Mel Smith (32) has returned to the netball court after battling arthritis and becoming a mother. The dynamic Maheno defender talks to Hayden Meikle
Q: How are you enjoying playing netball for Maheno?
Yeah, it’s good. I hadn’t played for a long time, since I was in Invercargill. It was four years thanks to a combination of things. I had an arthritic thing going on, so I stopped playing for a bit. Then I got pregnant and had babies, so netball just didn’t work out for a while.
Q: Arthritis in the hand or wrist?
No, it was sort of all through the body. But I got the right meds and changed up some stuff and now it’s gone. I’m all good now.
Q: Were you rusty when you got back on court?
Yes, ha ha. But it’s just like riding a bike. And I knew a few of the Maheno team already. I played with Carmen Brenssell when I was with Southern, in Dunedin, and obviously my sister-in-law, Anika McLennan, is in the team too. It’s a good bunch.
Q: You’ve also started a bit of coaching this year?
I’m helping Carmen coach the St Kevin’s girls. I’d never really coached before, apart from when I was at school, but a few options came up this year. I’m more of the helping-out person, learning along the way. It’s been good fun, and nice to be involved with my old school again, especially with Craig, my husband, there teaching. I knew some of the girls already and they’re a really talented bunch.
Q: Does it take you back to your days as a St Kevin’s netballer?
It sure does. The Blood Match was a lot of fun. We went out for a team breakfast and it took me right back. We had a really good team back in the day. We actually won the North Otago title in 2002, when I was in sixth form. We’re trying to get that team back together for the St Kevin’s 90th but no-one has committed yet.
Q: What was the high point of your netball career?
I played for Otago B and Southland B. I also got selected for a Rebels trial but I injured my ankle a week out from the trial. That’s kind of when I was at my peak, playing well for Southern.
Q: If my memory is correct, you were also into athletics when you were at St Kevin’s?
Yeah, mainly discus. I was second at the national championships when I was in fourth form. It was fun, and I trained really hard for it, but I didn’t carry on with it after school.
Q: Outside netball, what’s kept you busy?
It’s kids now. Two boys – Louie is 2-1/2, and Mason is almost a year old. And I’ve had lots of different jobs. I mainly worked in public health in Invercargill before moving into community development. I worked for the Gore District Council and then the Department of Internal Affairs. Now I’m doing some work for Craig’s mum, Sue, at Brydone Wholefoods. I’m helping them get set up online.
Q: Craig has also had a busy sporting career with cricket and rugby. Has sport always been a big part of your relationship?
Always. Especially for Craig with his cricket. He played a lot of four-day cricket for Otago so he’s been away for five or six days at a time. The coaching side of things is interesting now because Craig’s a teacher so he’s had a lot of experience dealing with parents and kids.
Q: After so long in Dunedin and Invercargill, are you guys enjoying being home in North Otago?
It’s great, especially with the wee kids. We had lots of friends in Invercargill but no family support. It’s nice having lots of babysitters on hand.