Last night saw the completion of the thirty-second of my forty challenges when I played my first ever game of netball... well, when I say “played”... I was on the court.
The ladies of Grangetown Netball Club were kind enough to invite me down to take part in a game towards the end of one of their training sessions. The senior side plays in National Premier League 2 and they are ranked within the top twenty clubs across the country: very much the deep end then!
But to say I was totally unprepared would be slightly unfair. I’d lost a stone in weight during the preceding fortnight, I’ve been pedalling around forty miles a week on the exercise bike... and I’d watched loads of netball at the Commonwealth Games.
What could possibly go wrong?!
Apart from the fact that years of cricket and badminton have left my hips in a pretty poor state. I knew that I’d be struggling to walk the following morning, but hoped the old limbs would keep me upright for just one more sporting challenge.
I met with Sarah and Claire on the balcony at the Youth & Community Centre about an hour before the moment of truth. As I watched the girls being put through their paces, I must admit the nerves kicked in, and I started to question the wisdom of including this challenge in the list. There’s a whole world of difference between young and athletic, and old and immobile – notwithstanding the fact that they were all excellent netball players... and I’d er... watched the Commonwealth Games.
I spent a few minutes warming up in the corridor outside the sports hall. One thing I’ve learned from all these challenges is how to smile for a photo. So I gave the security camera one of my best grins every time I skipped past; I might even have waved at one point. Well it just seemed the polite thing to do...
Some of the girls knew I was coming, but I accept it must have been a fairly incongruous sight as I entered the main hall. I had a few practice shots at a basketball hoop at the side of the hall, before being handed the goal shooter bib; I strolled onto the court, the whistle went and just like that, we were underway.
I had to check the colour of my bib (blue) because I honestly wasn’t sure who was on my side! I wasn’t expecting to have too much trouble catching the ball, but getting in a position where it could be thrown to me was a different matter altogether. I was being “marked” by a young lady called Amy, who had this annoying habit of getting in the way of the ball and me. It certainly didn’t seem very sporting!
All I can remember when I first received the ball was someone saying “shoot!” from the sidelines. I didn’t that time, but the attempts I had during the first half all missed. Most were close – one agonisingly so – but one shot missed by a margin that was big enough for it to be more accurately described as a “pass”.
My throat had dried up completely, but I was really enjoying myself; and even though I knew I was totally out of my depth, it was still fantastic to get that briefest flicker of memory of how it used to feel to play a competitive team sport.
A couple more shooting chances came my way in the second half and finally the moment arrived, as I actually managed to project the ball into and through the hoop, rather than at it. I’d like to think the crowd went wild...
One more shrill blast on the whistle and it was all over. At the end of the session, the girls all posed for the obligatory photo. It was the easiest “spot the odd one out” competition in history! Everyone was so friendly and supportive, and I have to say I had the best time... I’ve been so lucky to have met some great people and taken on so many varied challenges over these past few months, but this has to be one of the absolute highlights.
I need to say a massive thank you to Geraldine for allowing me to come along, and to Sarah for the photos and mentions on the club’s website; but I really should thank everyone who was there last night for helping to make it such a memorable evening.
I’m saving the best news until last... and announcing my retirement with immediate effect!!!
If you want to find out more about my challenges, or help me raise funds for the mental health charity Mind, here is a link to my JustGiving page. Any support at all makes a difference. Thanks again!