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Irene van Dyk and Temepara George: Blood, sweat & sacrifice

The Silver Ferns teammates tells us what it takes to still be in the game.
Irene van Dyk and Temepara George Silver Ferns

They’ve swapped all-night outings for nana naps, junk food for a healthier diet and they tend to walk a little faster past the mirror in the mornings. But while they may be aged 35 and 39 respectively, Silver Ferns Temepara George and Irene van Dyk still have the figures of a woman 15 years younger than them, and they are still at the top of their game – both on and off the court.

“I’ve been playing netball longer than half my teammates have been on this earth!” laughs Irene, whose daughter Bianca, at 13, is just a few years younger than some of her mum’s peers.

“I tell the young ones I could be their mother, so they should listen to me. They tell me I must have eyes in the back of my head, and I explain that all mothers do.”

“As I get older, I know my body better, so I know what I can get away with,” says Temepara. “It’s like the stages of childhood – kids grow from baby to toddler, child to teen – we’re just going through a different stage of adulthood. No-one’s ever completely happy with how they look, are they? We all have days where we think, ‘Damn, that’s not good.’ But I’m happy. I’ve learned to appreciate what I’ve got.”

While some of the younger Silver Ferns have self-confidence typical of most women their age, Irene and Temepara – who have taken centre stage this week in Singapore for the Netball World Championships – say they just need to get on a court to prove they still have what it takes.

“We played a training game recently where the oldies went up against the young ‘uns – and we caned them,” laughs Temepara. “Before we started, they were all bravado – offering to get us wheelchairs, saying our legs were old… they zipped their lips afterwards though!”

Both women say that compared to 10 years ago, the fitness benchmark for being a Silver Fern is high, but they also believe life is easier for the up-and-coming stars than it was when they started playing professionally in 2003.

“We had to work for a living, look after kids and play netball for the love of it. Juggling that taught us time management that today’s players just don’t need to learn,” says Temepara.

“It’s a tough balance, trying to make it work,” agrees Irene. “We have wonderful partners and husbands. I’ve been married for 18 years – Christie’s used to being about 10th on my list.”

But these two have never let a challenge stand in the way of what they want – and neither has lost their passion, or their competitive edge. “I still love what I do. There’s always room for improvement,” says Irene.

“We do have stages when we feel like, enough – you’re going through basic training all over again, and you feel that things are different now because there’s so much young blood coming through. But you actually need something new to keep it fresh,” explains Silver Ferns vice-captain Temepara.

“Like anyone, I have days where things aren’t great, but the older I get, the more I realise how lucky I am.”

one topic that does quieten the lively duo, however, is the prospect of being away from their families once again as they shoot for gold this week.

“Having to be away from our families is the hardest part. We’re often asked to do events and games that take us away from home,” says Temepara, who is mum to Jusdean (17), and Erin-Wayne (13), and has been in a relationship with Auckland detective Wayne Bailey for over two years. “The kids are used to it now, because it’s happened since they were little. But it always bothers me.”

Both Irene and Temepara admit they have “toned it down” when it comes to partying and late nights, and both are working on what their next step will be when their netball careers come to an end. “When you’re young, you want to go out, have a good time and meet people,” says Irene. “It makes me laugh sometimes when I’m putting my hand up to be the sober driver. Now, it’s about moderation.”

But the feisty goal shoot, who stands at 1.9m with bare feet, has no intention of slowing down – far from it.

“I keep getting asked when I’m going to stop playing, and I always tell them I’m not,” she laughs. “Netball has been a part of my life for so long – it’s where I’m comfortable. If anything, I love the experience of what I’m doing all the more each year, because I know I don’t have a long time left.”

That being said, she does have a plan B for when it’s finally time to hang up her bib.

“I’m a qualified teacher, so I can always fall back on that, but I’d love to be a masseuse,” she says. “Let’s face it – I’m pretty good at knowing how it feels to have sore muscles!’

But while Irene has been lucky to escape serious injury on the court so far, she knows she has to remain in top condition if she is to stay in the game.

“It takes us a wee while longer to recover if we get hurt,” she says. “Nutrition and sleep matter more now than they used to. But, at the end of the day, the biggest advantage that we have over the younger ones is that we’ve been there, done that. Experience counts for a lot.”

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