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Taking the girl out of the country…

You can take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl.

Former Silver Fern captain Julie Seymour was raised on Ashgrove St, in Rangiora.

Sitting down to a cup of tea on a promising Canterbury spring morning, Seymour is reflective and philosophical about her 16-year national netball career, which earned her a Member of the New Zealand Order Of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday honours in 2003.

This workaholic mid-courter played 92 tests for her country between 1994 and 2008. She wasn’t side-lined for injury until 14 years into her international playing career, she had three of her four children during that time, and she was nanoseconds from pushing her national middle distance athletics career to Commonwealth Games level. 

Seymour remains grounded and easy going. Her childhood bestie and one of her bridesmaids, who farms in North Canterbury, Lisa Spark (nee Gray) remains close to her, and Seymour has never forgotten where she comes from.

Every year she helps select the winners of the MainPower North Canterbury Youth Scholarships Awards.

 

Where is she now, and the challenges which made Seymour 

Today, in addition to Seymour’s assistant coaching role with the Canterbury Tactix the 49-year-old – married to former New Zealand Sevens star Dallas Seymour – says she has an almost “ideal” job as a physical education teacher at St Margaret’s College, the secondary school she attended in Christchurch. 

Blessed with a heart as big as Phar Lap, a humble attitude, and a vision for the game which habitually put her in the right place at the right time throughout her career, Seymour was first chosen to represent her country in 1994.  

Three years later, just as the English-born mid-courter was getting comfortable in that Silver Fern uniform, the incoming coach Yvonne Willering dropped her. She was 27.

“That was devastating, but in hindsight, it was the best thing for me,” Seymour said. “Because I thought I was a fit netballer, but I’d become unconsciously complacent. And, I was playing average, very average. 

“When that happened, I decided that I could either keep doing the same thing and keep getting the same results. Or, I could do something different. 

“So, I went back to my old athletics coach.” 

She also teamed up with New Zealand Olympic runner Anne Hare at that time, who became her running coach.

 

A chance for the Commonwealth Games

And, while the Silver Ferns toured England that year, Seymour stayed home and worked hard. 

So hard, that within four months she decided to run the 800 metres in the New Zealand championships. She finished runner-up.

“Athletics was really out of my comfort zone at that time. And, while I wasn’t known in athletics, I had been a Silver Fern for three years, so it was a bit scary for me when I decided to compete, and I had to rock up at the start of a 400-metre track. 

“I was by that stage leaner, faster, and mentally stronger because it is so tough running the 800m,” Seymour said. “When I started the next netball season I just knew I was playing better, and I was probably 6-8 kilograms lighter.

“I really wanted to get back into the Ferns, but I thought if I didn’t, I was gonna try and qualify for the Commonwealth Games as a middle-distance runner. For the first time I had a plan B. 

“And, I guess a part of me wonders if I would have been able to get there with athletics if things had turned out differently.”

Willering, however, had other plans for the young centre. She re-selected her. 

“That selection felt better than the first time I was chosen for the Silver Ferns,” Julie said. “I played for another 10 years, and I was always in control of my fitness after that.”

She would continue to also compete at athletics until 2000, notably finishing second to Toni Hodgkinson, who qualified for the 2000 Summer Olympics that year.

 

Children prod retirement decision

Seymour had always wanted four children and they would ultimately sound time on her international netball career. She had juggled elite sport and family through her first three pregnancies (with the exception of the 2004 season). 

But, it was her fourth child, Thomas, who helped her transition from player to coach, aged 38. In addition to a partial Achilles tear sustained during training – her first truly worrying injury. Harrison is now 19, Hannah is 17, Josie is 15, and Thomas is 10.

 

Leaving glory behind

Leaving the playing persona behind is a loss that every national athlete has to face at some time. 

Seymour acknowledges that many of her sporting colleagues have struggled with the transition. She says it was easier for her because she was coaching and therefore still involved, and she had four children and life after sport with her husband to focus on.

Dallas remains one of New Zealand’s longest and most successful rugby sevens players achieved during his own extended 16-year career, in addition to his All Black and provincial duties. He now works for Ngāi Tahu.

“It’s not that any of us seek attention or anything, but I do think so much of your identify is tied up in the sport. You do almost grieve for it,” Seymour said.

 

Major injury avoided

Notably for her workload, Seymour has managed to avoid serious injury in a sport littered with broken bodies at the elite level. She credits that to more than one thing.

“I think being really fit helps,” Seymour said. “And, athletics got me really fit for sure, but there may be a bit of genetics, and luck thrown in there too.”

