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International Netball Sports

A Student, A Mother, and An Outstanding Defender — Sulu Fitzpatrick’s Netball Journey

There is no age bar to learn and grow — Sulu Fitzpatrick is a student who never stops learning. Though most students do not take 10 years to complete a degree, most are not one of New Zealand’s topnotch netball defender.

Currently with the Northern Mystics, netball fans are eyeing Fitzpatrick’s possible return to The Silver Ferns, the team she played for in 2011. That was also the year she enrolled at the University of Auckland — she has been studying there since.

Balancing Personal & Professional Life

Embarking on her sociology degree at the university right after high school, Fitzpatrick hopes to complete her tertiary education next semester. “I promised myself I would do it before I was 30,” the 27-year-old told Newsroom.

Her studies was put on hold after giving birth to twins. Now six years old, Theresa and Tavita, are common sights courtside, cheering their mother on. In fact, Theresa was named after aunt, Theresa Fitzpatrick of Black Fern, though it appears the child is more inclined towards singing and dancing than sports. 

She is grateful that she is still able to continuing studying in the university despite her absences. Now that she is back in Auckland and home with her family — she was living separately from them for the past two year in Wellington while on the Central Pulse — Fitzpatrick is determined to finish her degree. She kept up with her studies by correspondence, though admittedly “very poorly at times”.

Her education

Despite the hurdles in getting her degree, Fitzpatrick loves her chosen specialisation. She is passionate about learning and understanding people and their actions; analysing the motivations behind their behaviour. She applies what she learns in both her life and her sport, perhaps possibly translating into a coaching career in the future. 

“It’s definitely something I could see myself doing in the future,” she shares, acknowledging the effort needed in “managing people, growing people, and supporting them in their own journey”.

She adds, “Sure, it’s been hard. But my mum has always pushed the importance of having something else in your life. The times when I didn’t do anything, I became too netball-focused.”

But that does not mean she’s giving up on her sporting career.

Her game

There’s a calm disposition about Fitzpatrick — at 1.87m, her presence is felt when making a move on the court. Claiming to be a late bloomer, she knows her weaknesses on the court and is learning with the help of Mystics’ coach Helena Wilson on how to best use her feet to create intercepts.

She recently hit a 100 games at the National League Level, having played elite netball for 10 seasons. Despite feeling like she is one of the older members, Fitzpatrick enjoys the weekly fancy-dress team dinners organised by the teens on the team. She enjoys the freshness they bring. “They’re reminding us what it is to just play,” she says.

“That’s really important for us to hold on to towards the end of this season, just to play and play our best.”

Fitzpatrick does not keep a track of the points table, though she is keeping her sights on moving up from the team’s current third placing — after a 47-41 loss to the Steel — to second place if they can beat Magic in their next match.

Putting unnecessary worries out of her mind, Fitzpatrick just wants the team to improve. She is enjoying playing with midcourter Elisapeta Toeava for the first time and also has a “soft spot” for the 18-year-old player, Saviour Tui — a player with “heart” and “integrity”. She feels this young player is not easily caught up with emotions and focuses more on the game.

On her strengths, Fitzpatrick believes it was a three-year journey with her two years at the Pulse deemed a game-changer. There, she lost weight, made herself physically more vigorous, and improved her knowledge about the game.

She also welcomes the lockdown and calls it “a huge blessing”.

“Netball-wise, it was just being able to train. There was nowhere to hide, no one else to push you, or for you to rely on. Just you and your own mind. I found that really helpful, and it brought my fitness up quite a bit. I was able to build mental toughness as well.”

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