March 10th should have been the best day of my life. But it wasn’t.

At 11am the Commonwealth Games team was announced via email. A day the entire Hockeyroos squad was eagerly awaiting, but also dreading. Being a Hockeyroo is a unique and special experience for anyone.

However, for me, it is even more special as I get to share this life with my sister and teammate, Maddy. I have shared many highs and lows with my sister throughout our respective careers, but to date the Comm Games selection has been without doubt the toughest.

Before I delve into March 10th I think it is important to give you all some context. Maddy is a bloody inspiration. Her Hockeyroos squad selection came at the age of 18. So after finishing school, she packed up her life and moved to the other side of the country. A very daunting time for her, to say the least.

She has been in the National squad for three years now. I on the other hand went into the development squad and officially came onto scholarship in 2018 after playing a handful of caps since 2015.

In November last year I received an email notifying me of my selection to play for the Hockeyroos again in upcoming test matches in Melbourne and Adelaide.

It had been two years since I had played for the Hockeyroos. Two years since I had opened a selection email that listed two ‘Fitzpatrick’s. I absolutely loved being back out there, playing for Australia alongside my best friend who I have grown up playing the game with, my baby sister.

Savannah Fitzpatrick exclusive insight

Following this, I was added to the 2018 national squad, so in January this year, two Fitzpatrick’s boarded a one-way flight to Perth. To be selected in the Hockeyroos squad in any year is thrilling, but I was even more inspired, knowing the 2018 calendar included a home Commonwealth Games.

Home to its fullest sense for Maddy and I, in that it was literally in our backyard, having grown up on the Tweed Coast. Being new to the squad I was more hopeful that my sister would play but nonetheless I was excited to be part of the campaign whatever my role would be.

I think people assume that only good can be associated with sharing the dream of playing for Australia with your sister, that’s what would often be portrayed. However, you don’t see the tears, the arguments, the stress, the anxiety or the emotional roller coaster our parents have to go through.

The emotions that come with being an elite athlete, happy or sad, are a lot for anyone. For us, it’s never this simple. We are constantly feeling whatever the other one is. The emotions are doubled.

Our parents have always said to us “you’re only as happy as your saddest child”. If one is selected, they’re obviously so proud, but if one misses out, they struggle to feel entirely happy.

It’s a happiness with an underlying sadness, or a sadness with an underlying happiness. As terribly challenging as it is for them, it’s a process they admit they’re working on. I don’t think they need to though.

They somehow manage to get the balance right of being so incredibly proud, while also sitting in a sad space if it’s necessary.

I remember calling Mum every day in the week leading up to the 10th. Being the smartass that I am, I’d repeatedly say things like “at least you’ll be able to watch Maddy play in a home Comm Games” or “can you pay for me to come watch Mitz at Comm Games”.

I wasn’t even being funny though, I had genuinely come to terms with how it was going to play out. I was new to the squad and I had accepted that I’d have to prove myself and consistently play well internationally to get a gig. Maddy, despite having played in every tour in 2017, remained humble and would ignore or brush off every comment I made about her ‘definite selection’.

Maddy and I agreed to open the email together and when the clock struck 10:58 we ran to her room. Both sitting on her bed barely able to breath and filled with anxiety, we began the ‘minute before email arriving process’…REFRESH REFRESH REFRESH. I was uncontrollably shaking at this point.

The emailed appeared on Maddy’s phone. My heart was pumping so fast. I couldn’t even look at the screen. I just remember asking her to just tell me the news. She quickly loaded the team list to scroll and see… one Fitzpatrick. 

“You made it. I didn’t”.

People use the word bittersweet all the time, but to me, you don’t know bittersweet until you’ve found out you’re selected to play at home in the Commonwealth Games, and your sister wasn’t.

In a moment where I should have been absolutely ecstatic and overcome with tears of joy, I wasn’t. How could I be? My sisters’ hopes and dreams, and a moment she’d dreamt of for years had just been taken from her. 

I remember leaving my sister’s room to go to mine, getting into my bed and calling Mum to deliver the news. I was genuinely distraught and could not stop crying. I had dreamt about this moment for us for so long, I thought I would have Maddy next to me and we would be telling our Mum together we were both selected.

