Leana de Bruin knows how lucky she is to have a certain guy in her life.
Tall and energetic, with a smile that lights up the room, Leana’s favourite chap never fails to be there for the Silver Fern, with cuddles and heart-melting words of endearment.
He also has a serious fascination with superheroes and loves a good juice box.
Since Leana split from her husband two years ago, it’s been four-year-old Caleb who has occupied the number-one spot in the netballer’s life.
And though it took months of soul-searching to get her to where she is today, Leana (36) is adamant that she’s never been in a better place – as a happy single mum.
“Life is really good right now,” Leana says, as she watches Caleb zoom around the backyard of her Cambridge home, Batman cape fanning out behind him as he wields a stick that he says is his new “waterblaster”.
“I mean, being a single mum isn’t without certain challenges, and sometimes it’s pretty scary. But I’m a very determined person, and if the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that it’s amazing how strong you can be when you have to be – especially when you’re responsible for someone else.”
With Caleb now “man of the house” – a title he takes very seriously, Leana adds – the 6ft 3in (1.9m) netballer says she lives for the moments she gets to spend with her son.
“He makes me a stronger person,” she says with a smile.
“Netball was my all before I had Caleb. I think, at times, I tried too hard. Now, the balance is good. I’m more settled. Netball is still super important, but at the end of the day it’s a game, and my little fella loves me whether I win or lose. He gives me perspective.”
Although she makes no bones about going through her separation, a time she describes as “hard”, Leana, who has played 66 tests for New Zealand and 34 for her native South Africa, has emerged from the experience a different woman – a far more confident and self-assured one.
“There’s been change everywhere!” Leana admits. “But having to sort all this stuff out made me realise that I don’t have anyone else to help me make decisions. I have to do it myself, and I have to believe that what I’m doing is right for
Caleb and me.”
“I know what my body needs, and I’ve now got this confidence to stand up for myself. One thing I have figured out is that in my next relationship, I’ll say how I feel. What you see is what you get, and he can take it or leave it!”
The new and improved Leana is also a better mother, she believes – one that can balance her career with her duties as a parent.
“It’s quality time over quantity, definitely,” she says. “And I always promised myself, although I love him to bits, that I would never stop doing what I love. So we do it all – netball, kindy, time at home.”
Leana has a great relationship with Caleb’s dad – Quinton. And it’s something she’s incredibly thankful for.
“We talk, and laugh about Caleb,” she says. “We agreed to make the situation work.”
“He’s an amazing dad – we share custody, so Caleb’s there every other week. It makes me appreciate every little bit of time we have, and you do feel guilty sometimes. You have children for a reason, but you can’t forget yourself.”
As Caleb comes tearing back into the house, minus his waterblaster, Leana scoops him up into a bear hug.
“Mum’s hair is bumpy!” he exclaims, running his fingers through Leana’s just-set curls.
“It gets harder and harder to leave him, though,” she admits. “When we go away with the Silver Ferns, we’re gone for weeks on end. Some people say it gets easier, but he’s a real personality at the moment, and you miss out on all those things. He’ll say, ‘Oh no, not netball again,’ when I’m leaving.”
Caleb certainly seems to have inherited Leana’s aptitude for sport. Currently the average height of a six-year-old, the bundle of energy says he loves running, “Because the Flash runs. He’s super fast.“
“He wanted so badly to play ripper rugby this year, but the hand-eye co-ordination isn’t quite there yet,” Leana says.
A glass-half-full type of person, Leana is looking forward to the future with Caleb – and though she’s happy, she concedes that a new man may be part of that vision.
“I’m happy being single at the moment, but having someone special would be nice one day,” she says. “The times I find it hard are when Caleb’s at his dad’s, and we’ve just lost against Australia. I just want to come home and let it out. That’s when it kind of sucks.
“In saying that, I haven’t made much effort to put myself out there! It’s important to find yourself first. I didn’t know what I wanted, and these last two years have given me some clarity.”
“So, I’m excited at what’s coming next!”
Photos: Caren Davis • Styling: Emma Aubin • hair & make-up: Katherine Gould • Leana wears Witchery top. Caleb wears Kid Republic top and pants. Leana wears trenery top and jeans.