Love conquers all

HER love for the oval ball and the game of rugby started at a young age, when she was about six years old in her village of Vunavutu in Nadroga.

Growing up, she would find a way to play the game with her friends in the same age-group in the village after school, and at one stage she said it would get her the hiding from her parents for playing with the boys.

Growing up in a province known as a rugby crazy province in Fiji, Adi Sainimere “Beauty” Naleweniikataga continued playing despite the disapprovement from her parents telling her that she was growing up to be a woman and she needed to stop playing rugby.

“I didn’t stop, I continued playing and at times I would get hiding from playing rugby with the boys but I kept going,” Naleweniikataga said.

When she reached Year 8, she switched to playing netball, of course she was praised by her parents for that decision, and she would be at goalkeeper or goal defence, it went on until she was a Form Five student at Cuvu College where she was chosen to captain the school team.

That was after she left Jasper Williams High School in Lautoka to attend a school near home, and it was only when she was in Form 6 and about to sit for her Fiji School Leaving Certificate that she lost her dad.

Like many children, losing a parent was heartbreaking, it was the same for her; “I ‘flopped’ my FSLC, and I tried again the following year at Lomawai Secondary School going for Engineering before I joined FIT (Fiji Institute of Technology).”

In 2009 she lost her mum, it was another drawback for her as she was only left with her older siblings, but she was determined to be something in life.

She continued playing rugby until she made the Fijiana 7s team under the guidance of Elenoa Kunatuba in 2012 to play at the Asia/Oceania final qualifier in Pune.

She injured her shoulder at that tournamen and Naleweniikataga decided to take a break and do her recovery and rehab before returning to the rugby pitch.

The younger sister of former Fiji Warriors and Nadroga backline player Paula Karatu, rugby definitely was in her veins as she struggled to cope with both her love for rugby and her finding a new job being away from all her siblings.

Losing her parents gave her the fighting spirit and she secured a job at Courts (Fiji) in Suva as a finance officer.

“When injury stopped me from rugby, my job came in, it was to me a miracle, so I had to concentrate on my new job because I have been through a lot of struggles in life and I was alone in Suva. I knew I had to make this one count,” she said.

But watching rugby, her heart still yearned to return to the rugby pitch and because age was catching up, she knew she had to make an attempt this year to seek a release from her superiors at work.

“I asked Vela (Naucukidi — women’s development officer and 15s manager) to try and secure a release and I was happy that my bosses allowed me to come.

“So now that I am back in the squad, the first person I called was Paul (Karatu) to let him know and ask him for tips that he could help me with.

“He has always been of great help with my rugby, a brother who would now be tired of giving me rugby boots because it would one way or the other get torn whenever he gives me one but I’m grateful to him and my elder siblings for their never ending support,” she added.

At the age of 27 years, she now hoped that she would make the final team to try and get the spot in the Women’s XV World Cup in Ireland next year and she thanked all those that had allowed her to make her return to the rugby field.

“When I connect with Him (God), I knew nothing was impossible, I knew I was going to make a comeback.

“I thank God for opening this door for me, It was always heartbreaking when I couldn’t play rugby, my parents are no longer around for me to thank them, they are both gone.

“I believe that they will be happy to see what I have achieved, my older siblings who I know always remember me in their prayers, my workmates and my superiors at work for allowing me to come and try this.”

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