STAR Gisborne netballer Maddy Stewart and new Castlemaine co-coach Fiona Fowler have been awarded life membership of VNL club Melbourne University Lightning.
The BFNL pair are the first two individuals to be awarded life membership of the club as current players, recognising their outstanding service and contribution.
Stewart, the BFNL's Betty Thompson medallist in 2018, this season became the first Lightning player to reach 150 games in the Victorian Netball League.
While Fowler was the first player in the club's history to play 100 games, a milestone she achieved a few seasons ago.
Her VNL career has been put on hold at various stages in recent years while playing for Super Netball club Adelaide Thunderbirds and during time-off to give birth to her and husband Jack's son Teddy.
The life memberships were announced at the club's recent presentation day.
Lightning president Lindy Murphy said there could not be two more deserving recipients than Stewart and Fowler.
"They have both given more than 10 years of service as players," she said.
"We probably would have liked to have awarded them last year, but of course due to the COVID pandemic, we weren't able to do it.
"They thoroughly deserve it, they have both been outstanding members of our club."
Murphy said Stewart's elevation to life membership was a testament to her persistence, dedication and loyalty throughout her VNL journey.
"She started in our 19-and-under team and has made her way through our division one team and into our championship team," she said.
"She had to spend quite a few years on the bench in the championship team because she came in at such a young age, so there were a few players ahead of her.
"But she is incredibly hard-working, gives that 150 per cent every time she comes to training or plays.
"She is really respectful to her coaches and really grateful for the tutelage she has received from our coaches.
"She is just a wonderful role model for the younger players at the club."
Long-time team-mates, Stewart and Fowler enjoyed VNL championship division premiership success together in 2016.
Their immense on-court contributions are matched only by their efforts off-the-court and around the club.
"They're both one of the first to put their hand up if we want to run a club barbecue or run a coaching clinic," Murphy said.
"They will always come in and do some work with our younger players. They not only give on the court, but they give back in so many other areas.
"They really know what it means to be a part of a club.
"There's more than just putting on your netball dress and playing each week, there's so much more to club membership."
Stewart, the Lightning's club and championship team captain, was one of the first players to put pen to paper to re-sign for next season.
Murphy described the prospect of seeing the two players on opposite teams during the 2022 BFNL season as amazing and wished Fowler well in her role as Castlemaine's new co-coach.
"Fiona is such a strength of character and really good at gathering people around her - just a magnet for gathering good people to the club," she said.
"I'm sure she will do well."
Both players were presented with a gold medallion and a watch as part of their life membership.
An amazing week for the Lightning was topped with a nomination as a finalist in Netball Victoria's community awards in the inclusive community of the year category.
The nomination is recognition for the club's support of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Five years after initiating its own Pride round in 2016, the Lightning led the way in convincing the VNL to adopt a league-wide Pride round.
"We've been wearing Pride coloured bibs in one of our home games for years prior to this year, so we've started a bit of a movement within the VNL," Murphy said.
"This year we had rainbow-coloured dresses made and the other clubs worse Pride coloured bibs.
"Now we have a Pride dedicated uniform we will wear each Pride round.
"We feel it's really important members of the LGBTQIA+ community feel safe in our sport."
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