Instead at a time where I should’ve been saying “Mum, I made it” …the only words I could get out were “Mum, Maddy didn’t make it”.

Maddy was beside herself and it was clear she needed to be in her own space and in the company of The Office and some chicken tacos. I should mention Maddy is a celiac so this was very out of character.

Anyways, I ran out of ways to help, but it was a nice day, so I decided to head to the beach. I was sitting on the sand looking out at ocean when Dad called from the Maldives. I still remember his opening line “You did it darling, you’re going to the Commonwealth Games.”

I’ll never forget that line. It was a catalyst in a way. It was the first time I had a moment to be still and actually process my selection.

Savannah Fitzpatrick exclusive insight

I remember finally allowing myself to feel somewhat happy. I was living my childhood dream. After having the weekend to digest selection we had a scheduled inter squad match – Comm Games team vs rest of the squad. I distinctly remember the walk from the car park into hockey.

Every emotion I knew Maddy was feeling, I was feeling for her. I knew we’d have to separate eventually, but I didn’t want to leave her. If the feeling of separation between us wasn’t obvious enough, it was heightened by the fact that we were in different coloured singlets and entered different change rooms.

The first session after a selection is always the toughest, for those selected and those not. At a time where I should have been bouncing off the walls to get my first session as part of a Comm Games team, I couldn’t.

I just wanted to be there for her, whatever that meant.

Savannah Fitzpatrick exclusive insight

We still had a couple of weeks of training before the team left for the Gold Coast. Although things appeared better for Maddy as time went on, she was still unsure as to whether she would come home and watch the tournament. I completely understood this decision wasn’t easy as I could see how hard it was for her. But at the same time, I wanted my sister there with me.

I knew the experience would be special no matter what, but a part of me also knew that it would be incomplete without her there.

As the opening game grew closer, I sensed a shift in Maddy’s feelings towards the whole thing. I can still remember the day she took her Hockeyroo’s hat off and put her sister’s one on. ‘I’ve decided I can’t miss it. I can’t not be there.”

Seeing Maddy after our first game and sharing a 2-minute-long embrace was a moment I’ll cherish forever. She wouldn’t have even known it at the time, but to have her there in the stands, wearing one of my body suits, meant everything to me.

Savannah Fitzpatrick exclusive insight

I know it wouldn’t have been easy, but that’s what made it all the more special.

This whole experience was fuelled by emotion and it wasn’t always easy. There were times where we would both be equally as frustrated by the whole situation and take it out on each other.

I was sad for her, she was happy for me, I was trying to be happy for me while she was trying to push her sadness aside.

Savannah Fitzpatrick exclusive insight 1

A balancing act we didn’t always get right. But throughout all of this, having my sister in the stand supporting me only brought us closer together.

When I saw Maddy after the medal ceremony she held me for so long, eyes full of tears, she told me how proud of me she was.

Savannah Fitzpatrick exclusive insight

I could tell this was genuine happiness and that she was truly in that moment for her big sister. However, for me, as amazing as the whole Comm Games experience was, I can’t help but wish I was on the podium with my sister.

What I am most proud of about Maddy is how she has faced the adversity of non-selection and came out of the whole ordeal a better hockey player and a stronger person.

Since the 10th March, Maddy has been picked to play in every tour, including the World Cup. I was selected as a travelling reserve for this tour so it was my turn to sit in the stands and cheer my sister on, just as she did for me.

Savannah Fitzpatrick exclusive insight

Half way through this tournament my best friend/housemate, who ironically calls herself the third Fitzpatrick sister, became injured and for the first time in 2018, Maddy and I were able to take the field together in the bodysuit.

The Commonwealth Games may not have gone exactly to plan for Maddy and I. However, I will always be grateful to share this whole experience with my sister, whether that be good or bad.

There is no other person who I would want to open a selection email with.

For now, we will both continue to train alongside one another, with the hopes of playing together at the 2020 Olympics.

I would love nothing more than to be able to call our parents and say the words “Mum, we made it, we’re going to Tokyo”.