NS EXCLUSIVE: Romelda Aiken-George – Fearless

NS EXCLUSIVE: Romelda Aiken-George – Fearless

When NSW Swift Romelda Aiken-George – hopefully – notches up her 200th game of national league netball this weekend, she’ll be just the 12th athlete playing in Australia to do so.

And in what can only be described as serendipity, that 200th cap should come when Aiken-George suits up against her former club, the Queensland Firebirds. It’s a script that just couldn’t be written – on one side her former club, who first welcomed a shy teenager to Australia only to cut her loose some 15 years later, and on the other, her current team that had previously suffered consecutive grand final defeats at Aiken-George’s hands, but ended up throwing her a lifeline this season.

The irony of it just makes Aiken-George laugh: in remembering that moment when the Swifts asked her if she wanted to head to Sydney, she asked them “’Are you sure?’ Because I’d been their nemesis for a while.”

The 196 centimetre shooter spearheaded both of the Firebirds championship wins over the Swifts, in 2015 and 2016, and it’s a favour that she’s very much hoping to return on, wait for it, April Fool’s Day.


Aiken-George in her first game in Swifts’ colours. Image Shaun Sharp/Moments by Shaun


All coincidences and closing the circle moments aside, it’s an incredible milestone for the Jamaican superstar, who first debuted for her country 18 years ago and has remained consistently brilliant ever since. To stay so good, for so long, Aiken-George puts down to being ‘fearless.’

“I don’t think I’ve changed much, although as a small island girl moving to the big city, I really had my eyes opened.

“Personally I’m very reserved and introverted until you get to know me. But I am fearless in the way I play on court. Catching those deadly balls, that’s been me before I ever went to the Firebirds.

“I’ve always had that drive to want to be better each game. I think playing amongst my teammates back in Jamaica, we were always told we had to be strong and pull the ball in as hard as we could, because defenders can come through in the last second. So that’s been the grind to do that.

“It’s taught me to be fearless, though, in netball and in life.”

Having made her national debut two years previously, Aiken-George was famously spotted by the Firebirds coach, Vicki Wilson, at the 2007 Netball World Championships. A short time later, the Jamaican was signed and on her way to Australia. At just twenty years of age, it was not only a culture shock, but a move to the other side of the world minus her family and support systems.

“I was very scared knowing that I was travelling alone,” reflected Aiken-George. “In my first year here I only kept to myself. My job was to go out on court and perform, and not worry about anything else, and once the season was finished I’d go home.”


Firebird Romelda Aiken in 2021, against Fever’s Courtney Bruce. Image Marcela Massey


Aiken-George immediately showed her class, picking up consecutive league MVP awards in 2008 and 2009, and helping the Firebirds to three premierships, including the undefeated season of 2011. Spending most of her time in Australia came with its challenges, which included missing Jamaican family and friends, and it’s an area that Aiken-George still feels the league can improve on.

She said of her fellow imports, “For us, and I still class myself as an international athlete, being able to support us to bring a family member out here to help understand what we are doing, to see us play, and to see what our lifestyle is about would be immense. We can get some help around that. In general, we’ve been head over heels with how it’s worked though, generally we’ve been supported in most areas.”

While Aiken-George obtained her Australian citizenship in 2020, she knows how challenging it is for imports to be split between two cultures. Personally, she manages her situation with laser-eyed vision. She said, “When I’m here, I focus on what’s in front of me, and when I’m in Jamaica I focus on being at home. There is no right or wrong answer as to how you manage that.

“Jamaica is my little country and holds a very special place in my heart, but obviously, there’s not much there for us to do. You finish school, and then what if you don’t move overseas? I’d love to live closer to my parents, but that’s not possible. However, I’m very fortunate – the cliché that it takes a village to raise a child is so true, and at the moment I’m in that village. To be able to ask for help, to have everyone chipping in to help with my little girl.”


It’s a rare athlete who can play at both ends of the court, both domestically and internationally. Here Firebird Romelda Aiken is goal keeper against Lightning’s Proscovia Peace. Image Marcela Massey


Gianna George was born in August last year, the first child of Romelda and Dan George after their marriage in 2021. She’s been affectionately nicknamed ‘Golden’ by Aiken-George’s Jamaican teammates, because she was due to arrive the day they played Australia in the 2022 Commonwealth Games final. The tournament was a bittersweet time for the Jamaican spearhead, being the first major tournament she’d missed since that national selection of 2005.

She said, “I was sad I wasn’t a part of it, because as a group we’ve been able to change our mindsets, we have a group of far more experienced players after their time here and in the English SuperLeague, and we now know what winning and accountability is.

“But it was very sweet to see them do so well, and the sweetest part of all was the arrival of Miss G here. She didn’t end up arriving until the day after the final, but she was due that day and they still call her the Golden Baby.”

