As the new school term gets underway across the Middle East over the next couple of weeks, we take some time to reflect on the outstanding achievements of one of Dubai’s teachers during the summer break.
Sara Donovan, Dubai College’s Head of Netball, travelled to Gibraltar to compete for the United Arab Emirates in the European Netball Challenge Open in May and helped guide the side to a third-place finish. The squad were the first national netball side to compete for the UAE and after spending ten years in Dubai, Donovan was delighted to represent the country she now calls home. An excellent feat on its own, but it was made even more inspiring by the fact the Donovan was battling cancer in the build up to the tournament.
She said: “The tournament was an amazing experience for the whole team, we went with huge expectations but also huge support from every netballer in the UAE. It was amazing to be part of the first ever national team and to finish third in the competition was a great start.”
Donovan was successful during the selection period in October and was invited to attend national training in January this year with the first session taking place only three days after her first chemotherapy treatment.
Despite this, the Dubai College teacher was determined to give her all for her new teammates: “I worked very hard to give 100% at every session but that wasn’t always possible. I trialled as goal attack and had to move back into the circle to play goal shooter.
“I often struggled with the heat and controlling my temperature even though we trained and played indoors at Dubai College. I was very determined to be a normal squad member, I made sure I was at every session and completed every element I could,” she said.
Donovan admits that throughout her time with the squad she was aware of the fact that she may have been unable to take to the court in Gibraltar due to illness and fitness issues. On her mind was also the feat that she may let her side down during matches:
“I was exceptionally proud to have been selected and determined to take the court with the rest of the team in Gibraltar. But it was always at the back of my mind that maybe I wouldn’t be able to play due to sickness but more that I wouldn’t be fit enough and that I would let the rest of the squad down.
“I cannot thank the coaches and the rest of the squad for their support. It probably would have been easier for them if I hadn’t travelled and played. I can only imagine that I added to the worry and stress for all involved but everyone was amazing.”
An inspiration to her fellow teammates and students alike, Donovan used the international tournament as a motivation to keep moving forward both with her treatment and her netball career.
“The tournament and training sessions were incredibly motivational and gave me a focus, a reason to stay fit and healthy. Since finding it out about the cancer I have tried to not let it define me. I played each week in the league, I was at Dubai College every day teaching and coaching,” Donovan said.
Dubai College’s netball program is amongst the best in the country and the school boasts seven players in the UAE under 17 squad, as well as two members of the open squad who travelled to Europe in May. Donovan was determined to show her students what was possible within the game in the UAE and she believes that her involvement in the European Netball Open Challenge in Gibraltar can act as inspiration for the young women on the netball program at DC.
“As their teacher and coach I was immensely proud of each player but also of our netball program. I think it’s important to be able to practice what you preach, lead from the front and be a role model for the young women I work with.
“As Head of Netball I was proud to be able to take the court with Jemma Shand and Arya Flisher, two of my first team players. Every player in our High Performance Program has helped me stay focused on the Netball rather than the cancer.”
Netball has been at the heart of the sporting scene in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for a number of years, with the creation of youth leagues and competitive adult league giving players an opportunity to take part in netball outside of school hours.
The addition of a netball tournament as part of the annual Emirates Airline Rugby Sevens has further enhanced the reputation of the game throughout the United Arab Emirates.
“The Dubai Netball League has been around for nearly 50 years with the annual Inter-gulf tournament reaching 32 years this March - netball across Dubai and Abu Dhabi has exploded in the last ten years.
“There are so many opportunities for young players to develop their netball in school through DASSA competitions and during timetabled lessons. The creation of UAENA has meant that that next level of netball will give these girls something to aspire to, as well as positive female role models.
“The UAENA are focusing on those that don’t have access to netball as part of their curriculum or school teams. The Emiritisation programme involves coaches and players visiting local schools throughout the UAE encouraging girls to take up the game.
“Providing equipment, skills and support to find talented local girls that we can develop into the next generation of international players. This program will help create a player pathway for nationals to ensure that netball can be a sport for every female in the UAE.”