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News > Collegians > Kate hangs up her oar and picks up her netball shoes

Kate hangs up her oar and picks up her netball shoes

Kate Littlejohn has returned to New Zealand and has slipped on her netball shoes to play for Mainland Tactix
16 Jun 2023
Kate Littlejohn (GK)
Kate Littlejohn (GK)

Getting the opportunity to be a student-athlete in the US came quite unexpectedly for Collegian Kate Littlejohn (Harington 2015-2018).

After making the New Zealand Junior Rowing Team, she was contacted for recruitment by several USA colleges, but she didn’t seriously consider the possibility until after competing at the World Junior Championships a couple of months later. The complex and lengthy scholarship process required a lot of consideration and planning which Kate’s parents Jenny and Garth were instrumental in driving. During the latter part of Kate’s Year 13, there were numerous emails and calls with college coaches. On top of NCEA, Kate also studied for the USA SAT and ACT while researching the US college system. The final step in her decision-making was to visit the colleges which resulted in Kate choosing Stanford University as the best fit for her.  Kate was offered a four-year scholarship joining the 4% of applicants who are accepted to Stanford, one of the top three universities in the world.

Kate says, “I don’t think I fully appreciated how my time at St Paul’s truly influenced where I was able to go and where I am today.” She feels extremely fortunate to have been guided by special people whose time at St Paul’s coincided with hers. In particular, “Rev James Stephenson and Jackie Lock built the belief in me that I could grasp big opportunities and try something new beyond New Zealand.” While at St Paul’s, Kate’s sporting path was not conventional; playing netball and rowing at national levels while rowing at international competitions required flexibility and careful planning. “The support I received, not just from coaches and teachers, but other students, was immense.”

Unsurprisingly, some of Kate’s best memories at St Paul’s are sport oriented. Kate was part of the history-making crew which won the Dawn Cup at Maadi Cup in 2017, also winning bronze in the U18 eight. At that time, the entire girls rowing squad consisted of 14 athletes including two coxswains and four novices; such success was incredible.

Another highlight was when the Open A netball team was in the playoff to be elevated into the premier Thursday night club league. This game was against a women’s club and took place in the school gym. “The room was so full of boarders that other supporters had to stand in the weights area or in the long room to watch.” Having that atmosphere and then to get the win by one goal was a moment Kate will never forget.

Her time at Stanford was filled with experiences of sunrises on the water at training, biking through campus during spring quarter and going to sports events on campus nearly every day. Despite the incredible moments and opportunities, “it didn’t happen without challenges.”

Her freshman (first) year was packed with new experiences which made everything exciting. However halfway through Kate’s sophomore (second) year she started to feel extremely homesick. She had never been good at asking for help, so tried to deal with it on her own, but things just seemed to get harder, reaching the point where she was unable to appreciate the fortunate position she was in. Then COVID hit. The University sent everyone home, which created a new sense of uncertainty.

For the next 18 months, university life consisted of online recorded classes while Kate battled with the decision of whether to return to the US indefinitely. Due to the locked New Zealand border, she ran the risk of not being able to return home if she went back to Stanford. After much deliberation, Kate took the plunge and returned to the US and finished her degree. In June 2022, Kate graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Biology, before travelling and returning home in September.

During her time at Stanford, Kate was fortunate enough to have some unique opportunities. She took a summer class that explored the evolution and conservation of the Galapagos Islands which resulted in a 10-day trip around the archipelago to witness what they had learned first-hand. In addition, she went on a student-athlete service leadership trip to China spending three weeks with fellow student-athletes teaching English and running a summer camp for local kids on the Tibetan plateau. Both are memories that will last a lifetime.

Kate always knew she wanted to return to New Zealand and once home again, set her sights on trialling for the National Netball League (NNL) teams which sit underneath the ANZ Premiership. After trialling in Christchurch for Mainland Tactix, she had the opportunity to be an apprentice player and train alongside the team. In January 2023 Kate moved to Christchurch and played netball for Mainland Tactix in the NNL as well as continuing her studies with a Master of Science in Psychology at the University of Canterbury. She’s extremely thankful for the opportunity and support that she has received with the transition back into netball and to Christchurch.

“New Zealand will always be home; I’m grateful to have experienced first-hand the learnings and knowledge that can be acquired from going outside our little corner of the world and connecting with people from a range of different cultures. “St Paul’s helps to enable students to think about these big opportunities and develop the belief that they are attainable.”

As for the future, Kate looks forward to where netball will take her now that she has hung up her rowing oars. She hopes to use psychology to help improve the stigma and see positive changes in poor mental health statistics in New Zealand. In such a sport mad country, she thinks that there is real benefit in working with young athletes and at the high-performance level. “If we can support athletes early in their sporting careers to develop good mental skills, by the time they reach high-performance pathways hopefully they should be well set up to deal with the associated pressures.”

Right now, she will continue to work on developing her understanding of psychology within a New Zealand framework and enjoy what she does every day.

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