In fact, North Canterbury Sports and Recreation Trust’s Operations Manager Rosie Oliver, who works with Seymour on the Sports Scholarship awards adds a little known fact on the genetics story.

“Julie’s mum, Dorothy, came to the gym a lot and she was such a positive and timeless person,” Oliver said. “And, she was one of the very few women of her age that I knew who could do 10 chin-ups.”

 

Coaching knock-down

Life after playing led Seymour to a logical co-coaching position with the Tactix for five years. In 2015, she applied for the next step, the Tactix’s head coaching role. Canterbury instead chose Australian Sue Hawkins. It was a tough blow.

However, for the second time the universe offered her some lemonade out of that lemon.

“Greg Thompson (my old netball fitness trainer) asked me to come and help with some fitness work at St Margaret’s College, and not long after that a teaching position became available there. 

“It was amazing timing, and it opened the door back to what I was trained to do...teaching. And, I love it. Once again being turned down [for the Tactix job] was the best thing that could have happened to me.

“It also opened up other coaching experiences and gave me the chance to be the head coach for the NZ Secondary School team, and assistant coach for the NZ U21 world youth cup team.”

 

Monkey off her back

It was coaching the World Youth Cup to gold in Botswana three years ago that lifted a monkey off Seymour’s back which had dogged her through three World Championships and two Commonwealth Games. 

“All my time in the Ferns we won either silver or bronze. So, when we went to the World Youth Cup, I was thinking, ‘If we lose this, I’m the jinx’. 

“But, we won. Even though I wasn’t playing, it was still very cool…and a relief.”

 

Tactix revisited

Two and a half years after Hawkins was appointed, she was dramatically sacked mid-season. Marianne Delaney-Hoshek stepped in for Canterbury in the head coaching role, and she asked Julie to join her back in her old assistant coaching role. 

“I had moved on by that time. But Marianne came back to me a couple of times, and I ended up sitting on the bench and helping out for the end of the season. Over summer she came back to me again. And, leading into 2018 I eventually said ‘ok’, but I still wanted to work at school, and it had to fit in. Three years later I’m still there.

“We’ve got a good team for next year and it’s exciting to be involved, but I have to be careful to balance my world. I can’t be at everything.” 

 

Giving back to North Canterbury

While Seymour can’t be all things to all people, she does a lot. 

Oliver says Seymour has been on the North Canterbury Sports and Recreation Trust’s judging panel since its inception in 2004. Her co-judges include George Berry (WeAreCanterbury Media), Pat Barwick (NZ Hockey player and NZ Coach 1987- 92, who also holds a MNZM Queens Award), Athol Earl (Olympic rowing gold medallist), and Lorraine McLeod (NCSRT Board Member).

“If you want something done, ask a busy person,” Oliver said. “That would be Julie’s golden rule, I think. She squeezes us in between all that she does, because typically she still wants to give back to everybody.”

Perspective and international kudos

Oliver says Seymour brings incredible perspective – along with a resume that can’t be challenged. 

“She brings untold knowledge. Even though she excelled in netball and athletics, she follows all sport with such a passion that she knows about people from the grass roots level,” Oliver says.

“Her knowledge of what people should be doing in their sport, as opposed to what they are doing is amazing. She can sort out the plants from the weeds.”

Oliver says having an international athlete of Seymour’s calibre, who was raised locally, is a bonus the Trust never takes for granted. 

“Julie constantly comes back to her roots. In an informal setting, we do have a lot of laughs. You can’t take the country out of that girl. 

“She is passionate about what she does, and the people she’s connected with. And, she stays connected. Even though she is the Tactix assistant coach, she still wants to know what’s happening at North Canterbury Netball. She truly is an amazing ambassador for sport.”

 

Youth Scholarships for 2020

Oliver says because of Covid-19, this year’s awards will look slightly different. A celebration will be held at the MainPower Oval on Friday, October 30 from 2pm. It will include a celebration of the Trust’s primary schools coaching programme in the last decade, along with a display of its inner workings.

“It will be followed by drinks and nibbles,” Oliver said. “And, even though it’s been a tough year to excel with Covid, if we have some scholarships we’ll present them.”

She said the Trust also intends to unveil the naming rights for the $28 million stadium new sports stadium being built on Coldstream Rd near the MainPower cricket oval, the Waimakariri all-weather hockey turf and the Maria Andrews Park football ground. 

The four courts within the 6000-square-metre stadium will cater for futsal (indoor soccer), handball, korfball, volleyball, netball, badminton and basketball.

The stadium – which will seat about 500 spectators – will also house a central fitness facility, changing rooms, and coaching and meeting spaces.  

The perfect facility to mould the next generation of Julie Seymours…

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