Mind

Adine Wilson on how the death of good friend Tania Dalton inspired the formation of the 'T-birds'

'One thing I've learnt through all of this is that it's so important to stay connected and make the effort.'

By: Kelly Bertrand

Adine Wilson was in a panic. Late to catch a flight at Auckland Airport, with her husband in another city, and her two kids scheduled to be looked after by six different people over the weekend, the Silver Fern legend almost gave up hope of making it to Invercargill for the Southern Sting's 20th reunion.

"I remember thinking, 'There's no way I can do this,'" tells the former netballer.

But then Adine (39) thought about what one of her best friends would have done in the same situation.

"I remembered Tania," she says, smiling, "and she did that same flight every bloody week. She made the effort. It was one of those nice little times where you think, 'If she could do it, so can I. What would T do? I'll just do that!'"

There's not a day that goes by where Adine doesn't think of her late, great friend and former teammate Tania Dalton, who passed away suddenly last year.

Adine's dear late friend Tania Dalton

Whether it's when she's having a sip of a particularly good wine, sitting on the sideline of a netball court or watching her kids play sport, Tania – or Tarns, or 'T' – is never far from her thoughts.

"With Tania, when you were with her, you felt like the most important person in the room," Adine says.

"She made you feel like you were her best friend. But she had millions of them! That's just the way she was.

"So now we have a little group, we call ourselves the T Birds. Some of us are close friends and saw each other all the time anyway, others we wouldn't see for ages. But now we make the effort to meet regularly and catch up, have dinner and a wine together, and have a good laugh about T. It's cool – one thing I've learnt through all of this is that it's so important to stay connected and make the effort."

Adine's had her own curve- balls to deal with too – just a few months before Tania died of a brain aneurysm, she had her own near-death experience, breaking her neck after falling down a ladder.

"Goodness, when you think what could have been… but I'm absolutely fine now," she tells.

"I know it's there, but I'm all good. I never expected I'd break my neck, especially when you consider all the injuries I've had playing netball!"

Of course, Tania was there for her as she recovered, dropping off food and helping with her two boys in between looking after her own three children, Tayla (16), Charlie (13) and Matthew (10).
But now Adine's giving back by being part of a foundation that's serving one of Tania's greatest passions – getting kids involved in sport.

"Obviously, it's all come about for a pretty crap reason," says Adine, who is married to rugby and cricket legend Jeff Wilson (44).

"We lost our dear friend. But Tania was so passionate about kids playing sport and making sure all kids had the opportunity to play. Her family and friends recognised that passion, and thought it was a great way to remember Tania."

Soon after Tania passed away, the Tania Dalton Foundation was born, offering young girls who have experienced a degree of hardship the opportunity to be mentored by a host of New Zealand's best and brightest, and to receive scholarships to help achieve their sporting dreams.

"As everyone's spoken about so much, Tania had this massive group of friends. She paid it forward so much and now it's coming back in spades, which is really awesome," Adine smiles.

"Her family came up to a few of us and asked if we'd be keen to take on the role of mentors, talk to these young athletes and reminisce about some of the things we went through at the same age – like juggling sport, school, home and friends."

Adine has been paired with one of the brightest stars of New Zealand tennis, 17-year-old Holly Stewart.

"I get the sense that she's a special girl," Adine says fondly. "She's got huge potential and she knows where she wants to go already – she's talking about scholarships to the States."

Every few weeks, Adine and Holly will catch up for a coffee to talk about everything and anything, although Adine admits her tennis knowledge is pretty limited!

"But we have conversations about friends and things, and how it's important to have school friends as well as friends from sport. I remember when I was growing up, it was so mentally refreshing to go back to school and just be one of many, you know, with no-one talking about sport – it was just about what was happening in the weekend! It was so interesting to hear Holly say the same."

Adine also had a mentor when she was a young netballer. She was paired with none other than Sandra Edge, one of New Zealand's greatest netballers.

"I remember thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, I've won the jackpot!'" she laughs. "And I remember how much it meant to me."

It's been almost 10 years since Adine retired from top-level netball, though she's still involved with the game through her commentary work at Sky TV. She admits the sport has changed drastically, a fact that was hammered home to her as she watched old videos of herself and her Sting teammates recently. "I was like, 'Has this been slowed down?'" she chuckles.

"Man, we looked slow compared to the game now! But at the same time, being on the periphery of the game and hearing players talk, it sounds like some things have changed, but others have stayed the same!"

Adine knows that Tania would have been chuffed with the foundation, which has already gifted 10 three-year scholarships to worthy young women.

"I'm sure she's exceptionally proud! Although I'm sure she's thinking, 'Bloody hell, I wish I was there so I could give them a kick up the pants!'

"You know, I'd describe myself as spiritual, not religious, but I do think she must be watching down. A bunch of us used to run up these stairs together in Kennedy Park, and a month after we lost T, they tumbled down the cliff, and they reckon they won't be rebuilt. We were like, 'Did she do that?' I can just hear her, 'I'm not there to do it with you, so you're not blimmin' doing it without me!'

"But I reckon she's looking down, thinking, 'Man, I must have done something right.'"