Celebrity News

Irene van Dyk’s new goal

Former Silver Fern Irene van Dyk has a new career in her sights, and it’s set to be a game changer.

By Kelly Bertrand
Irene van Dyk is well known for being an incredibly happy person. She laughs at everything, uses far too many heart and smiley face symbols in her text messages, and has a megawatt smile that became her trademark during her 14 years as a Silver Fern. But watching her pull on a collection of gorgeous dresses during the Weekly’s clifftop photoshoot in Wellington, chiffon blowing behind her as her hair whips around her face, it’s hard to remember her ever being this content.
Which is surprising, really, considering she is no longer a professional netball player. Irene (43) has officially hung up her bib for Wellington’s Mojo Pulse, a year after declaring her international career was over – although she’s still stubbornly refusing to use the “r” word.
“I’m not retired… I’m a free agent!” she laughs. “I won’t be playing for the Pulse next year, but I’d be more than happy to be an emergency fill-in if the team ever needs me. I’m still training like I always have, because you never know.”
Now Irene’s focus has shifted to life after netball but, predictably, she hasn’t strayed very far from the game she loves. An ambassador for Netball New Zealand, she travels up and down the country doing everything from teaching five-year-olds the basics of the game, to representing the organisation at official events.
But on a more personal note, everything seems to be falling into place for the stunning South African-born Kiwi. Though she won’t be playing netball each week, Irene couldn’t be happier, and she has a new goal that might one day see her back out on court with the Silver Ferns – she wants to be their coach.
While Irene knows her dream of coaching the Silver Ferns may be years away, she’s relishing her new career path.
“I am just so pumped and excited right now,” she says with a huge grin. “Everything happens for a reason and it really feels like my time’s now. I’m enjoying everything I do, there are so many new challenges and opportunities, and I’m trying new things. Life is so good.”
It was a recent trip to Scotland that completely transformed Irene’s world. Heading over at the request of the Scottish side’s head coach, former Silver Fern Gail Parata, to help in the run-up to this year’s Netball World Cup, Irene wasn’t planning on the experience delivering her a new dream – and an unexpected one at that.
“I never knew I wanted to be a coach,” she muses. “I’d thought about it a little bit, but working with the girls in Scotland really lit a fire in my belly. And,” she says, laughing, “I had absolutely no idea that I knew so much. I have 20 years of knowledge that I need to share with people. I started writing stuff down and before I knew it, I had filled an entire book. The knowledge has to come out!”
To make the dream a reality, Irene is completing coaching programmes through Netball New Zealand, starting at the bottom. “I’ll do all my levels and hopefully, one day, I’ll be right up there coaching the best. But that’s probably about 15 years or so away! And if that happens to me, I’ll be stoked.”
Goals are second nature to Irene now – scoring them, setting them, achieving them – and since she’s put away her little black uniform, she’s managed to tick quite a few off the list. The house is finally painted in a shade of white – “it looks bloody good, I must say”– she’s been able to spend a bit more time with her husband Christie (43) and daughter Bianca (17), and she’s been free to take advantage of every opportunity thrown at her. That’s why, if you live in Wellington, you might spot her wearing a suit of armour and wielding a sword in advertisements for a real estate company.
“I’m a warrior woman,” she laughs. “How cool is that?!”
Irene discovered her passion for coaching while working with the Scottish national team during their training camp.
Irene’s also been able to add a fair few strings to her bow, including netball commentating. But most of all, she’s really enjoying her work as a Netball New Zealand ambassador. It’s her way, she explains, of repaying them for their support during a very difficult time in her life.
“If it wasn’t for them, I would not be where I am today,” she says. “They believed in me, regardless of where I’d come from and what I’d done. There was a lot of criticism when I first moved to New Zealand to play. People told me, ‘Do you realise you’re taking the place of a New Zealander who has come through the ranks?’ But they had my back – they defended me and told people that New Zealand was my home now.”
It’s a daunting role, Irene admits. She’s representing not only the Silver Ferns, but every Kiwi who plays netball, and she still can’t quite believe she was asked to be an ambassador.
“There’s a huge amount of responsibility,” she nods. “I know that people look up to me. And I know how important the game is to a lot of people. But what an honour! I’m so humbled by it.”
The fun part, she says, is when she gets to work with children, allowing the trained teacher in her to combine two of her biggest passions.
“Oh, my goodness, the kids are cute!” she exclaims. “Well, the first thing they always say is, ‘Wow, you’re huge!’ but after that, they’re cute. It’s actually quite adorable, and the parents are really active in it too. They hold the hula-hoop the kids shoot the ball into, so no one ever misses a goal!”
The busy mum, with husband Christie and daughter Bianca, is excited about life after the Mojo Pulse.
And perhaps most excitingly, Irene, along with fellow netball legend Dame Lois Muir, is heading across the Tasman for the 2015 Netball World Cup, held this month in Sydney. Marking the first time in five netball world championships that Irene won’t be playing, the trip is shaping up to be a bittersweet experience.
“I’m so, so excited because I’m taking a tour group of fans over – 156 to be exact – but I have to admit, I still feel the loss of not playing. There’s a void there I’m still trying to come to terms with. If I was just going over by myself, that would be torture, but I’ll have some amazing people around me. I’m with Lois. I mean, she is netball.”
While she can’t remember a time when she’s been busier, taking advantage of every day is all part of Irene’s new outlook.
“There’s nothing guaranteed, you know?” she says. “You have to make your own luck and I love that I’m getting to try so many new things. And there’s a whole lot more to come!”
WATCH: Behind the scenes of Irene’s gorgeous photo shoot
This is what it takes to look “natural” on camera!
With special thanks to Boomrock in Wellington.