Leamington School’s Kate Kernaghan is taking a six-month break from teaching next year to play for top English hockey club East Grinstead, near London.
The 25-year-old striker has played elite-level hockey for the past nine years, breaking into the National Hockey League (NHL) while in year 12 at St Hilda’s Collegiate School in Dunedin.
She joined the Bayleys Midlands NHL team when she began studying at The University of Waikato in 2011, winning the national championship with her teammates in 2013 and again this September.
“That was an amazing feeling,” she said. “To make a comparison with rugby, it’s like playing for the Chiefs and winning the Super Rugby competition.”
While progressing through New Zealand U16, U18 and U21 representative sides, she embarked on a successful academic career, graduating with an honours degree in sports science in 2014 and a Masters of Teaching in 2015.
Kate began teaching in Hamilton in 2016 and moved to Leamington School this year, attracted by its reputation.
“A friend of a friend taught there and said ‘look, you have to apply at Leamington, it’s an incredible school.’ And I’d heard so many great things about it I was like ‘oh, I have to get there’,” she said.
However, juggling full time teaching with the unrelenting demands of high-level sport has been challenging and left little time for anything else.
“When you play for a NZ side your year gets drawn out so you’re training from January all the way through to until December,” she said.
Kate has been tantalisingly close to achieving her dream of being selected for the Black Sticks since university and said it was make or break time.
“I trained with the Black Sticks a few times this year and I’m sort of in the phase where I’m still being talked about but I’m not quite there. So, it’s a question of whether I continue to push, or do I just say look, I’ve achieved a lot in my hockey career – it’s been amazing – and end it here.
“Hopefully England will improve my skills and give me a new excitement to play, which isn’t necessarily lost at the moment, but I feel like it’s decreasing just because of how hard it is to want to play at your best when you have to work full time.”
Kate will be a striker for the East Grinstead club just south of London from February to April, before travelling through Europe with a friend.
“I’m so lucky to be able to have the opportunity to go across the world and do what I love.”