How a Diamond became a Rose
People call it a unique story: Winning a Netball World Cup with Australia and now a Commonwealth Games gold medal for England. But after everywhere I’ve played and everything I’ve been through, I just call it mine.
I’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, both in my career and my personal life. I have grown, changed and learnt a hell of a lot about myself and people.
I know that things change. The bad times aren’t going to last forever and neither are the good times, so it’s about cherishing the good and just getting through the bad and knowing that tomorrow might still be shitty, but the next day will be a little bit better.
I’m almost 30 and I like my perspective on life now. It’s a lot better than 21-year-old me.
GOLD ON THE COAST
The whole Commonwealth Games, and everything leading up to it, was the best experience of my life. Obviously to top it off with the gold made it absolutely phenomenal.
For me, I just wanted to win. It did not matter who we came up against, and it didn’t matter that the final was against Australia. I have extremely fond memories of my time with the Diamonds but, in the end, Australia are world No.1 and I want us, England, to be World No.1, so that is who we have to beat.
For it to come to fruition and beat them at the Commonwealth Games to win gold and create history is something I never imagined would be so amazingly emotional.
We hadn’t beaten the Diamonds since I’d been a part of the Roses. It was an accumulation of emotions, and to be a part of it with an amazing group of girls is something really special.
I remember when we stepped up on that podium and Geva Mentor, who I classify as a really good friend now, was next to me. I was so emotional, I was just crying and crying and I was like ‘oh, my gosh, oh my gosh, we did it’. It was a bittersweet moment and so surreal.
Never once at that moment did I have any thoughts about Australia, or of having been a Diamond. It was solely about us, the England Roses, what we had achieved, and what we had done for ourselves, our family and our country. I felt the passion of the girls who had been involved with England for so long and been so close but never got there.
I felt all of that because I love them. I love my team. That is the bond and culture we have created within our Roses environment.
The other day here in Adelaide I bumped into an English guy down at Henley Square, and he was like ‘hi Chelsea Pitman, I’m just so proud what you’ve done for the country – my family at home are talking about netball’. I welled up like a sensitive sap because you don’t realise the effect you can have on people and breaking the hoodoo that ‘England netball can’t win gold’.
We did, and now I’m like, ‘The Netball World Cup is next year, in Liverpool, and this is just the beginning’. It’s exciting.
hard life lessons
I mentioned above that I have had some lows and highs – including personally.
It is no secret that I was married and am now divorced. My relationship with my ex was very public. We were both public about it. We chose to share all about our engagement, my ectopic pregnancy and having emergency surgery, our marriage and everything in between.
Like most people who break up or go through a divorce I look back now and I’m like, ‘Eeeh, I shouldn’t have done that’. But you can’t regret things. It’s all a lesson learnt.
What I didn’t share with the public was that I was in a toxic relationship. I lost a lot of who I was and a lot of confidence in myself. It was extremely hard for me, but I also feel lucky to have had the support of my sport, a tight family and my close friends. Even with all those things, I still felt extremely isolated in my marriage.
During that period, netball was the one thing that put a smile on my face. I’d come to training and I’d just leave whatever was going on in my personal life at the door. I’d train and be 100 per cent intense and committed there, but then as soon as I left, everything would hit me again and I’d be like, ‘Ooooh, shit, that’s still there’.
I was in a toxic relationship. I lost a lot of who I was and a lot of confidence in myself.
There were two “major” break-ups – the last one in October, 2016, two weeks before I moved to Adelaide. After my ANZ season with the Pulse, I went home to Sydney to be with my family because obviously things weren’t great.
Like with so many break-ups, you try to work it out, you get back together, you break up again. Finally, there was a bad incident at home. Police and ambos were called and a lot of things were going on around me, and yet I was so unemotional about it. I remember I didn’t even cry.
My parents were overseas and my neighbours came over to see what was going on and they were like, ‘What the hell is going on?’. That was the wake-up call for me to be like, ‘OK, I wasn’t even affected by that because it was so common in our relationship that it’s time for me to step away’.
I finally had to make myself a priority and put my health and mental health first.
There was no physical abuse whatsoever; I want to make that clear. It was just time for me to leave an emotionally abusive relationship. He was a great person but he had this other side to him, obviously.
With everything going on in my personal life, I’d put all my energy into netball and I was lucky I had that to fall back on, but then I had to try and find who I was, so it was a very confusing time.
The Thunderbirds were great, and helped and supported me away from the court. I didn’t have that emotional/crying phase, the really sad phase. I just got the whole emptiness phase. But I worked through it.
I look back and I had so many chances to walk away. It didn’t need to get to that point, but it did, and again that’s part of what’s made me who I am today. I choose to only surround myself with great people. I don’t waste my time with anyone who brings negativity or even just drama to my life because I’ve had so much.
People think athletes are in a bubble, that everything’s perfect in our lives, but we’re just normal people, and I was in a relationship that broke down in a really shitty way.
Like with so many break-ups, you try to work it out, you get back together, you break up again. Finally, there was a bad incident at home.
Because I was public with my relationship right up until it truly broke, I made the decision to address that on social media – for a mix of reasons. Firstly, because I was sick of people questioning me, especially about things they didn’t know, so It was really to put it out there that, ‘Look my life is not perfect, so please just leave me alone’.
It was also because I had a sense that I could influence girls that maybe were going through something similar and reassure them that, ‘Look, it’s OK for you to feel these things about yourself – I’ve been there’.
I hope it helped even just one person to love themselves or take the first step towards changing their situation.
Everyone loves my dress-up box, because if they ever want to go the netball party theme we can tick off almost the whole competition! I’ve played for six clubs in three countries, as well as the Diamonds and the Roses, in nine years. It’s pretty amazing.
