Shouldering the burden of much-loved father

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2013
Gemma Hazeldine
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

Gemma Hazeldine during a Central Pulse pre-season training session at Lyall Bay.

Gemma Hazeldine
TRIBUTE: Gemma Hazeldine's tattoo.

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To call Gemma Hazeldine's story affecting doesn't do it justice.

The 21-year-old Central Pulse recruit lost her father, Stan, to cancer in September and has made herself a living monument to the man she credits for her netball success.

Hazeldine was a member of the New Zealand team which won gold at August's World Youth Championships in Glasgow and was promised by her father that he'd hang on until she was home.

Stan kept his word, and now his daughter is standing by her own vow never to forget their time together.

Father and daughter designed a tattoo, which she has on her foot. Since his death she's added one on her left shoulder and another on the webbing between the thumb and forefinger on her left hand.

"Dad, Your Guiding Hand On My Shoulder Will Remain With Me Forever" reads the one on her shoulder, while the signature of the man who, she jokes, signed her away to the Pulse, sits on her hand.

A member of the Canterbury Tactix's wider training group this year, Hazeldine wasn't sure whether leaving Christchurch would be the best thing for her family. It was Stan who said she had to go wherever netball could take her.

"He signed my [contract] papers the day before he died, so that's why I've got his name on me. It's so I've always got him with me and every time I catch the ball I get to see him. No-one else needs to, just me," Hazeldine said.

"I got it the day after dad passed away. I asked him to write his signature down on a piece of paper - I didn't tell him why.

"I didn't know where to get it and then Matt [her partner Matt Etheredge] said 'why don't you get it there because it's on the left side and it goes up to the heart'."

The fingers on Hazeldine's right hand returned to that signature regularly, as she talked. Without wanting to presume too much, it seemed that whenever she found discussing the topic hard, rubbing her father's signature helped her carry on.

Right now, things are good for Hazeldine. A goal attack growing up, she played a bit of centre at the World Youth Championships and will be a utility for the Pulse.

Awestruck when she first rolled up to the Pulse a fortnight ago, she's now revelling in the fact that idols such as Irene van Dyk and Donna Wilkins are just normal people too and want her to feel welcome and valued.

The difficult part for Hazeldine will come once the Pulse's trans-Tasman Netball League season starts, on March 3, and her sounding board isn't there any more.

"It's going to be hard without dad, because he does my debrief after every game. In Glasgow he watched all the games [via internet streaming], without a doubt.

"Even when he was in hospital he always made sure he watched the games, so he's a big part of me.

"If he told me I'd had an awesome game then I knew I'd definitely had a good game and he'd also tell me what I needed to work on as well. But I know he's on my shoulder for everything."

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- The Dominion Post

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