The old adage says absence makes the heart grow fonder – and if you’re in any doubt, just ask Silver Fern captain Katrina Grant.
When she first laid eyes on her partner Joel Rore at a teammate’s wedding last year, little did she know her entire world was about to change.
She was, however, very aware of the handsome best man trying to subtly check her out as the speeches and toasts were made.
“What can I say? You can’t say no to a man in a suit,” giggles Katrina, 30. “He was totally looking at me all night.”
“She’s dreaming,” a slightly bashful Joel pipes up. “But eventually, I went over and introduced myself ...”
“And I was very happy about that,” Katrina nods, smiling. “The rest is history.”
Eighteen months on, the couple are as loved-up as ever as they pose at our Woman’s Day photo shoot – a surreal experience for this Murupara boy.
While Katrina lights up the room with her trademark laugh and wide smile, a slightly more reserved Joel, 25, admits he’s a bit nervous to have his photo taken. But as soon as he gets an encouraging hug from Katrina – or “Pole” as he and everyone else calls her – he’s away laughing.
Katrina and Joel relish their time together as the Central Pulse captain lives in Wellington, while her man works at his family helicopter business in Rotorua. After a year and a half of long distance, both agree it’s getting tougher to be apart.
“It wasn’t too bad at the beginning,” tells Katrina. “Joel had only just come back from living in Australia when we met and I was busy with the start of the netball season, so it kind of worked.”
Joel adds, “It’s definitely got harder as we’ve gone on. But we make it work. The key thing is keeping in contact. We talk a lot on the phone. I’d be surprised if it was anything less than 15 times a day!”
And with no end in sight – Katrina has just re-signed with the Pulse for the 2018 season – the smitten pair say they’ll keep doing what they’re doing and try their best to visit each other as much as they can.
“We’re not sure what the answer is,” muses Katrina. “He’s got his career and I’ve got mine, and they’re totally different. He can’t do the family business without his family! And I’ve been with the Pulse since 2010 – I like to be loyal. We’re both like that actually, so he understands.
“But there will come a time where I have to think about myself and us, just like you would with a real job.”
When they are together, it’s Joel’s ability to pull Katrina out of her netball bubble that she loves the most. “I don’t have a lot of time to switch off, so when he comes down to Wellington, it’s like it almost gives me permission to,” she says.
“We’re both really good at just chilling out and being ourselves around each other.”
But that’s not to say the duo aren’t competitive, especially when it comes to gym training and board games! And while they’re similar in many ways, with a shared love of sport and a similar laid-back nature, they have their differences too.
“I’m pretty shy until you get to know me,” admits Joel, “so I can be a bit quieter. But I like being around people, whereas Pole can be by herself.”
“I definitely like my own company,” she agrees. “That’s probably the biggest difference. This guy loves being social! But he’s just such a good guy. Joel gets along with everyone, he has an amazing family, great family values and he doesn’t care what I do for a living. When he first found out I played netball, he was just like, ‘Oh, yup. Should probably watch that one day then!’
“He’s my biggest support. The Ferns travelled to South Africa for a tour last year, and I was getting a bit of criticism from the media at the time and I was homesick, and he was amazing with texts and FaceTime.”
But for Joel, it’s not Katrina’s athletic prowess that first drew him to the stunning blonde – it was her kind and sometimes kooky nature. “She’s so easy- going, she supports me in whatever I do and she makes me laugh. All the time,” he tells.
And as she gears up for her beloved sport’s two pinnacle events in 2018 and 2019 – the Commonwealth Games and World Championships – Katrina knows she can count on Joel’s support, even though it will probably mean more time apart.
“I’m nearing the end of my career, so I really want to give these next few years my all,” she says. “I only have one gold medal, so I’d like to finish with a few more. But I know netball won’t be around forever, so I want to focus on what we’ve got too.”
Katrina admits she’s starting to think about life after sport. While she and Joel don’t quite know where that will be just yet, they do know whatever happens, they will at least be together.
And with a degree in business management under her belt, the star Silver Fern says she’s feeling pretty confident about her post-netball career.
“I hope people will see that between netball and a degree, I can at least commit to something!” laughs Katrina, before turning to Joel and grinning. “See? Commit? To something?”
“Subtle,” he replies, dissolving into laughter. “Very subtle!”