Diane Proudfoot and hockey weren't always a comfortable fit.
Not by any stretch. In fact, given Proudfoot's now lengthy involvement in the sport spanning nearly three decades, it's almost inconceivable to imagine that, in the beginning, she didn't even really like the game.
Now, after 23 years as president of Nelson Hockey and just recently recognised as regional winner of the Sport Volunteer of the Year awards, she recalls with some amusement her first reluctant steps into a sport that has now become a major part of her life.
The year was 1985. She had just returned to Nelson from seven years in Melbourne.
And it was only through the badgering of her husband, George, that she finally agreed to make up the numbers for the Waimai senior women's team, of which he was coach.
"I ended up being talked into playing hockey," she says.
"I'd never ever had a [hockey] stick in my hand.
"He went and bought me a stick, got me to make a uniform on the Friday night, he gave me some lessons on Saturday morning and I was out on the field on Saturday afternoon."
She remembers it was a less than auspicious debut.
"I was absolutely useless as a fullback on the field, totally useless, and I didn't enjoy it, I have to admit. I did not enjoy it at all, I felt like a fish out of water.
"Then an opportunity arose when one of the other [club] coaches said, ‘Why don't you try goalie Diane, we need a goalie'.
"So I went in there and I loved it. It was great, awesome . . . you didn't have to use a stick so much."
She recalls dabbling in netball during her school years at Nelson College for Girls, but never as a weekend pastime. Back then, she was encouraged to simply help with the household chores and basically, to leave the sport to the boys.
"I had no interest in hockey back then, none at all. And surprisingly enough, when I was living in Melbourne, my daughter used to go off to hockey with the girl across the road. But I never ever saw her play hockey at all."
It has been a remarkable transformation then, not only involving 27 years of administrative involvement, but also in terms of her recognition at both local and national level. Among her numerous achievements, she has been acknowledged at the Nelson Sportsperson of the Year Awards for her outstanding services to sport and has received a diploma from the International Olympic Committee recognising her "significant voluntary contributions to New Zealand sport".
In 2006, she received the Hockey New Zealand Silver Award, followed this year by the HNZ Gold Award for more than 25 years' service to the sport. And she still helps out in goal for her Waimai senior club side.
Administratively, she has performed numerous roles at club and provincial level over the years, including managing both the Nelson men's and women's representative teams. She has even turned her hand to coaching Waimai junior club sides.
With more than 1200 players on its books and an increasing volume of work, Nelson Hockey actually employs two fulltime and one part-time administrators. Cherie Stringer is the association's executive officer and Craig Brett is the regional development manager, and Jill Jenkins works up to 20 hours a week as part-time treasurer.
For Proudfoot, though, all of her input has been purely voluntary. She has never received a cent for her years of work behind the scenes and which has required her substantial involvement in all of Nelson Hockey's major developments, such as the installation of two artificial surfaces and the completion of the new pavilion.
Proudfoot has had a lengthy career in sales and customer service from the time she left school and has been with Nelson Pine Industries as their customer service supervisor since 1985. So it has not been a stretch for her to adapt those managerial and commercial skills to a sporting environment.
"Administration is an easy thing for me to do. I love it, I enjoy it, it's a challenge and it's never the same."
It has not always been easy, but through prudent management, Nelson Hockey now enjoys one of best facilities in the country. It is still some way behind North Harbour's three-water-turf complex, although planning is already well under way to have a second $1.5 million water turf in operation at Saxton Turf by next April. It will replace the old sand turf.
"We do reasonably well in terms of funding through NZCT and the other gaming trusts, but we've had to work a lot harder to get what we've got," she says.
"With the advent of the first artificial [sand] surface [in 1993], there was an introduction of a player fee, so every game you play you pay. So over a period of years, we've been fortunate enough to accumulate that."
Teams pay $60 a game, meaning a $120 fee each time the turf is used over a 1hr 20min time slot.
"So, as far as our projects [are concerned], that has all come mainly from player contributions and wise investment, when interest rates were good, of course."
The original sand turf was installed at a cost of about $750,000. But it is now well past its use-by date, with the $1.2m water turf project completed in 2006. The new $2.1m pavilion, a joint venture with Nelson Softball, was officially opened two years ago and, as Proudfoot points out, about $100,000 under budget.
"We've got a really good rapport with council. We're just upfront, honest and lay it all on the table and make sure we have all our T's crossed and I's dotted and just go to them and present it. We do get fantastic support from them.
"We're a minority sport, but we feel comfortable we've contributed hugely, for the size of our sport, towards our facilities for the community and our players.
"We do struggle and we have changed our programme to accommodate kids that play mainstream rugby or netball. So our juniors play during the week so that we can [accommodate] those kids as well.
"Because we have the facility and we can use it any time of the day or night, we're fortunate in that we can actually change things. So the kids have got more sports choices available to them."
After almost three decades of dealing with people, Proudfoot has learned a lot about human nature and the difficulties involved with sometimes conflicting agendas.
"The toughest [aspect of the role] would be understanding people because obviously you're dealing with a lot of different people. They all have different expectations. People can become extremely selfish.
"There's been some nasties, involving small claims court which aren't all that easy," she says, relating to an issue over costs and the representative programme.
"Those things really do play on your mind, and you have to actually make sure you're going down the right track."
She has been both exasperated and exhilarated over the years, with one potentially volatile issue almost 20 years ago proving that situations can be worked through with a bit of common sense and communication.
The installation of the sand turf in 1993 also coincided with both the Nelson men's and women's associations, separate entities to that stage, amalgamating to become Nelson Hockey.
Until then, Proudfoot had been president of the men-only Nelson Hockey Association, while also sitting on the women's committee, and says that both associations were traditionally suspicious of the other to the point where, she says, they even "hated each other".
"The women thought the men were going to take all their money and all that sort of thing. It was good to be able to get the men and the women talking to each other.
"[The amalgamation] had its ups and downs obviously, but with the turf going in, the men didn't have as much money as the women, so the women's association had put money in [with] funding [coming] from other sources."
Eventually everything fell into place.
"When I think about it now, it was probably actually pretty simple.
"But at the time, obviously there was lots of things to work through . . . just building up that rapport and that trust between two genders that were both passionate about their sport."
She is thankful for Sport Tasman's "fantastic" support and guidance which, she says, Nelson Hockey is always happy to tap into. But in terms of her lengthy involvement in hockey, she says the rewards far outweigh the negatives.
"Away from all the other things that are happening, the little niggles in the background, is actually seeing [the players] all out there playing, and especially the littlies, and just having an absolute whale of a time. And the joy on their faces when they actually accomplish something is amazing.
"You're in awe sometimes when you look at the talent that some of these kids are coming through with, it's fantastic."
- © Fairfax NZ News