led her to success in netball. What is harder to believe is when she started playing six years ago at Springlands School she hated the sport and openly admits she was not much good.
Basketball, where she represented Marlborough at age-group level, was her first love but a bad ankle injury and the first real glimpse of success in netball soon changed that.
"I was basketball, basketball, basketball and then my friend's netball team needed more numbers so I said `OK I'll play, but basketball's way cooler.' When I started playing I'd dribble the ball because I was so into basketball. I got in the under-15 A [netball] team, then I did my ankle playing basketball and I was so upset. That's when I decided to really focus on netball."
Since then Portia's netball has gone from strength to strength. She made the tournament team playing for MGC year 9 at the South Island Junior Champs and did the same the following year when MGC won the year 10 title.
Last year she played for both the MGC junior and senior teams.
Mature beyond her 16 years, Portia credited the injury as playing a big part in helping her improve and said being anything but a natural when she first started has also been instrumental in her success,
"I think my injury made me better. I didn't want it to make me give up, I wanted to keep going.
"I think if you start really good you can only go down, but if you start off bad you can only go up. Getting pulled back has also made me want to fight more along the way. Not making the top teams or not making the starting seven."
While there were too many coaches who had assisted her to mention, she said they had all been helpful and were always honest with her, which was beneficial. Parents Mark and Elizabeth have also played an important role and are more often than not on the sidelines lending their support.
An outgoing and multitalented person, Portia's sporting abilities are certainly not limited to netball and basketball.
In the summer rowing takes over and, at this year's Maadi Cup, she was part of the gold-medal winning MGC under-16 four, a performance which earned her a trial for the South Island Secondary Schools team in Twizel. Earlier in life, the martial art kempo was something she did for a decade and at the age of just 11 the second degree black belt won national under-20 titles in five different disciplines.
Equestrian is another sport where she has succeeded in the face of tough circumstances. After two years of lessons at the RDA, she got her first horse Heineken two years ago. A polo pony with no jumping or dressage experience, Heineken bucked Portia off more times than she cares to remember in the early stages and many people were telling her to get rid of him. But, her perserverance has been rewarded with success at several events since and last month she achieved her goal of riding Heineken as part of the MGC team which competed in the Tasman Secondary Schools event.
Away from school and sport she enjoys playing piano and spending time at the family bach at Anatohia Bay in the Marlborough Sounds. While there diving, which she has been doing with Mark since a very young age, and waterskiing are usually on the agenda.
However, with the national under-19 tournament looming next month and the Marlborough premier competition continuing, the next few months will be all about netball. And while she has no specific goals beyond playing well for Tasman, Portia is keen to keep rising up the ranks.
"I'm not really sure [what my goals are] now because the goal of making the Tasman under-19s is gone, just making the Marlborough under-17s was a goal for this year. It would be awesome to keep moving up and if I could make it to the top that would be really cool."
- The Marlborough Express