How netball nearly lost Romelda Aiken

It was 2007 and Romelda Aiken had a decision on her hands.

Having just starred in the 2007 Netball World Championships, the Jamaican goal shooter was at the crossroads of her sporting life.

It’s hard to fathom the current world netball scene without Aiken’s impact. Now in her 14th season with the Queensland Firebirds, Aiken has won three ANZ Championship Player of the Year titles and played a large hand in securing three premierships for the Firebirds. But it all could’ve been so different if she hadn’t elected to pursue netball.

“Vicki Wilson (former Australian coach) reached out to myself and two others from the Jamaican team to play in the ANZ Championship,” Aiken said on the Having a Chat podcast with Tommy Casha.

“In that same time, I also had an offer from America to go and play basketball there as well. There were two opportunities and I could’ve gone either way.”

“It was a cliché, like netball just chose me,” Aiken admitted.

Aiken with ball in hand, preparing for another dominant game with the Firebirds (Photo – Super Netball Australia)

“I always seemed to come back to netball because that’s where I felt most at home and I could showcase more of my skills.”

“I was really loving basketball because I started really late, but I got picked up to come to here (to Australia) which was quite exciting.”

The move wasn’t easy. Despite being “used to leaving home” because of her commitments with the Jamaican national team from a young age, Aiken had to acclimatise to a completely new environment.

The first day was tough enough – jetlag and an incessant schedule starting at the local airport and ending with buying a phone after training typified a frenzied lifestyle. It was a few months in when the homesickness kicked in.

“All I wanted to do was call my mum,” Aiken remembered.

“Those first few months were ok, it was when I got deep into that four-month mark where I thought ‘I’m ready to go home now.”

Luckily, Aiken had found a familiar home on the Gold Coast. Former teammates such as Claire McMeniman, Laura Geitz, and Jenny O’Connor helped the 196cm shooter to “feel really blessed and very protected and loved” in Australia. The Firebirds squad took Aiken under their wing, giving her the time and space to forge her career in the toughest domestic netball competition in the world.

If it wasn’t for Aiken, then Jamaican netballers wouldn’t be such a crucial cog to domestic netball leagues all over the world. The goal shooter was a trailblazer, dominating the ANZ championship and Suncorp Super Netball league to become a Jamaican icon in the sport. From there, compatriot Jhaniele Fowler first ventured to New Zealand, with the pair then returning to Jamaican national training to encourage their teammates to take the leap of faith overseas.

“I just told them all ‘if you’re viewing it from this (closed) perspective then you’re not seeing the full picture,” Aiken said.

“There is so much more than what we had in our bubble in Jamaica – we (her and Fowler) both came back and said we needed to get fitter and become more professional.”

It’s been a whirlwind 14 years for Aiken in Australia. Her 2020 season was as good as ever, finishing first in the league for offensive rebounds and second for goals scored with 583. Now at the age of 32, she will be looking to add a fourth title to her glittering career before venturing into coaching, an area she has signaled significant interest in.

But another premiership won’t be the defining aspect of her time in netball. Aiken’s legacy was forged when she bravely came to Queensland and lit the Firebirds’ spark. And it all may not have happened if she hadn’t followed her heart and went with her love of netball.

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