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Silver Fern Anna Harrison on why she said goodbye to netball

After a tearful exit from international netball, she’s super-excited.

By Kelly Bertrand
Netball legend Anna Harrison was always determined that when it came time to hang up her little black dress, it would be on her own terms.
Family, she says, has to come first – but Anna, 34, is quick to admit that some days are tougher than others with her gorgeous kids Isaac, three, and Georgia, two.
“Honestly, it’s one of those days where they’re just pushing all my buttons!” she laughs as she tries to wrangle the energetic duo in for a photo. “It’s a lot of ‘don’t do that, don’t touch that’ today!”
But Anna tells Woman’s Day that after 15 years and 88 test caps with the Silver Ferns, she’s decided to retire so that she can spend more time with husband Craig, 35, and their children.
“As I’m getting older, I’m thinking more about the future and what my priorities are,” she explains. “For me, it’s definitely these guys. Ever since I had the kids and I married Craig, he and I have often talked about the importance of family – it’s one of the things that holds us tight together.
“Now they’re a little older, they really notice when you’re gone. When they were babies, it was actually easier – which sounds pretty brutal!”
It was during the Ferns’ trip to England earlier this year that Anna started seriously thinking about retirement. While the kids struggled a little during her three weeks away, it was when she got back to two very unsettled children that she realised the long stints overseas weren’t working any more.
“They really made us pay when I got back – they just wouldn’t sleep,” she says. “After that trip, I’d only be away for a night or two for the [Northern] Mystics, but they thought I was going away for ages again and that was hard to deal with.
“And I’m not one of those mums who rings home every day on Skype – it makes it harder for me and for them. They’re talking to Mum, but she’s not coming home yet.”
While she has no regrets about throwing in the towel – in fact, since announcing her decision earlier this month, Anna says she’s never felt better – the Mystics player admits the choice to leave while she’s still at the top of her game was tough.
“I knew I didn’t want to be phased out,” admits the star defender, who has long been admired for her “body on the line” style of play. “Quitting when I still feel like I’m playing well did
make it a bit harder. “But I’ve spent time away from the sport before when having the kids and I also took a few years out to represent New Zealand at beach volleyball, so not being involved with netball won’t be a completely new experience.”
Anna continues, “It’s a very interesting time for any athlete – the only way I can describe it is that it’s like grieving. Oh, there have been many tears – and they hit you out of nowhere!”
Anna counts her two Commonwealth Games gold medals among the highlights of her career, as well as the fact she managed to come back into the sport after having her second child. But it’s the friendships she has made throughout her time on the court she’ll miss the most.
“The other girls are lifelong friends, and I know there will always be that connection and friendship,” she tells. “I’ve taken that for granted a bit. It really hit home when Tania [Dalton] died a few months ago. She was someone I really looked up to.
“She was a mum still playing netball and maybe subconsciously, I saw what kind of mum, and what kind of netballer, I wanted to be.”
As for the future, Anna’s still not sure. A third baby is definitely an option, “yet as any parent understands, you do get to a point where you’re like, ‘Do I want to go back to those early baby years?’” Anna laughs.
“But then they do something that completely melts your heart and you’re like, ‘Let’s have another one!’ It all depends on whether I commit to the Mystics again next year.”
Sports commentary is one avenue she’s keen to explore – “though I want to make sure I’m halfway decent at it before I do it,” she grins – as is using her physiotherapy degree and doing up the rural North Auckland home she and Craig moved into last year.
“I got a bit enthusiastic when we first got here and ripped all the wallpaper off the bedroom walls, and it’s been like that since November!”
For now, though, a family holiday – their first ever – is finally on the cards after Anna finishes up her Mystics duties. “I’m really looking forward to spending a bit of quality time with Craig and the kids,” she says. “Isaac and Georgia are at such a great age. Isaac’s so thoughtful and on to it – he’s definitely like Craig – and Georgia is determined and stubborn!
“Craig is my rock. He has supported me all through my career and there have have been heaps of nights where he’s pretty much been a solo dad. I’ll be on a few of those nights now, I’m sure!”

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