1979 netball team still going strong

04:03, Jun 04 2014
otage netball team
STRONG WOMEN: University of Otago netball team members Jackie Barron, Karen Nimmo, Kereyn Smith and Phillipa Muir.

It is a long way from the freezing cold netball courts of Otago to the head of the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

But that is exactly where Kereyn Smith has ended up - and her "ragtag" netball team from the University of Otago in 1979 are, similarly, a remarkably high-achieving group.

They all went their separate ways after university, and 35 years on, Smith said none of them would have seen themselves doing what they are now, back when they spent three years running around the netball court together.

"When you're at uni, you're just trying to get through the year and you don't think too much into the future - I never thought in my wildest dreams any of us would be doing these things, it probably wouldn't even have crossed my mind at that time.

"But as we've grown as professionals and with the passage of time, none of it surprises me - they're incredibly competent women and in their own right leaders in their professions."

She credits their time at university as being their formative years, and the girls developed a strong bond as they "grew up" together, Smith said. "It's really interesting, because I think what's special about going to Otago is people who you otherwise would never meet in your life, they become your best friends.

"We all came from small town New Zealand really, we all liked having a good time but also worked really hard, and in a way I think netball was just the way we happened to meet each other and form friendships that even today are really really strong."

Their netball team was like a family away from home, and the diverse group united with common passions and interests to succeed in the game, Smith said.

Their common competitiveness, enjoyment of challenges, sense of humour, and strong sense of team spirit and self-worth is what former teammate Phillipa Muir, a partner at law firm Simpson Grierson in Auckland, also thinks contributed to their successes.

"While I don't think any of us ever actually articulated it, we were all ambitious and I never doubted that the team members, who became my close friends very quickly, would go on to achieve well.

"I remain very grateful for the enduring friendships that team opened up for me."

More than 30 years later they remain some of Muir's closest friends and in regular contact, she said.

The respective successes of the women from the 1979 team were a fascinating reflection on team sport culture and what it did for people, Smith said.

"It's interesting to note, there is evidence now that actually says a disproportionate number of female leaders have a team sport background, and I think it's something to do with working together, being creative, sharing leadership, all of those things that are part of being a successful team are part of being great leaders."

Their start in netball also steered some of their careers - before becoming the first female secretary-general of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Smith was vice president of International Netball, and chairwoman of Netball New Zealand.

Former teammate Jackie Barron managed the Silver Ferns for five years before relinquishing the role to focus exclusively on her career in education, and is now principal of Hawke's Bay girls school Woodford House.

Also based in Hawke's Bay is Danelle Dinsdale, who was a partner in a global law firm in London for 20 years. She is now a company director, and sits on a number of boards across the country.

Karen Nimmo is based in Wellington where she has her own clinical psychology practice, has written a book, works in high performance sport, and was formerly a journalist and media consultant.

Closest to where it all began is Julie Allen, who owns a farm with her husband and lives in South Otago.

Despite the distance between them, the women have kept in regular contact since university and remain an inspiration to each other, Smith said.

"On reflection, it's interesting it's such a high achieving group, and it's lovely when we are together - it's just really special.

"Everyone's got a view, everyone's got things on their minds that are bigger than themselves, and living in worlds that are challenging in terms of their professions.

"Having good girlfriends, when you get together it just refreshes and nourishes your soul, and you have a lot of laughs and tell a lot of stories - half of them barely resembling the truth."

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