When Black Stick Gemma Flynn arrived home from the London Olympics last year, she had next to nothing in her bank account.
Exhausted after a long campaign, which saw the women’s hockey team finish an agonising fourth place, the stunning striker was broke, tired and unfulfilled – and she realised something had to give.
Until March of this year, Gemma was just living and breathing the sport – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“I was broken. It’s the only way to describe it,” the 23-year-old remembers.
“My life was hockey. I’d get up at 5am, train, work from eight until 5.30pm, train some more, go home, sleep, and do it all again the next day. After the last training of the week, I’d just sit in my car, unable to move.”
But it took an entirely new group of women to push Gemma to transform her life – her seven best friends and flatmates, who she now shares an eight-bedroom house with, in Auckland’s eastern suburbs.
“I lived with hockey players for the last few years, I worked at Hockey New Zealand, and was training every day, even after London,” says Tauranga-born Gemma.
It was kind of a marriage of convenience, as they were just minutes from their training hub on the North Shore.
“I had tunnel vision for so long. Hockey’s my passion, but it’s not everything. Sometimes you have to step back and see what’s important. So moving in with my mates was the best decision I ever have made.”
It wasn’t a change Gemma took lightly, but the move was necessary to keep her motivated to continue playing hockey – something she wants to do for many years to come.
“All of the girls I live with are amazing,” the down-to-earth sports star says. “They inspired me to make a change. We have just had two of my best mates move out and a couple of new girls move in, and they’re great.
“When I saw them all doing so well in their jobs and getting promotions, I realised that was the part of my life that wasn’t being fulfilled. The hockey’s great, but I needed more.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got, so I needed to do something different.”
It’s definitely been a year of change for the 141-test veteran, who is also studying sport and exercise science at Massey University.
Although she knows she’s lucky to be able to play the sport she loves so much for her country, it doesn’t earn a living. But instead of whining about it, the dedicated optimist was determined not to let things get her down, and chose instead to use the skills she’s learned to help others.
“After the Olympics, I had a lot of time to reflect on what I wanted to do, and kept coming back to helping other people,” she says.
“Eventually I want to be a life coach, but I’m only 23. I need more experience before I can do that. But I still think I could use all of the physical, mental, emotional and social skills I’ve learnt through hockey to help people, so I thought,
‘Okay, I’ll start a business.’”
In combination with her personal trainer Sean Hughes, using their experiences in sport and fitness, as well as his skills as a professional chef, the pair want to run workshops focusing on total wellbeing and balance, including physical health, mental clarity, goal setting, nutrition and social skills, all of which Gemma is well-versed in.
“It’s not going to be just fitness,” she insists. “I know there are a lot of people who are unhappy – and there are people who think that if they lose weight, they will be happier, and it’s simply not true.”
“I want to make people happier, healthier, and have a better quality of life, maybe through losing weight, but there are deeper issues, such as self-acceptance.”
It also helps Gemma target a pet peeve: the body image hang-ups of New Zealand women.
“I’m around a group of girls all the time, and it’s easy to compare yourself to others,” says Gemma. “But everyone is different and life’s not easy for anyone. It’s about knowing you and feeling good within yourself.”
And she had the perfect guinea pigs to test out her regime – her female flatmates.
“They all started really well. I sat down with each of them and talked about personal goals, what they all wanted to achieve, and how we could go about doing it,” she says.
“I sent them emails with tips and recipes and little things like that. One of the girls was really down and stressed about her debt, so we figured ways for her to sort it, and she told me the other day that she has almost paid it off now. It was absolutely brilliant.”
With firm goals set for herself, Gemma’s looking forward to the rest of the year with a renewed enthusiasm – and a relief that she has more in her life than her hockey stick.
“I’m just focusing on keeping on track and not biting off more than I can chew,” she says with a wry smile, as she heads off for her training session with her National Hockey League team.
“I’m excited by everything now. The days are long, but the years are short. Now I just want to get going.”
About Kelly Bertrand
“I started at the Weekly after a two-week internship in 2011, which was part of my journalism studies. Basically, I hung around and annoyed people long enough to land a job as a staff writer, and I’ve been here ever since. I’m lucky enough to get to write stories ranging from the Kardashians through to the Queen, but my real passion is telling the stories of New Zealand’s sporting stars. Sometimes I can’t quite believe it’s my job to hang out with All Blacks and Silver Ferns! I absolutely love working at the Weekly, and feel really privileged to be part of this 83-year-old Kiwi institution. I’m also fond of Instagram, coffee and animals dressed as humans!”more of this author