Rachel Dunn epitomises athleticism, intelligence and class when on court for the Vitality Roses. At 36, she also represents a longevity that many of her fellow professionals aspire towards.
The eldest member of this Vitality Netball World Cup squad is playing the best netball of her career. When Liverpool was announced as the host city four years ago, though, Dunn quite simply did not expect to get there.
“It’s something I didn’t anticipate happening”
Dunn forms an integral part of Tracey Neville’s squad and has played in three of the four games so far, starring in the win over Scotland with a shooting accuracy of 94.2%. She, however, still finds it hard to believe.
“No [I never thought I’d represent England at this tournament]. I’m not getting any younger so when it got announced that they were going to play it in Liverpool, I thought it was some distant thing,” she said.
“Four years on, I’m still playing and didn’t expect that so to get the opportunity to play at a home Vitality Netball World Cup is something that I didn’t anticipate happening.”
“Netball just absorbed me”
This is just the latest in an extensive list of achievements for Dunn, who has amassed more than 200 Vitality Netball Superleague appearances and has 89 Vitality Roses caps to her name despite never playing full-time.
Her 16-year career has resulted in a remarkable seven league titles but her first memory of silverware came when she was in primary school.
“I started playing netball in Year Four in school, it’s one of these sports you just played. I did all sports growing up, whatever I had time for,” she explained.
“Mrs Beatie was my netball coach at primary school and got us going. We all played it. I think my first winning memory was in the Year Six Small Schools Netball tournament in the Huntington region. We went there against 12 other mini-schools and that was my first memory of lifting a trophy on a netball court.”
“It was when I went to university that netball just absorbed me and it just went from there. I did the Bath University training programme there, played for Team Bath in the Vitality Netball Superleague and that’s how it all began.”
“Scoring goals is my thing”
Dunn first put on the Vitality Roses dress in 2004 and has collected two Commonwealth Games bronze medals with her country. From her first appearance to the recent victory over Samoa, she has always plied her trade inside the shooting circle.
“Apparently scoring goals is my thing so I’ve always been a shooter,” she said.
“If I said ‘I don’t want to be a shooter anymore, I want to be a defender’ they’d probably just laugh at me and say ‘just go back to shooting goals again’. I’m much better at attacking than defending so I’ll stick to what I’m good at,” she said.
Due to her lengthy stint at shooter, she has had plenty of time to identify any netballing idols. One that stands out to the NHS geneticist is Irene van Dyk, who racked up more than 200 games for South Africa and New Zealand during her 16-year career.
Dunn played her first Vitality Netball Superleague game in 2005 when van Dyk was at the peak of her powers.
“I was playing when Irene van Dyk was on the scene for New Zealand. Her ability to take ball, shoot, get close to the post, and be a shooter that was also athletic. So she was someone who I always looked up to in my younger playing days,” she said.
“I had the honour of playing against her several times as well from the other end of the court. She was epic. She played over 200 international games. Her longevity was superb, too. She is one that I definitely looked up to.”
“You have to enjoy the journey”
As the Vitality Roses embark on the latter stages of the competition, Dunn will continue to make her mark on what is her third Vitality Netball World Cup.
Dunn never thought she would be playing at this tournament but she has never been one to look unknowingly into the future. The veteran just wants to enjoy what she does and be the best that she can be, something she has been doing since her netballing adventure began.
“I tend to do life one step at a time. I just wanted to go out there, enjoy it and do the best I could. That was the most important thing but I had some great coaches to help me get there. It was always about just trying to live in the moment and be the best that I could be.
“You have to enjoy the journey. Not everyone gets an opportunity to go out there and be an international netballer but you can enjoy the sport wherever you’re playing. A lot of our goals in this team are the same at local sides, just on a bigger level.
“It’s the enjoyment, the friends you make, the journey you go on as a team, the experiences you have and the relationships you build. That’s an important part of sport and, no matter what level you play at, it’s about focusing on going out there and enjoying being part of a team and seeing what you can achieve.”
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