I started training with the Swifts when I was in high school. I was goaler in the days when players like Liz Ellis were around. I always thought I would go back to the Swifts after my stint at the AIS, but I fell into some bad shooting form and just wasn’t picked up by an ANZ club.
Then, late in the contracting period, Tactix threw me a lifeline and I was like, ‘Oh, hell yes’, and moved over to Christchurch and changed positions into wing attack. I could say the rest is history, except that six rounds later I did my knee. It was scary and disheartening and you think the worst because, ‘Oh my gosh, I had a really bad season last year and I just got this lifeline and I’ve only played five games, and what do I do from here?’.
I was lucky that Norma Plummer had obviously seen something in me and, because my rehab wasn’t going so well, organised for me to go back to the AIS for a six-week stint. That was when I signed with the Firebirds, and I stayed there for a couple of years before gypsy life took full effect.
The first year I was back on court with Firebirds, we won the 2011 championship, undefeated, which was amazing. Then to get selected for Diamonds in a World Cup year was just a whirlwind.
I got more court time at the 2011 world championships in Singapore than I ever thought I would, and that’s because I enjoyed it. I play my best netball when I’m happy. I came on at quarter-time in the final against New Zealand and we ended up winning in double-overtime.
It feels like a lifetime ago, and when I look back at photos I’m like, ‘Yeah, that was a lifetime ago – you look really young!’
That was obviously a cherished memory of mine, and people sometimes do question, ‘Ooh, how can you have that passion for Australia and talk about it like that, and then have the same passion for England?’
But anyone who knows me knows that whatever dress I pull on, I have an instant sense of pride because I haven’t gone into playing for that team without 100 per cent thinking it through and knowing that I’m 100 per cent committed.
People on the outside might question it, but I know how I feel when I’m playing for the Roses, and the pride I feel. No-one can question that I was 100 per cent committed to Australia then, or that I am now 100 per cent an English player.
That’s where I am and that’s where I belong.
OUT OF FAVOUR
I only played one more year for the Diamonds. My feedback when Lisa Alexander became head coach in 2013, was that I only played one position and I wasn’t fit enough.
So I guess I had to be the best in my position to own that and for whatever reason, in their eyes, I wasn’t. Which is fine. That’s just sport, sometimes; you can’t be everyone’s favourite.
I’m very much aware I don’t play like a ‘normal’ wing attack, that I’m not the fastest or the zippiest on court. How I like to look at it is that I’m ‘effective with my movement in getting free’.
But I think the game’s changing, and wing attacks now are the brains, they’re the creative, linking players – I guess like the quarterbacks in the NFL. And that’s brilliant, because it adds diversity and variety for other girls to want to play that position. I know young kids don’t want to play any wing position. They always want to play on the ends or smack bang in the middle!
I thought I deserved to at least get invited to the Aussie training camp under Lisa. I remember that really hurt. I was like, ‘Am I not good enough to even get invited to be with them? I’ve been part of it’. I guess I didn’t completely understand it but I wanted it so badly.
No-one can question that I was 100 per cent committed to Australia then or that I am now 100 per cent an English player.
At that stage I was on a two-year contract with Fever, but towards the end of the first season I just wasn’t enjoying netball any more. I’d lost the passion, and it wasn’t anything to do with the team I was in, it was just me personally. Going to training was a chore and I knew that I had to step away.
Fever were really great about it. In ANZ Champs then, like Suncorp Super Netball is now, you have to sacrifice a lot and you have to be 100 per cent committed and I just mentally wasn’t. I was drained and a bit burnt-out.
So that’s when I took off, and a different adventure started. I packed my bags and moved to Manchester.
COMING UP ROSES
My Dad was born and raised in England, in a village orphanage in Shaftesbury, after his mother died when he was 10.
The seed for me to switch countries was planted by Tracey Neville. It was towards the end of my stint at Manchester Thunder, and Tracey had just been given the England head coaching role when she jokingly brought up the subject of me playing for the Roses.
Being a dual citizen, I knew that I would be eligible after I’d served a qualification period, but that’s not why I went over there. I’d missed out on Diamonds selection and, honestly, I just wanted to have a bit of fun.
It was exactly that. Some of the girls I played with in 2014 were in the gold medal team at Comm Games – Helen Housby, Beth Cobden and Jodie Gibson – so it was amazing to experience that with them.
When we were at Thunder, they were just such keen young netballers, but they didn’t take it too seriously compared with the franchises I’d come from, so it was exactly what I needed to be, ‘Oh, I do love this game!’.
I just got too caught up in my head and took it too seriously that I lost why I loved it and lost why I did it.
Adelaide has given me something different. It’s given me a sense of home. It is home for me now. Having moved around so much and with everything that I’ve been through, home was not really at my parents’ house in Sydney, and it wasn’t at past places I had lived. It was just physically where I was standing – just me, and not my possessions.
Adelaide has given me something different. It’s given me a sense of home.
I know that sounds extremely weird, but people would ask, ‘Where’s home for you?’ And I’d be, ‘I don’t know. Where am I today?’. And I was OK with that.
Adelaide is my home now. I feel so comfortable with the friends I’ve made, including outside of netball, and just at the club itself, which is how it should be. That comes, too, with getting a little older and wiser (at times – haha) and I have a great life with my new partner, who is the most amazing man.
It’s wonderful that I’ve found love again and I don’t bring any of my insecurities into this relationship. That is also testament to Shayne for being the person he is. I am pretty lucky.
Adelaide gives me happiness away from netball. For my whole career, netball has been my constant happiness, so for me to now have that balance is amazing. It’s a big part of why I’m playing good netball and able to achieve things and get to places that I never thought I was going to be able to, like the Commonwealth Games or playing at international level again.
I don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m all about finding the small things that make me smile.