Standing at the top of a grand staircase, Bailey Mes is looking a little unsure. The Silver Fern star shooter’s 1.87-metre frame – 1.90m when you consider the heels she’s just slipped into – wobbles ominously as she tries to pose for Woman’s Day’s photographer without breaking an ankle.
As skilled as she is on the netball court, Bailey’s incredible gifts of coordination, agility and balance don’t seem to transfer to modelling floor-length dresses and stiletto heels on stairs. “Don’t worry, I’m fine!” she yells, after a particularly precarious twirl. She grins as she flicks her foot skyward, a trail of scarlet billowing behind her.
In front of the lens is a remarkably confident, free-spirited and self-assured woman, who is thrilled to be trying on designer frocks and shoes.
“I’ve tried to do that thing this year where you don’t buy anything new,” she reveals as she eyes up a bright green blouse. “I’ve been pretty good at it! Maybe until today ...”
But as the statuesque 28-year-old clamours out of her glam ensemble and back into a T-shirt and jeans, she admits it’s taken her a long time to become that woman, especially considering the difficult few years she’s had.
Bailey was 23 years old when, after playing just one quarter of a game in the ANZ Championship 2012 season, she was chosen for the Ferns. For a long while after the shock selection, every fumble, mistake or missed shot came under intense scrutiny and criticism. The young athlete admits the pressure got to her.
“People were horrible,” she recalls, shaking her head.
“Looking back on the whole thing, I’m just like, ‘Wow. What even happened?’
“I was so overwhelmed. Even my family was shocked I was to be in the team. When my name was announced, it was a surreal moment for us all. Eventually, I stopped worrying about how people perceived me. It was tough, but I got through it.”
Building up her mental strength as well as her physical game has seen the Aucklander become one of the world’s best shooters – with arch-rivals Australia often describing her as “frustrating”.
“That’s the biggest compliment you can get,” she laughs. “If someone reckons you’re frustrating, you’re in their head!”
Confidence, Bailey says, has been her biggest area of improvement since she first took to the court for New Zealand. The last few years have seen her play her best netball yet, which she puts down to her powerful shift in perspective as well as a move to Christchurch.
“I loved living down there and playing for the Tactix,” she says.
“It was the fresh change I needed, and it was a hard decision to move back to Auckland and play for the SkyCity Mystics. But this year especially a big focus for me has been building up other areas of my life so it’s not just netball. It could end at any time. I could get injured and I have no control over what the selectors or the coaches are thinking. And it’s been about enjoying what I’m doing. That’s helped a lot.”
As well as her relentless training, Bailey is studying photography through the Southern Institute of Technology, which has become a real passion. “It’s because it’s so far removed from netball!” she grins.
“It’s a massive contrast and I’m really enjoying it. It’s the dream after netball ends.”
Her search for a work-life balance has been made a little easier since she moved back to her hometown at the beginning of this year. Flatting with friends,
as well as being close to most of her family, has meant Bailey’s support network is incredibly strong.
She also has heaps of mates to help her indulge her biggest vices – coffee and food.
“I’m a massive coffee snob,” she admits. “And I probably do go out for brunch a little too much!”
Bailey says she misses casual socialising the most during the 50 weeks of the year she’s required to train.
But with two weeks off coming up, she tells us her relentless training schedule isn’t the toughest part of being a professional athlete.
“It’s the fact you’re always striving for perfection,” she tells. “You are always chasing that perfect performance and you know you’re probably never going to get it. But it’s all how you look at it – and it’s amazing that I get to do this for a job. I’m in such a great place.
“What I’ve come to realise is that it doesn’t really matter how I play – no matter what I do, there will always be scrutiny and people will always say s* things. I just focus on my job and on what I’m doing.”
And as the towering beauty leaves our photo shoot with a coffee in hand and, regretfully, without the green top, she’s off to a training session to do just that!