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A dream come true

Rashneel Kumar
Sunday, February 10, 2013

WHEN one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us." - Alexander Graham Bell.

Unaisi Rokoura did not dwell much on her unexpected exclusion from the national team in 2007.

She explored other opportunities to remain with the sport she loves the most - netball.

"I wasn't expecting it (to be dropped) as I've always worked hard and met all selection criteria," Rokoura, now the Fiji netball coach, said.

"But that opportunity has enabled me to turn to coaching and I guess that was the best decision."

Rokoura, probably one of the most decorated netball players Fiji has ever produced, began her career at a very young age.

Her mum Asenaca Rokoura and aunty Elesi Ketedromo are former national netball reps and it's no wonder how Una, as she is affectionately known, got into this sport.

"I guess it runs in the family. I was into all sports but volleyball was my favourite. Following my mum to every Saturday games and to her national training was probably what got me into netball," Una, who is in her 30s, said.

"I started playing netball at the famous Thurston Gardens court. That's where the magic started," she jokingly added.

Una took a step at a time to make the national side at the tender age of 17.

"It wasn't easy trying to make the Fiji team back then because you have the likes of the Vugakoto sisters, my aunty (Elesi Ketedromo), Tema Navuki and Alivina Waqa in the team so it would take a miracle for a young girl like me to get in," she said.

Una attended the trials for the 1995 South Pacific Games (SPG) in Tahiti and was named in as a non-travelling reserve.

But fate was with her that day after Ketedromo opted to represent the country in volleyball instead.

Netball Fiji announced Una to replace her at the centre's position.

"It was a dream come true and I never expected it to come this early. I was only 17 and tiny, but I remember that day because I made myself a promise that 'I will be the best that I can be and I will commit to myself and will not let go of that position'.

"My debut was amazing."

The national team went on to win the gold medal at the SPG that year and for Una, it was no turning back as she had finally found her destiny.

"I played close to 80 caps for Fiji. I was selected as captain at a young age of 20. It was a big responsibility but I told myself that I can never let the team down," Una said.

"I had a great team to lead, they were not only my team mates but were my best friends and till today that bond is still strong."

Una rates winning the SPG in 1995 and securing the 6th spot in the World Champions in 1999 as her best memories.

She said getting dropped from the Megan Simpson-coached national side in 2007, which later turned out to be the turning point in her career, as the worst.

Una's coaching career was influenced by former England and Melbourne Vixens coach Julie Hoornweg.

Hoornweg was Una's supervisor at the Fiji Sports Council where the latter worked as a sports officer.

"So wherever Julie went for netball clinics, she took me along and I learnt along the way. I learnt the basics of being a coach and the fundamentals of teaching netball at a very young age from a very experienced woman," Una, who became the national coach in 2011, said.

"So before she left, she handed the reins to me and told me, if there was anyone who would continue what she has done and take Fiji to another level, it would be me."

Una said during her days as a player, Netball Fiji did not have a fulltime coach and at one time she was responsible for implementing the training programs.

"It was here that the interest started building because I knew I could do both, coach and play at the same time," she said.

"Also along the way, all my coaches have been my teachers and until today that relationship remains and I owe all of them what I am now and I have a lot of respect for them."

Una says the experience guiding team is rewarding and believes there is a lot more she has to achieve as the mentor of the national team.

"This position is a voluntary one which means I do not get paid to be the coach. And what drives me to continue is the passion for the sport itself," she said.

"Being in this position isn't easy, there are a lot of criticisms and some people still think that I am too young and inexperienced for the job, some decisions I make, are easily overlooked because of my age.

"But I'm blessed to be this young and have started coaching, that means, five to 10 years from now, I will improve and be better than what I am now."

Una's ultimate goal is to coach the national team to the upcoming World Netball Championship in Australia in 2015.

Her immediate goal is to oversee the newly implemented High Performance Program for the national players is up and running until 2015 and beyond.

"Also on top of my list is the plan to improve my coaching accreditation. Currently I'm at Level 2 Advanced Coaching and I hope before 2015, I'll be a Level 3 High Performance Coach."

To all the upcoming netball players, Una's message is to recognise your dreams and walk towards it.

"In order for you to achieve your goals, there are huge sacrifices for you to make and this will require commitment," she said.

"If you are willing to do all this, you are definitely on the right track. Be passionate and humble in what you do. Most of all, be yourself and don't try to be someone else."

Una thanked her parents Tomasi and Asenaca Rokoura and all those that have helped her become what she is today.

Like a true champion, she believes only in "dare yourself to be the best".

And it's no wonder she is one of the best!

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