Gemma McCaw's Christmas joy: 'Words can't describe how grateful I am'

It's been a dream year for the sporting star and new mum. And none it would have been possible without the unwavering support from her husband Richie McCaw.

By Sophie Neville
Over the past few months, hockey star and mum-of-one Gemma McCaw has spent more nights in hotel rooms than she has at her own home.
With almost weekly trips to Australia and around New Zealand as she resurrects her stellar sporting career, not to mention a two-week stint in Japan with husband Richie for the Rugby World Cup, she's the first to admit that life lately has been verging on crazy!
So it's no surprise then, that come Christmas when she, Richie and baby Charlotte head to their beloved Wanaka, she'll be breathing a big sigh of relief as she finally gets the chance to sit back and relax.
"This year has definitely been a big one," says the 29-year-old, as she catches up with Woman's Day for an exclusive festive photo shoot complete with cute puppies. "It's busy, but that's the way I like it – life's an adventure after all! But it's going to be lovely to take a break and reflect. I can't wait."
December 25 will be spent with All Black legend Richie's family, as well as Gemma's parents Michelle and Rob Flynn, who will travel down from Tauranga to spend time with their adorable little granddaughter.
And Gemma simply can't wait. As a huge fan of the festive season, she's excited about introducing Lottie, as she's lovingly known, to the traditions from her own happy childhood.
"My mum absolutely loves Christmas, so it was always a really special time for us as a family," she recalls. "We'd look forward to it for months and on the big day, we'd start with opening our pressies, then all converge for a huge lunch with all the trimmings. Often there would be 35 people at the table and we just loved being with all the cousins.
"Last year we had this beautiful new baby, so it was a quiet day for us, but this time I'm really going to go for it. We'll be hanging up a stocking, writing a note for Santa on Christmas Eve, and leaving out cookies and milk. And even if she doesn't quite get it, at least she'll love all the boxes and wrapping paper!"
But before Christmas comes around, there's another very important milestone to celebrate – little Charlotte's first birthday. Gemma is in full-on planning mode for her wee girl's teddy bears' picnic- themed party, which will be celebrated in her hometown of Tauranga. The birthday party falls on the same weekend as Gemma's nana Yvonne's 80th birthday and Charlotte's christening.
"It's going to be a huge weekend," tells Gemma with a smile. "Nana's having a country-and- western-themed do at her house, which I've been helping to organise, and Lottie's party will be a get-together in the park after a church service for her christening. Richie and I were both christened and we both think it's a lovely tradition to welcome a new baby into the family."
While they'd hoped Charlotte would don the christening gown first worn by her grandmother Margaret McCaw nearly 66 years ago – as well as by Richie as a baby – the family was devastated to find it had somehow got lost after being lent out along the way.
"It is a shame, but instead I've found a cute little white dress from Farmers – perhaps that will become our new family heirloom," says down-to-earth Gemma.
And as her daughter's birthday milestone nears, our wellness columnist naturally reflects on the joy that parenthood has brought to her and Richie's life. It's clear that the little blondie, who's on the verge of taking her first steps, is the centre of their world. And Gemma says her happy little soul seems to have taken the family's international lifestyle in her stride.
"She's very smiley and chatty, so she makes friends on all the plane trips, and she doesn't seem to suffer from jet lag. She's been a dream."
Watch: This clip of Charlotte McCaw laughing is the cutest thing you'll see all day. Article continues below.
While becoming a mum is Gemma's greatest joy, it's been equally amazing for her to see Richie, 38, embrace everything that fatherhood has thrown at him.
"Rich is an amazing dad. He puts so much time and energy into parenting Lottie," gushes Gemma. "When she was tiny, he'd be up in the night with me when I was feeding, and now he spends hours playing with her on the floor. When he's away, he's always FaceTiming because he doesn't want to miss anything."
And it's this commitment that's allowing Gemma to return to the sport she loves. While the recent news she's back in the Black Sticks took some by surprise, her decision to come out of retirement wasn't taken lightly.

Gemma's biggest concern was how it would impact her daughter, with much of the year needing to be spent in Auckland or travelling. But with both Richie, who works as a pilot for Christchurch Helicopters, and her mum Michelle, a teacher, firmly behind her, she's confident they'll make it work.
"My mum is taking the year off work to help us and Richie is scaling back his hours too, so they'll share the care of Lottie when I'm training. It's definitely true that it takes a village to raise a child and I'm so lucky with my village. Words can't describe how grateful I am."
While she'd thought her international playing career was over when she became a mum, the seed was replanted when she agreed to play club hockey in Christchurch when Lottie was four months old.
Getting back to fitness was no easy task after having a baby, not to mention the emotional pull of leaving her, but Gemma loved the feeling of being back out on the pitch and in a team environment.
In the end, it was an inspirational quote in a stationery store that gave her the final push to go for it.
"I was flicking through a little book and came across a quote that said, 'It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.'"
She explains, "Something about it just hit me. I couldn't get it out of my head and that's when I realised I had to give it another shot."
Within a couple of months, she'd agreed to play for Midlands in the National Hockey League, and then for Adelaide in the Australian league. When new Black Sticks coach Graham Shaw came knocking, Gemma – who's still breastfeeding – knew in her heart she'd like to give international hockey another crack, with the ultimate aim being selection for the 2020 Olympics in Japan.
"It's definitely harder now that I'm a mum, but it also means there's a lot more to play for. The dream is that next year, if I make the squad, Lottie will be in the stands at the Olympics watching me give it my all."

Richie's encouragement and support has been a vital part of the journey. Suddenly, it's Gemma's training that has became the priority, with Richie ensuring Gemma can work out in the mornings when she's at her freshest. He's happy to get up at 5am for his own fitness, or wait until the evenings after work.
"He told me he'll do absolutely everything he can to help make it happen. The fact he understands totally what this means to me and how much I'll need to put into it means so much. He just supports me 100%."
With life so busy, it's no surprise Gemma hasn't yet turned her thoughts to her Christmas gifts. "I'm more of a December 23 kind of shopper," she laughs.
While she tries not to go overboard on presents, she admits she's a sucker for the joy of giving – and if there's something she knows a loved one will like, she'll go for it.
Lottie will be getting a stocking full of "bits and bobs", and she's likely to head to a fishing and hunting store for Richie.
"He's definitely a fan of the practical gift," she laughs, before adding that now they're parents, all that really matters is that their time is spent together.
"Christmas for us is about family. It's about all being together and making special memories."

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