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The 29-year-old reveals how walking away from Australia and a failing marriage to rugby league star Kevin Locke have helped her grow as she looks forward to the Commonwealth Games
ast summer, Chelsea Pitman posted a message on Instagram announcing some of the life lessons she had learned in 2017. It was raw, searingly honest and heartfelt, apparently confirming rumours the Australian‑born England netball international had walked away from her marriage to her fellow professional athlete Kevin Locke. A rugby league international from New Zealand who had a short spell at the Super League side Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Locke has had depression and alcohol problems that mean his playing career has been persistently dogged by off-field issues.
Without mentioning her husband directly, Pitman wrote of her “self‑loathing at the person I had become” and explained how she had felt compelled to “find a way to love myself”. She said she was “thankful for the good times and the lesson I have learnt” and signed off by saying: “This isn’t finger-pointing because in the end we both failed.” It seemed a fairly unambiguous declaration and five months later she confirms as much.
“Obviously it wasn’t an easy decision and it wasn’t great timing, but I don’t think there’s ever going to be good timing,” she says. “I guess it taught me resilience and gave me strength I didn’t know I had inside myself to be able to – pardon my French – leave my shit at the door, walk into training and train, then pick my shit back up on the way out.
“I had to do that a lot last year but it made me a better, stronger person and I’ve grown from that. I’m extremely happy right now in terms of where I am and the person I’ve become. I made that decision 12 or 14 months ago and I’m happy. My family are beautiful and I’ve got a lovely other half now, so everything is good.”
Aged 29, Pitman won the 2011 world championships with Australia but then switched her allegiance to the England Roses, for whom she qualifies through her Dorset-born father, following an approach from the head coach, Tracey Neville.
Having spent the 2015 season playing the club game with Manchester Thunder, Pitman returned to England just over a year ago to join her new international team-mates for the first time. “I was extremely excited and honoured that I had this opportunity to play for England and to play at international level again,” she says. “I was extremely nervous as well, coming into an environment that I’d never been part of and I’m sure the girls had their questions or their reservations as to why I was choosing to do that.”
Questions and reservations were few and far between. A versatile and extremely talented player, Pitman already knew some of the Roses from her time in Manchester, while she had encountered others in Australia’s elite Suncorp Super Netball league, in which she played for the Adelaide Thunderbirds alongside her international team-mates Ama Agbeze and Jade Clarke last year.
Back in England, with April’s Commonwealth Games in Queensland’s Gold Coastlooming, she has no regrets about a decision to switch countries she says generated little resentment in her native Australia beyond a few barbed comments from angry strangers on social media. “I am extremely humbled and honoured to have this opportunity to call myself a Rose,” she says. “I have such a sense of pride because the group has accepted me. When we come up against Australia I think, as much as anything, I even want to beat them more than anyone else. I haven’t succeeded in doing that since I’ve been here, but hopefully we do it when it counts and get a Commonwealth Games or World Cup medal around our necks.”
Third in the world rankings behind Australia and New Zealand, England will get a better sense of where they are as a team in the buildup to the Commonwealth Games when they take on both countries and South Africa in this month’s Quad Series, which begins in London’s Copper Box Arena on Saturday before concluding in Johannesburg just over a week later.
Pitman has nothing but praise for her coach, who seems to be as forthright in her views as her famously opinionated footballing brothers, Gary and Phil. “What I think is amazing about Tracey is you always know what she’s thinking and where she stands,” says Pitman. “You know her direction and vision and where she wants the team to go. There’s no frothy business and she’s extremely direct. That’s why, I think, she’s so good at what she does because there’s no grey areas.”
Having learned to love herself again, Pitman seems content with her peripatetic, globe-trotting existence, even if the English winter is not always to her liking. “I completely forgot that you wake up in the dark and you do whatever you need to do and it’s sort of sunny outside, but before you’ve finished your day it’s completely dark again,” she laughs. “In Australia it’s sunny and there’s the beach and cafe lifestyle. Here, it’s the complete opposite, but my brother lives in Manchester with his wife and two dogs, so I have a sense of home.”
A sense of home and – assuming both dogs are house-trained – nothing unseemly left at the door.