After a break from teaching for six years, she returned this February. “When I was there, there were a number of sports I got up and running at the school, including a gymnastics club with I don’t know how many kids taking part; I lost count in the end. Hockey was one of the main things, at one point two thirds of the school were playing.”
While she has always been sporty, her sister, she says, is the famous one. “Suzie (Muirhead) was captain of the Black Sticks for 13 years. She still holds the record for the most caps for New Zealand, and has played in two Olympics, two Commonwealths, I’m not sure how many world cups she’s taken part in. She now lives in Wellington, with two children.”
After taking time out with her own two children (“not really a break, as such – I was a numeracy advisor with Waikato University part time until last year…”) Nicky returned to find no hockey being played at Gordonton.
“And there’s been no hockey since I left in 2006. I’m keen for my daughter, Emily, to play, and there’s a wonderful all weather sports surface that’s been put in. It was time to get hockey started.”
She needed to motivate the students, so got in touch with younger sister Suzie.
“She sent me a clip of the Black Sticks playing, with really funky music and I went around every class. I told the kids those who weren’t playing rugby or netball on Saturdays, needed to play hockey. I’ve ended up with 40 kids this season who have never played hockey before.”
She is especially pleased to have an intermediate team from Room One – “Intermediates are struggling to get one side together, and I’ve got one class of 30 kids, and half of them are playing hockey. We also have a Year 0 to Year 2 team, for the real little ones, and had our first practise last week. They’re really good. You can see straight away which kids have got that gutsy determination about them while others sort of stand back.”
Not that Nicky minds the ones who are not as eager. “When I was eight, living in Whangarei, the local school sent out notices wanting more players. I didn’t even know what hockey was, but asked my mum if we could go play this sport.
“Immediately I was put into a fullback position because I could whack the ball really hard. Sister Susan was six, and was immediately up the front scoring goals. She was the determined one whereas I was quite relaxed to stand back, take the ball off people and whack it.”
As long as kids are outside playing, she’s happy. “They’re not sitting in front of a TV or computer, they’re developing fitness and learning what it’s like to be part of a team. There’s so many skills they pick up: leadership, communication, team work. My goal is that they will play sport of any kind, even at a social level, throughout their lives. That’s all I care about.”
Since she first started, Nicky has played every single year, except for when she was pregnant. “I’ve been playing hockey for 31 years now.”
She has just been selected for the New Zealand Masters 35s and will be in Fiji in September for three tests.
“I love it, it’s a winter sport, it gets you off the couch and outside exercising.”
Keen-eyed locals may see Nicky jogging down Woodlands Rd with a baby buggy. She loves living in the village, she says.
“It’s all about community. I’m borrowing tools all the time from my neighbours, cups of tea are regular. We don’t actually invite, we just turn up. There’s a lot of chatting over fences.”