Career

Black Ferns Sevens player Michaela Blyde's special bond with her mother

Michaela followed in her mum's famous footsteps, pulling on the black jersey to represent her country. But winning a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games isn't going to get her out of helping around the family farm!

By Kelly Bertrand

When Michaela Blyde first pulled on the hallowed black Kiwi rugby jersey, like any mum, Cherry Blyde's heart almost burst with pride.

But Cherry's happiness was a little different. Tucked away in her wardrobe was her very own black jersey – and she was watching her little girl follow in her footsteps.

When the Weekly catches up with the mother-daughter duo in Tauranga, it's clear that despite retiring from the Black Ferns in 1992 to start a family, Cherry (51) is still more than capable of keeping up with her Black Ferns Sevens' daughter – well, almost!

"The other day, we went for a run and right outside our driveway is a big hill," begins Cherry.

"I remember when we would go for runs after school when Michaela was 11 or 12. I'd turn to her halfway up the hill and say, 'Lift your knees!' So, we're halfway up, and she turns around and goes, 'Lift your knees, Mum!'"

"Yeah, there's a wee bit of a role reversal!" laughs Michaela. The Blydes are familiar with the concept – in their family of six, Cherry and Michaela are the only women, and the only members to have represented New Zealand at rugby, a fact Michaela (22) admits she throws at her three brothers every now and then.

Last year, she scooped the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year award at a glittering ceremony in Monaco. Of course, Cherry is over the moon with her daughter's achievements.

"As a parent, you know your kids have the potential to do well in whatever they choose. And we knew that, with her pace and her determination, if she did give sevens a go, she had the potential to play for New Zealand," she says.

Amazingly, rugby wasn't on Michaela's radar until relatively late in her young life – and she went from playing no rugby to playing for New Zealand in a matter of months.

"Rugby was my first sport as a five-year-old, but when I got to the age where we had to start tackling, I was a bit scared of playing with the boys," she tells.

"When I was eight, I switched to soccer. But when I was in year 12, the Go for Gold campaign started, which encouraged girls to give sevens a go, and the scouts went out to the regions.

I did the trial in Taranaki and made the squad. Eventually, only 20 or so girls were left and I was one of them. So the first rugby I played as a teenager was for New Zealand. I guess you could say I was just naturally gifted?"

"No, she's not!" Cherry chimes in, laughing and proving mothers are always there to keep their children's feet firmly on the ground.

"I was!" Michaela begins, before her mum interrupts, chuckling. "Oh, talk yourself up! No, sevens is her game and she works bloody hard. We're very proud."

Watching her daughter dominate in the professional age is incredible for Cherry, whose 1992 team was the first to receive funding, marking the beginning of pro women's rugby in New Zealand.

"I started playing in 1989 and it was purely because I missed out on the Taranaki netball team. I went and had a game for the local club. Before us, the girls who were in the national team had to fundraise to go away to tournaments themselves!"

There's still a bit of lingering sexism when it comes to female players, Michaela admits.

"You get your smart*es on the internet who say we look like men and play like men, and that we shouldn't be playing rugby because it's not feminine." But she doesn't let it bother her.

"We're still ladies,"she says, "we just have a little mongrel on the field!"

Michaela is excited to have taken part in her first ever Commonwealth Games – and Cherry and dad Steve were in the stands cheering her on to victory in final against Australia.

Gold medal or not, Cherry's already got some jobs lined up for Michaela's return.

"She could come home and milk the cows for her mother every now and then!"

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