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Then + Now With Grace Nweke  — 15 Year Anniversary

Then + Now With Grace Nweke — 15 Year Anniversary

Grace Nweke’s rise to international Netball competition through her remarkable journey and impressive skills have positioned her as one of the players to watch in the Netball world. Her drive and ability to perform under the pressure of the international Netball with her impressive shooting numbers have made her a key player in the Ferns squad.

You seem to rise to the pressure in your game and are known for your consistency under pressure. Do you find pressure helps you in your game?

I’d say rising to or thriving under pressure is a pretty fair statement for my game style; it’s in those intense moments that you grow the most. I relish every opportunity to play under these conditions, against strong teams and with a lot at stake. There is no better feeling than coming out of a high-pressure moment or game knowing you contributed massively to the unit's success.
You encountered an injury that unfortunately brought your time at the World Cup to an end. How do these injuries / obstacles propel you to grow stronger?  

That World Cup injury was a really tough one. It still feels very raw and is something I am still grieving and recovering from. Injuries are challenging at any time, but for it to happen while being in the best form of my career thus far, at a pinnacle event, made it so much harder to come to terms with. As well as the physical side of rehabbing, there is a huge mental aspect that I know I'll have to keep working on even once I'm fully back. When I do eventually return to the court, I know I will be hungrier, heartier, and more determined than ever before. I don’t just want to come back and be 100% of the same player that I was pre-injury. I want to be even better than that person after all I've been through - that is what is propelling me forward

Throughout your journey, have there been moments that stand out as particularly inspirational, whether on or off the court? How have these moments shaped your perspective and motivations?  

Absolutely, I've had some pivotal moments in my journey that fueled my inspiration. My diversity and what it represents is a continual source of inspiration for me; coming from a migrant background and my experiences growing up in New Zealand as "NaijaKiwi" inspires me, as I feel that my success inspires the next generation of culturally diverse New Zealanders.  

One standout inspirational memory is from the Commonwealth Games in 2022 during the Bronze medal match against England. The team faced a significant challenge, losing the semi-final against Jamaica the day before. It was a defeat that I really took to heart, this being my first pinnacle event; with such a rigorous build-up, I'd spent months envisioning playing for gold. It was a hard pill to swallow coming to terms with our new reality and having to do so in less thna 12 hours. The loss tested our emotional resilience, demanding us to set aside the disappointment and regroup.

Facing England on their home turf in Birmingham for a medal added another layer of difficulty. It was a gruelling game, but what stood out was the complete shift in mindset and energy compared to any other Netball experience I've had. We went into that match with no doubt about the job that had to be done and whether we would succeed. The feeling on the court was infectious and inspiring and marked a profound change for me. Encountering an atmosphere that intense, doesn't happen often, and I look back on it as a memory and win that has left a lasting impact.

What advice would you tell your younger self?

I would tell young Grace that she is good enough, that she is capable and that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I really struggled with self-confidence and belief growing up, I never felt I was enough, especially in sports. I used to spend all my age groups and club netball trainings apologising for every single error, big or small. I never felt like I belonged and believed I'd only been picked for teams because I was tall. I would also tell Grace to save herself from the torment and stop stressing about what others thought about her. Over the years, I've realised that everyone else has their own set of insecurities or issues to deal with and are likely far too wrapped up in that to even spare a thought or judgment towards me and what I'm up to. I have just really come to value not caring and being content with who I am.  

What lessons have you learned from your past? Or What lesson did you learn the hard way?   

Learning to accept the demands of the athlete lifestyle has been a key lesson and one that I learned the hard way. As someone who loves to say yes to everything, whether academically, extracurricular or socially, developing a set of values and goals that informed how I prioritised my time and energy was vital in finding the balance. The sacrifices—quality time with friends, family, and at times my mental health—I learned were necessary for the sport that gives so much in return. It's a 24/7 commitment, and being open to the public eye was something I had to accept quickly.

Self-belief was a hard-earned lesson tied to New Zealand's culture of "Tall Poppy Syndrome", overcoming self-criticism and embracing my desire to excel was challenging. Being proud in saying, "I want to be a Silver Fern, I want to make this selection, and I believe I am good enough" required a huge mindset shift. Wrestling with imposter syndrome and doubting my capabilities, I've learned to be intentional about my success, owning the hard work that got me here, and acknowledging that I'm worthy of the accolades. Celebrating myself while remaining humble and gracious are integral parts of the journey.

Why is evolution important to what you do and who you are and where you want to go?

Evolution is essential both on and off the court, I can't play the same way I did three years ago and expect to keep up with other top shooters and teams - as the game evolves, I need to as well. As an athlete I strive to get out of my comfort zone and as cliche as it sounds “be better than I was yesterday”. Looking ahead, my aspirations are high—I aim not just to participate in but to win at the next World Cup and Commonwealth Games, as well as claim future ANZ Premiership titles. I know I can’t do this without evolving myself and my game style over the next few years. Building a legacy as a person and a player is a commitment I've made, giving my best years to the sport and remaining adaptable to its changes and this lifestyle. Preparing for anything and accepting nothing is owed to you or guaranteed is vital. Evolution, I've learned, is a process of continuous improvement, involving steps forward and occasional steps back. Only upon reflection do you realise the significant growth achieved despite all the challenges.

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