Slipping into a size 16 skirt, Cathrine Latu grins.
A former victim of cruel online comments about her size, the Silver Fern and Northern Mystics netballer has never looked or felt better.
But as she shows off her 15kg weight loss at the Weekly photoshoot in her native Bay of Islands, Cathrine (26) is adamant her slimmer new figure is not the result of anybody’s opinion, but hers – and she’ll be damned if she starts paying attention to other people’s prejudices now.
“I’ve always been different,” she says assertively. “I was happy with how I looked, but I needed to be a bit smaller and healthier for netball, so I did something about it. And I did it for me, not anyone else.”
Standing at 1.9m with a mane of newly dyed hair, described as “SpongeBob SquarePants yellow” by an overzealous commentator, Cathrine has never been afraid to stand out – in fact, she loves it.
And although the stunning goal shoot has dropped four dress sizes, she couldn’t care less about the number on her skirt tag. All that matters is that she’s hopefully increased her longevity in netball.
It’s her long-held confidence and self-assurance that makes Cathrine quick to stand up for herself and others who are judged on their appearance – something she did in 2011 when disparaging jibes appeared on Facebook.
“There were other words I could have used in my reply,” she says wryly, recalling her response to the post that stated she was “far 2 [sic] overweight” to play netball.
“I hope people that are ‘different’ read this, and if you are, don’t let idiots like him tell you you’re too fat, or too short, or too slow,” she wrote. “Those losers go nowhere, while we fight our way to the top.”
It’s a moment the staunch and opinionated Cathrine doesn’t exactly look back on fondly, but she concedes it helped a lot of others struggling with societal pressures.
“I got a lot of mail from people who were like, ‘Thank you,’“ she says.
“If I can make just a few people feel okay about how they look, then it was worth it.”
Cathrine, who’s been with boyfriend Jim Tuivaiti for eight years, says she’s happy to be a “bit smaller”, but getting into healthier habits is something she hasn’t quite mastered.
“If someone tells me to eat properly, I’ll instantly want a pie,” the stubborn star laughs.
“But I’m getting there. I was always training before, but I needed to train harder, and eat for what I was doing. That’s how I lost the weight.”
One of 10 siblings, Cathrine’s determination and obstinacy were required on a daily basis when she was growing up, and she says she wouldn’t trade her idyllic Northland upbringing for anything.
“We had the best time,” she recalls. “The house was always busy and we were always out playing. It was awesome.”
It was her siblings and mum, Mary-Anne, and dad, David, that made Cathrine’s decision to leave home at 15 so hard, but she had to do what was best for her burgeoning netball career.
“I got a scholarship to a high school in Auckland, and I only had one day to decide,” she remembers. “I didn’t want to go, but I knew I had to. So I moved to Auckland and lived at homestays.”
Going from a busy, bustling place to living with an elderly couple was a shock for the then 15-year-old, who often got emotional at night.
“I never let anyone see me cry,” she says. “It was just because it was so boring. I had no-one to talk to. But I never wanted to go home. I knew what I moved for – netball.”
It’s still the most important aspect of her life, but as she gets older, Cathrine, who says her sense of humour has got her through the tough times, is finding that balancing netball and everything else in her life is getting harder, especially when it comes to children.
“I definitely want a big family,” the aunt-of-13 says.
“People who know me are surprised I haven’t had any yet. I’m very maternal.”
Cathrine has told her mum she’ll be waiting at least two years for more grandchildren. The star is hoping for a couple of medals – at next year’s Commonwealth Games and the World Netball Championships in 2015 – before she takes a break from sport.
“In saying that, I’ve put a lot on hold for netball already,” she says. “It’s netball that’s changed me. I’m stronger and more aware of who I am. I guess I’ve learned that people are not always going to like you; they’re going to judge you even if
they don’t know you. It used to really weigh on me."
“But the less I care about that, the better I feel about me.”
Photos: Jae frew • hair & make-up: Katherine Gould • Styling: Tamzyn Elliott