Emily Nicholl is the true epitome of someone who never gave up on their dreams.
In just a few weeks’ time the 25-year-old will be hoping to step onto the court of Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena as Scotland begin their Netball World Cup campaign on 12 July against Samoa, before facing hosts England the following day.
But not so long ago the prospect of representing her country on the world’s biggest stages looked fairly remote.
Despite having fallen in love with the game at an early age, Nicholl had not been able to break through into the national age group set ups, the route that has produced the majority of Scotland’s premier netballers.
Yet her sheer determination to prove herself, heading to Edinburgh University in order to continue playing at the highest level she could, saw her get the break she deserved as she was scouted by one of the country’s national coaches.
Just a few months later, in May 2016, she made her maiden international appearance.
Recalling her path to the top, the wing defence said: “I just believed in my own journey.
“I trialled for the U21 long squad but wasn’t selected and that did have a huge knock on my confidence.
“But I went away to university and really focused on making myself the best player that I can be and I realised that I shouldn’t really compare myself to other people, I should just focus on my own journey.
“I don’t think that if I’d got in when I trialled initially I’d be the player I am today because it’s given me such a huge amount of resilience and determination to show what I can do.”
Nicholl is one of a growing number of professional athletes – including cricketer Tymal Mills, Rio 2016 gold medalist and hockey star Giselle Ansley and sprinter Reece Prescod – who have become some of their sport’s best despite an unconventional journey to the elite level.
This is something she is now keen to tell the future generation of Scottish Thistles, giving talks to younger age groups and using her own example to show that if you show enough care, commitment and dedication then you can achieve anything you want.
“Sometimes you come across young girls who, if they don’t get selected into the U17 squad or something like that, then think it’s the end of the journey for them,” she explained.
“I’ve done quite a few talks with the youth squads to tell them that there’s definitely more than just one route to the national team and it’s become something that’s so passionate for me.
“The girls always call me the netball geek of the team because I watch everything, I know everything.
“I knew everything about netball and about all the players in the national team so to actually now be in it, I sometimes still have to pinch myself.”
Not only is Nicholl now a full-time professional netballer with Strathclyde Sirens in the Vitality Netball Superleague, she also works in her spare time as a trainee solicitor.
And instead of the potential risk of detracting from her sport, Nicholl believes that having another job has actually made her realise just how much she loves netball and makes time on the court with her team-mates even more enjoyable.
I knew there was a reason mum wouldn’t let me go to ballet when I was younger 🤔 pic.twitter.com/HyKsDy3E3Y
— Emily Nicholl (@_EmilyNicholl_) April 29, 2019
She said: “This year, because I’ve got such a huge passion for netball, playing has allowed me to get distracted from any problems or worries I’ve had at work, which is good.
“It’s really shown me how much I do have passion for the sport because I just can’t wait to get to training.
“It’s such a good outlet, you get to see the girls and when your high fives and the overall team ethos gets going it’s a really positive environment.”
Already in her fledgling career Nicholl has been fortunate enough to play against the world’s best in some major tournaments – including last year’s Commonwealth Games – but a World Cup not far from home is something she sees as that bit more special.
And with more media attention surrounding both netball and women’s sport than ever before, she is relishing the chance to inspire a generation of young girls and boys that may not have been exposed to the sport not so long ago.
“I think it’s really cool for not only girls but boys as well to see these athletes on the screen, doing what they love and being able to compete at the highest level,” she said.
“It’s huge because for years I’d go to these websites, look at the sport news and it would upset me because it was always male faces and I would think ‘what about us?’ as there are so many amazing female sports and athletes across the world.
“So for a young girl or anyone to look up the news and now see women through this amazing platform I think will prove to be really inspirational.
“This World Cup will have such huge benefits and I can only see it growing and taking off from here.”
Happy International Women’s Day! Love being surrounded by these gals 💕 pic.twitter.com/gk1vLWS8Bm
— Emily Nicholl (@_EmilyNicholl_) March 8, 2019
As for the fate of her team, Nicholl is confident they can spring a few surprises this year and win over the hearts of the watching public with their never-say-die mentality.
She also stated they are taking inspiration from the performance of England in the Gold Coast last April and are hopeful of creating history of their own this July.
“We always have a bit of an underdog mentality but we are really ferocious and passionate,” she proudly explained.
“A huge part of being a Thistle is your heart and soul – our coach always says as long as we play with everything and make our fans proud then that’s all we can ask for.
“We’ve got a lot of fire and grit and I believe that on our day we can take any team.
“The gap is really closing between all the nations and you can’t just lie down and think ‘this is an easy win’ – you’ve got to fight for every quarter.
“At the Commonwealth Games we got to watch England win gold and that was a really inspirational moment for us because we’ve played against some of these girls.
“Hopefully we can go out there and do our bit to get media attention and really make our fans proud.”