“Separation” was a buzzword for 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic kept many of us separated from family and friends throughout a difficult year.

Longtime England netball standouts Stacey Francis and Sara Bayman got hands-on experience with that buzzword. Even before they announced their engagement in 2018, they were joined at the heart but separated by continents and oceans.

Francis is a defender for the West Coast Fever in the Australia-based Suncorp Super Netball competition. Bayman is the head coach for the Loughborough Lightning in the Vitality Netball Superleague in the U.K. This past year, they’ve dealt with being 9-thousand miles apart through shifting league schedules and travel policies because of the pandemic crisis.

None of those difficulties mattered on December 29, 2020, the day they were married in Bath, England. The ceremony made up for all of the uncertainty and difficulty, and left a piece of wisdom to carry into 2021 via Twitter.

Their story off the court was powered by prowess on the floor. They first met as players for Team Bath in 2005. Then, Francis was a 16-year-old phenom and Bayman was an experienced hand. As teammates, they helped Team Bath win 3 VNSL championships for the U.K., and paced England to bronze medal finishes in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.

Their relationship bloomed privately after the 2015 World Cup as both continued to play professionally. They publicly revealed their relationship in 2018, when they announced their engagement on Instagram during an off-season vacation in Canada.

Francis, in an interview with Sky Sports last October, touched on the largely positive response to their engagement, especially among those close to their sport. “Over the last few years, especially being in Australia, I’ve seen how much positive feedback people give us for just being so authentic and open,” Francis told Sky Sports. “It came as a bit of a surprise to me that we had so many people looking on and being really appreciative that we were happy to share our relationship with the world.”

Bayman noted that as well. In an interview in February 2020 in The Telegraph, she commented on how she was concerned during her playing career that being out would be distraction, and how she seeks to speak out and be a role model as a coach.

Bayman (right) passes to Francis during a 2013 match playing for England’s national netball side.

“Now that young girls can see me and Stacey together, it’s nice that it gets a little bit more exposure,” Bayman told The Telegraph. “Hopefully that means anyone out there can see having gay people in netball, in sport and in society is totally normal and feel a bit more comfortable in themselves. It would be great if we can play any part in that.”

With this special chapter closed in 2020, both seek to write verses of victory in 2021. Bayman’s goal is to improve on a fourth-place effort in the Lightning’s last full season in 2019. The 2020 season was scrubbed after three games due to the pandemic. Francis will return to a West Coast Fever team that narrowly lost in the SSN Grand Final when the season resumes in Australia this spring. She is also committed to continuing her comeback with England’s national netball side and will play in events for the national team in the year ahead.

Congratulations to Stacey and Sara from all of us at Outsports!

Follow Stacey Jayne Francis (@stcyjynefrancis) on Instagram by clicking here, and her spouse Sara Bayman (@sebayman) by clicking here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story inadvertently referenced Netball as ““handball.” Brain fart! The mistake has been corrected, and we apologize for the error. Thank you to a reader who spotted the mistake and alerted us!