Sport

Australian Diamonds’ Natalie Medhurst on stepping up for her country and giving back to society. By Cindy MacDonald.
Credit: DAVID CALLOW

No shortcuts: Natalie Medhurst, 32, netballer

There are so many heartbreaking stories that come out of the Olympic Games and so many great ones. It’s easy for people to criticise, but being an elite athlete you understand what they go through and at times you really feel gutted for them, especially when it comes down to milliseconds between a gold medal and not even placing. When the Diamonds were in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and we lost in double extra time to the [New Zealand] Silver Ferns, it was the worst, numbing, empty feeling. It lives with you for such a long time. 

My mum and dad owned the Royal Mail Hotel in the main street of Warracknabeal but when I was three we moved to Millicent in South Australia, right down near the Vic border. We moved to Adelaide just before my 16th birthday. At the time we hated our parents for doing that, but, yeah, it was probably the best thing they did for us. 

Basketball was actually my first passion – I loved it. But I guess I was naturally good at netball and I made some SA under-16 schoolgirl sides. When I moved to the city it started to take over, and in 2003 the then coach of the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Marg Angove, saw me and invited me to do a pre-season with the team. Opportunities opened up and when Marg handed me the goal attack bib I certainly didn’t ever want to give it back.

Travis [Walsgott] and I have dealt with distance from the start. He’s from Millicent as well but I was actually living in Adelaide when we started dating. We’ve been together for 15 years and married for six in December. In 2010 I went up to Brisbane for my first year with the Firebirds. It wasn’t my choice [to leave] and we’d just bought a house in Adelaide, so Trav stayed there. Netball was pretty full on – 2010 was a Commonwealth Games year and 2011 was a World Cup year – and in that first year of marriage the longest we spent together was three-and-a-half weeks when we holidayed in Europe, a good eight months after we got married. Trav moved up to Brisbane for 2012 and 2013, and then the opportunity came to move to Perth. We absolutely love it over here.

I have so much respect for the Australian netball team and the players who have gone before me. Certainly Sharelle McMahon stands out. That 1999 World Cup win [where McMahon shot the winning goal in the final second of the match]… I was sitting in Millicent watching with my brother and I remember us rolling around and celebrating like crazy people. Watching that goal go through, I remember thinking, “Who is this girl?” So to have played alongside her and to have been able to call her a teammate was pretty special. 

I’d say Julie Corletto was the hardest defender I’ve ever played against. I grew up playing alongside her and against her from national underage teams. She was always such a fair, clean defender. I really respect her as a player because I’ve seen what she’s had to go through to get herself through games. I’ve been very lucky that I haven’t had any serious injuries, whereas Julie’s body was literally broken – it couldn’t go any further. 

Yes, I’m now officially the oldest player in the Australian squad. I’m very glad Clare McMeniman is in the team because she’s not far off me. It’s pretty funny when you look at some of the things the 20-year-olds are doing and think, “Oh god, that makes me feel old.” But I’m not done yet – I’d love to go to the next Comm Games and World Cup. 

People often think I’m quick whereas my testing results probably show the opposite. But one of my strengths is my ability to read the play and what’s happening out in front of me, so it’s more that my timing is right. I think I fool people into thinking I’m quicker than I actually am. Shooters are getting a lot taller these days but I’m happy with my height [177 centimetres] and I say it doesn’t take as long for information to travel through, so it makes me smarter, more skilful. And away from netball, I’m tall.

On court my biggest triumph would be the 2011 World Cup final against New Zealand. We’d lost Sharelle during the season when she snapped her Achilles and I was, like, “Right, I need to really step up.” It was the kick I needed. Towards the end of the gold medal match we were one point down and I took an intercept, which we then scored off and it put us into extra time. We went on to win, so that moment and that tournament was a big turning point for my career and my confidence.

As a person with some sort of profile, being involved in charities and causes is a good thing to do. For a few years I was involved with the Ronald McDonald House charity in Adelaide. It was just really humbling to be around those families and see what those kids go through and I became very close with a family from Port Lincoln who I still keep in touch with. I was also involved with the Tackling Binge Drinking campaign. My brother and sisters and I grew up in pubs, but I don’t really drink so it fitted well with who I am. I’m also involved with Breast Cancer Network and a charity called Livin, which is about breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

I live by the motto there are no shortcuts to any place worth going. This was my 13th year in the domestic competition and I’ve had 10 years as a Diamond. I know I’m extremely fortunate to be representing my country in netball, which is our highest-participation women’s sport. I don’t take any of it for granted or feel entitled, so I do everything possible to put myself in the best position to get selected, and I love the challenge. I find the 60 minutes that I get to play out on court is just the best feeling in the world.

 

This week’s highlights…

Horseracing: Memsie Stakes Day

Saturday, first race 12.25pm (AEST), Caulfield Racecourse, Melbourne

NRL: Gold Coast Titans v Penrith Panthers

Saturday, 5.30pm (AEST), Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast

AFL: Hawthorn v Collingwood 

Sunday, 3.20pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

• Motorsport: Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix

Sunday, 10pm (AEST), Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

Tennis: US Open 

From Tuesday, 1am (AEST), Flushing Meadows, New York 

Netball: Australian Diamonds v England Roses

Wednesday, 7.30pm (ACST), Adelaide Entertainment Centre 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 27, 2016 as "No shortcuts". Subscribe here.

Cindy MacDonald
is The Saturday Paper’s deputy editor.