Evergreen netballer not ready to call time on her illustrious career just yet
You can't put a price on loyalty.
But if you did, a certain Marlborough netballer would be a billionaire.
When 15-year-old Bridget Marfell ran onto the court at Horton Park in early 1985 to play her first senior game for College Old Girls, no one envisaged that she would still be playing at the top level, for the same club, 32 years later.
Earlier this season Bridget Gane, as she is now known, played her 550th senior/premier match, a record unsurpassed in this province.
At the recent Marlborough Netball Centre prizegiving, Gane received a special achievement award recognising her outstanding effort, taking the 47-year-old completely by surprise.
"I didn't see that coming," said the mother of four boys, Thomas (26) Josh (23) and 10-year old twins Ajay and Jake.
Over the past three decades the outstanding midcourter even managed to juggle her pregnancies with her netball commitments, meaning she never missed an entire season. "Thomas was born in May, the only one born in the netball season ... he was six weeks early, so I was back playing a couple of weeks later," she recalls.
She makes no bones about the secret to her longevity. "Staying fit and conditioned. I think a lot of players feel that once the netball season is over then they don't have to keep fit in the off-season, but I think that is a hugely important time ... don't stop."
Netball has evolved dramatically in recent times, at all levels, changes Gane has embraced and relished. "[The game] is a lot more physical and a lot faster now ... there is more defence and a lot of teams have come up with different defensive systems. Attack-wise it is still the same, it's just the speed of the ball you have to get used to."
She credits the shift of premier netball indoors when the Marlborough Stadium was built in 2000 with helping keep her in the game. "I don't mind playing outside but it is a bit harder on the body, especially the calves. It's definitely easier indoors on the legs and of course there is less damage if you fall over."
She has been part of many title-winning sides over the past 32 seasons but has especially fond memories of the all-conquering Harlequins COG team that was undefeated for six straight seasons and 109-games from 1994 to 2000. "That side had some wonderful players, like Tash Flynn, Sandy Large, Tracey Moanaroa, Anne Reed, Serena Hounslow ... it was an amazing time."
But there have been plenty of other highlights. "Playing for Tasman at a higher level was great, plus I enjoyed going away to Superclub with the Harlequins team, that was awesome," said Gane. "Also having my family involved when dad [Terry Marfell] was my coach and mum [June Marfell] was manager. I have always had really good coaches who I have learned so much from over the years, so it's nice to put a bit back in."
In recent years Gane has found herself lining up with, or against, the next generation and even close family members.
"That's great and happens a lot," she explained. "For example, when I was the Marlborough netball development officer [2015-16 premier team mate] Wendy Trolove was one of my little ones that used to come along to my sessions. Being able to play alongside them later on is awesome.
"Next year I may get to play alongside one of my nieces [MGC midcourter Sophie Robinson] who I played against this year. Her and my other niece [MGC defender Liv Robinson] always call me "Auntie Bridget" on court," she says with a chuckle.
Life is never dull during winter for the Gane clan, husband Laurin and the twins are tied up with the Moutere rugby club while Bridget balances netball commitments with her part-time job as sports co-ordinator at Marlborough Boys' College, plus running the recently-opened Burn and Blast Fitness Studio in Selmes Rd.
While the pursuit of fitness, for herself and others, is a big part of her life, netball is undoubtedly number one. "I love everything about [netball], I'm really passionate about it. I enjoy the competition and playing with all the girls, giving them a bit of my knowledge, things I have learned over the years, it's just great.
"I'll definitely be back next year. A lot of people ask me 'when are you going to retire?' but when I'm not injured and while I can keep up with the game at [premier] level I will carry on.
"The minute I can't keep up with those younger players that will be like, 'see ya, that's me done'."
Let's hope that day is still some way off for a woman who continues to set the lofty standard that the province's netballers aspire to.