Written by Sam Akpan
When the Pulse faced up against Loughborough during the 2021 season in Wakefield, it signified a turning point. While the day belonged to the Lightning – taking a 12-point victory on the road to what would be a title-winning season, one key storyline from that day came from Pulse goalkeeper Halimat Adio, whose strong performance against two-time Golden Shooter Cholhok Mary Nuba raised eyebrows across the league. The game fitted seamlessly into what is a concurrent theme for Adio, who certainly does not back down from a challenge. As she takes me through that game and day inside of a meeting room in the Copper Box, I scribble down the details, pausing only to take a break to marvel at how ironic this is, given her story and progression through the game.
Adio’s journey within sport began early; crediting her older sister’s influence as a reason to get involved in netball. Growing up in North London, she cites the “friendship, like minded team vibe” as her reasons for loving netball, factors that have certainly stood the test of time. Adio flourished early on within the sport, realising soon that a competitive career was a massive possibility. Despite a positional change from attack to defence, this would only work to her benefit, eventually getting involved with England Futures, getting selected to England U21 and Netball Europe.
But it wasn’t to be only plain-sailing however. Discouraging and disparaging moments occurred on the path to breakthrough. She tells me about the comments, with ‘you’re good but you’re not there yet’ being welded by former coaches as a reason for not breaking out sooner. And it did have its impact, with Adio coming face to face with the possibility of quitting netball while at Severn Stars.
“When they [Severn Stars] didn’t give me a contract that year, I remember a tournament and me saying, this will be my last tournament, I just don’t feel like I’m not being given the opportunity to show how good I am as a player”.
While a tough period, it sounded like an eerily similar rendition of a song that had already been composed all through Halimat’s career with the lack of opportunity at this point feeling like nothing new. “I had started the Superleague when I was 17, didn’t play my first Superleague, didn’t play in the second one and my third one, played a bit, then I got injured… and then I came to Pulse”.
While Adio’s move to the London Pulse would signal a great shift in her career, she came as a training partner before being included into the VNSL 12s before opportunities opened for her to get regular playing time as a co-captain. “I was able to understand myself as a player, my strengths and weaknesses, and tap into that, so I’m happy I didn’t give up”.
In our conversation, she takes the time to show her appreciation for current Pulse coach Sam Bird, whose belief and willingness in Adio encouraged her to continue fighting for a chance back from their days together in Severn. “She’s a very good coach, really good woman as well. She doesn’t just care about you as an athlete but tries to understand the behind the scenes. She is adaptable with me and every athlete on the team”.
When Adio’s chance came in the Superleague with Pulse, she took it with both hands, thriving and coming to be known as one of the top goalkeepers in the league. While it might be tempting to call it a breakout year, it felt more of a vindication of the ability Adio and others already knew she had. “In fact” she says, “I could have a bad game and Sam [Bird] would tell me I’m keeping you on… being told by your coach that they rate you, it’s a great feeling”. The realising of her potential was a gradual process, one she took game by game. “When you’ve worked hard to get to where you are, you can’t give up or be slack about it… I worked so hard to get here”.
While this ascent has unfortunately been temporarily halted due to a lateral meniscus tear, she remains involved as a key figure for the growing Pulse. She has certainly taken the opportunity to support her Pulse teammates as a key member of the leadership team while rehabbing, with starlet Funmi Fadoju emphasising how Adio always looks out for her. It’s a role that Halimat embraces both on and off the court – using time to be a part of significant initiatives off the court like Beyond The Court with England Netball and the Metropolitan Police which help young girls at risk through sport. “It’s not just about me”, Adio emphasises as I ask about her long-term ambitions in the game. It’s an important part of her own journey, understanding that for some, the same access to the sport is not available. Recognising her position and attainment and the support from family, friends, and others she has been given on the way, she relishes the unique position this puts her in to help give back.
This time away from the court will also allow her to continue to grow outside of the game no doubt, where she separates the competitive, laser-focused mantra present in her game from her life outside of netball. Describing herself as a “confident, free-spirited person who likes to do her thing”, she also is a big fan of photography, a passion which she picked up to help document her memories with friends.
While it is common that long-term injuries can often mean players come back with reduced explosiveness impacting their game, it is no surprise that when I ask Halimat about her injury, she smiles before telling me ‘I’ll be back better’. It is another indictment of the self-confidence that has driven Adio up the ladder within the sport and will continue to see her flourish for years to come. With her eyes set on achieving a lot more in her career post rehabilitation, it is fair to say the best is truly yet to come, both on and off the court.