Joy in seeing success bloom

ALASTAIR PAULIN
Last updated 11:06 15/10/2012
Shannon Francois
ROBYN EDIE/SOUTHLAND TIMES
AIMING HIGH: Southern Steel netballer and former Motueka High School sports star Shannon Francois in action.

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Alastair Paulin

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One of the joys of being a small-town reporter is watching local success stories blossom.

That could apply to Ngatimoti's Denise McQuarrie, whose 30 years as a daffodil breeder came into full bloom late last month when she won three champion flower titles at subsequent weekends, capped by winning the champion bloom award at the biggest stage in the world for daffodil breeders, the World Daffodil Convention.

It was the perfect excuse to drive up the Motueka Valley on a spring day and talk to Denise and her husband, Neil, about what it takes to breed top daffodils.

Since I am all thumbs when it comes to gardening, and they are not green ones, it was a reminder that one of the best parts of my job is being invited into the worlds of all kinds of experts so I can ask them silly questions.

I don't know my stamens from my stigmas, so I had plenty of questions and also got to enjoy the beauty of the McQuarries' "field of dreams" of 40,000 daffodils.

But the blossoming I really had in mind was of young Motuekans who have gone on to succeed on a wider stage.

This week, Shannon Francois was called up to the Silver Ferns. Shannon is just 21 and has made a quick leap to netball's pinnacle. I first met her when she was 16 and the star player on Motueka High School's netball team in 2008, helping lead them to ninth at the national secondary schools' tournament.

Even then, it was clear that she was an extraordinary athlete: she was named Tasman senior player of the year, under-19 player of the year and secondary school player of the year at the awards, which cover the top of the south.

Her Tasman coach at the time, Priyani de Silva-Currie, called her an "up-and-coming leader" who led by example on and off the court. She said Shannon displayed a maturity beyond her years, while maintaining her infectious sense of humour and praised her athleticism, skill, mental toughness and high level of physical fitness.

I was in my first year reporting in Motueka then and had never covered netball before, but even as a newbie, I could recognise Shannon's drive.

She was also a gracious interview subject, a refreshing change from the many 16-year-olds who can barely muster a grunt when faced with questions.

That was a relief, because I had to interview her a lot. She was named in the New Zealand under-19 touch team, was a school athletics champion and was a student leader.

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Big fish can swallow a lot of ink in a small-town newspaper and every year it seems there are accomplished kids who we find cropping up again and again in the Motueka-Golden Bay News.

It is always a balancing act between overexposure and making sure we acknowledge the success of talented kids, because if we don't, we're sure to hear from the proud aunts and grandmas.

Shannon's naming as a Silver Fern seems like a validation for all those stories. She decided early on that she would focus on netball, because she recognised that was her surest path to being able play sport professionally, a goal she accomplished when she was signed to the Southern Steel in the ANZ Championship.

But at the same time, she is a full-time student at the University of Otago, where she is in her third year of a pharmacy degree. While she in is Australia with the Silver Ferns competing in the Quad Series against Australia, England and South Africa, she has to sit two final exams and prepare for her the remaining two that will happen when she returns.

We make a big deal about any local who achieves at the highest level, and rightly so, but I wonder how Shannon's accomplishment stacks up against that of All Black prop Ben Franks, another former Motuekan, who we featured heavily in the local paper during the Rugby World Cup.

Ben is a full-time professional, as are all the All Blacks. Does the fact that he is competing against other full-time athletes for his spot on the squad make it more competitive or less?

I admire Conrad Smith not only for his rugby smarts, but also because he qualified as a lawyer.

A professional rugby career won't last long, I tell the aspiring All Blacks in my house. But I don't see any of the All Blacks having to squeeze in university exams while on tour.

When the Motueka-Golden Bay News asked Shannon earlier this year how she juggled professional netball with full-time studies, she said she had to have very good time management.

That is an example I'm happy to point out to the small suspects, showing them that mental attitude, perserverance and good life skills are as key to athletic success as raw talent.

The last time I saw Shannon, she was competing in a sack race with some of her old high-school mates at Motueka's Top Team competition last year.

This year, it is on October 28, the same day the Silver Ferns play South Africa in Tauranga in the Quad Series. I doubt Shannon will risk injuring herself tumbling out of a sack, but I wouldn't be surprised if she found a way to lead her old team to victory.

- Nelson

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