Aiken-George was sitting on 197 national league caps last year when her pregnancy was announced, and had hoped to play with the Firebirds through her first trimester. Illness in the early stages of her pregnancy put paid to that, and she was later left shocked when the Firebirds didn’t renew her contract. To this day, she still doesn’t understand why.

“It can’t be my age, there are plenty of players older than me, and there are other players they’ve supported through motherhood. So I don’t know. I have gotten over it though – it is what it is.

“However, I was very disappointed at the way they went about doing it. At the end of the day, it is your job, and if you are in that workplace environment, and they’ve told you they don’t want you anymore, at least make it (the reasons) public so that I don’t look like an idiot.

“If I wasn’t part of their best 10, fair enough, because it is a job, but like I said to them, if it’s nothing let the public know, because most teams I then spoke to, wondered why I was let go. We 100 per cent need to be more open about decisions like this, because it can leave a player under a cloud.”


Romelda Aiken goes high against Laura Geitz at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Image Simon Leonard


When Aiken-George was about 30 weeks pregnant, she received a message from Swifts’ coach Briony Akle, asking if she could call. 2022 had been a difficult year for the Swifts, and after a disappointing fifth placing following a season-ending injury to their shooter Sam Wallace, they needed to find another temporary replacement for her. In casting her eyes about for options, the most obvious was signing Aiken-George as a training partner.

“Briony was coaching overseas at the time. We had a chat just to check in and see how I was going, and we kept that communication line open.

“When Briony asked me if I wanted to come, she made it clear what the expectations were, me coming into the team, she made the conversation very safe and calm, and for me it was very reassuring that she saw that I still had something to give.”

It’s that open level of conversation that Aiken-George has valued. She rates the move to the Swifts as one of her biggest career highlights, saying, “We are able to be honest. Briony doesn’t sugar coat anything. She tells us in the moment if we are doing okay or not, we take it on the chin and can adjust. I love that kind of feedback – it just works for me.”


Romelda Aiken has thrilled fans since arriving on Australian shores in 2008. Image Simon Leonard


With her husband having to split his time between Brisbane and Sydney, Aiken-George is juggling elite sport with her mothering duties. It’s a challenge, but one which she feels fully supported in by her new tribe. “I’ve been embraced as a player, as a mum, and that extends to Gianna. She knows all the girls in the team, and they’ve all put their hand up to help, playing with her, taking her for a walk.”

The only problem cropped up when Akle fed Gianna breakfast in Adelaide. Aiken-George laughed at the memory, saying, “Briony was going to give her Vegemite, and I’m like, ‘Nup, I’m not about that!’”

All jokes aside, Aiken-George is grateful for the support, because being a full-time mum and elite athlete does present its challenges. The regimented lifestyle that elite athletes take for granted, like eating or sleeping on schedule, no longer comes easily. “For example, last night was the longest night ever – I didn’t think it would ever end because Gianna has just started teething. So when I got to training, my brain was dead, and I just couldn’t think.

“In that situation, you just need to do the next thing, and then the next thing, one step at a time, and everything will be okay. That’s how I focus. So first of all, go eat something. Then get ready for training, and so on.

“Being a mum, you’re on, and when it’s downtime, you’re still on. I’m trying to navigate my way through that, and see what works.”


Romelda Aiken (centre) at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Image Simon Leonard


While potentially reaching 200 games this weekend is a huge milestone, it’s one that Aiken-George is trying to put in a box until post-match, a difficult feat given the added media attention. “I would like to go out there and have fun,” she said, “But also when I look back at the game, to think that I did good. To be happy with my performance, and have a happy baby on the sidelines.

“It is exciting, but I’m trying to put it under the mat until the end of the game, when I can pull it out, and enjoy it.”

To stay on top of her game over so many years has been a feat that Aiken-George credits her teammates for, whether they be Jamaican or Australian. While she’s put in the hard yards on the training track and on game day, it’s what happens around her that makes the difference. Aiken-George said, “I love playing and I love the fact that all the girls I’ve played with have seen my potential and pushed me to my limit. When I’m down in the dumps or had a bad game, they pick up the slack. It’s been a team effort for me to be able to stay up here.”

And while Aiken-George has learned so much in her two-decade long career as an elite athlete, it’s the simple values she’s learned from netball that she wants to pass on to her child. “I want Gianna to be fearless, to ask questions, pull those shoulders back and hold her head up high.

“To live in the moment, and embrace the right now.”


Shimona Nelson and Romelda Aiken-George sharing a moment. Image: Shaun Sharp | Moments by Shaun

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About the Author:

Physiotherapist, writer and netball enthusiast. Feature articles, editorials and co-author of "Shine: the making of the Australian Netball Diamonds". Everyone has a story to tell, and I'm privileged to put some of them on paper. Thank you to the phenomenal athletes, coaches and people in the netball world who open a door to their lives, and let me tiptoe in.
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