Black Sticks captain Anita Punt wasn’t the kind of kid who dreamt about her big day. While other little girls were fantasising over a dramatic dress, a fancy reception and how many bridesmaids they’d need, sports-mad Anita was on the hockey turf, perfecting the sweeps and drags that would one day see her don the coveted black skirt. So it should come as little surprise that on the morning of her wedding to longtime love Scott McLaren, she had hockey at the forefront of her mind.
“I went out for a run before and rolled my ankle,” she tells with a slightly nervous laugh when Woman’s Day arrives at the picturesque venue, the Punt family farm in Nelson. “But it’s fine! I have trials on Monday, so I can’t really miss a day, you know? My celebrant is also a physio, so she might just run in before the ceremony starts and strap it for me!”
The possibility of hobbling down the aisle doesn’t faze Anita, 28, whose main goal for her big day is to keep it as fuss-free as possible. She has chosen to marry in the garden of the house she grew up in, to go without an official bridal party and to have the reception a leisurely half-paddock stroll from where the ceremony takes place. In fact, Anita and decathlete Scott have tailored every aspect of the day to be as low-stress – and personal – as possible. The only pressure Anita couldn’t avoid, however, was facing her fear of being stared at as she walked down the aisle. The Olympian has chosen an unlikely ballad for her big moment, “With Arms Wide Open” by heavy-metal band Creed, and has her doting dad Nick close to her side as she emerges into the sunlight.
Cheers and tears
The 100-strong crowd cheers as they set eyes on Anita, who glows in a bespoke Yvonne Bennetti gown with strapping tape artfully hidden beneath.
“I was so nervous before I walked out,” she later admits. “I normally hate being the centre of attention, but as soon as I saw Scott, I was just happy. It was good to see him. He was the only person I was focused on.”
Believe it or not, it’s strapping Dunedin-born Scott who is struggling to keep his emotions in check as his beautiful bride reaches the grassy altar. He admits, “I knew I couldn’t look at Anita the whole time because there’d be tears and I’d get a ribbing from the grandstand. So I just grabbed one peek at her, then looked down, trying to listen to Creed, which is a song I love to sing along to, to keep myself distracted. I didn’t know anything about her dress and I thought she looked amazing.”
There are laughs from the guests as Scott, 34, vows to “keep Anita entertained with great chat” and to “watch one animal video per day”, followed by applause as they say “I do”. Sealing the deal with a fist-bump and a lengthy kiss, the pair look the picture of happiness.
After a leisurely afternoon sipping champagne and indulging in picnic-style snack foods with family and friends, it’s over to the reception marquee for a dinner of chicken wings, ribs and fine wine.
During his speech, Scott’s dad Alastair recounts meeting his daughter-in-law in 2012, joking, “I turned to her and said, ‘How are you doing, Miss January?’ Scott only ever used to keep his girlfriends for a month, you see. After that, she used to text me every month to say, ‘I’m Miss February or March now!’”
Then the groom shares a story from early on in their romance, which began when the two crossed paths during training for their respective sports. “I remember after she’d met my dad a few times, he said to me, ‘You hold on to her.’ It sounded like he thought I was going to mess it up, but last laugh is on you, Dad – I couldn’t be happier to have held on to her!”
Signing off the formal part of the evening, the newlyweds and their guests shed their shoes and take to the paddock for a dance. But not before Anita, who has the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in her sights, has her ankle re-strapped.
“I’m stoked that I can say I injured it running and not dancing in a paddock,” she laughs. “Nothing was going to upset me today, though. It’s been the most perfect day – totally relaxed, calm and exactly what I wanted. Now I just can’t wait to get on with our lives as husband and wife.”