The Kaliopasi Story

“I started to get depressed and didn’t reach out to anyone because I didn’t want to look weak and soft.”
21 May 2021 10:33
The Kaliopasi Story
Former Marist Brothers High School Under-18 and New Zealand U20 prop, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, is waiting for Vern Cotter’s call to play for the Flying Fijians. Photo: Wellington Lions

Former Marist Brothers High School Under-18 rugby prop, who went on to represent the New Zealand U20 side, is ready to play for the Flying Fijians if given a chance.

Kaliopasi Uluilakeba made the revelation when he shared his journey with the hope to help his upcoming players in Fiji and the Pacific, to have a strong understanding of success and the mental health awareness that is needed.

When Kaliopasi started playing rugby, little did he know that the talent he had would take him on a whirlwind journey and reach achievements that many children in Fiji would only dream of in such a short span of time.

He made the Fijian U18 and NZ U20 squad to defend the World Rugby U20 title in 2018 in France.

Kaliopasi went on to play three matches for Wellington Lions in the NPC (National Provisional Championship) in his first season.

Living on the fast lane 

But when you live in the fast lane, it can come crashing down as quickly.

The findings of a study by Auckland academics Caleb Marsters and Dr Jereaima Tiatia-Seath outlined how Pacific cultures view mental health well-being in a fundamentally different way to the “individualistic“ European or western model.

One of the indicators of stresses was living up to the stereotype of being physically dominant.

It further emphasised the value of a holistic approach to what mental health was. Good with family, good with girlfriend, good with God when you re playing well.

But when one of these key areas is not in alignment, the player’s entire sense of happiness is suffered.

The burden of seeking help or asking for assistance is seen as a sign of weakness. You re almost living a double life.

Psychological phenomenon

For Kaliopasi it was simple. Attaining sporting success, brings pride and socio-economic benefits to family.

But in an unconventional year full of inconsistencies and the psychological phenomenon of this pandemic,

Kaliopasi life slowly started to decline.

“The pressures and expectations arose but I kept taking things for granted,” he said.

“I wasn’t honest with myself and in the end I wasn’t honest to friends and family. Alcohol became an escape and the burdens of some people relying on me weighed me down.

“I started to get depressed and didn’t reach out to anyone because I didn’t want to look weak and soft.”

After the COVID-19 lockdown, Kaliopasi said: “My coach at Wellington Lions and Hurricanes development pulled me aside and told me I didn’t look like a High Performance player.

“I had gone up to 163kg (kilogrammes). They had to let me go.”

Kaliopasi said he cried because he realised the reality of what had just transpired.

“I had let my family and friends down, taking advantage of their support and love.”

He said at that moment the adage, “behind every successful man is an even stronger woman,” became true.

Humble beginning

Kaliopasi paid tribute to his girlfriend Joyita Maulolo.

“She looked at me in the eyes and reminded me of my humble beginnings, the love and support of my parents,” he said.

“Their constant reminders that I am worthy of my aspirations and most importantly I would be loved no matter what”.

With the loving support from my family, Kaliopasi changed the way he looked at things.

“My young sister Fifita is my compass in life. She is my only sibling and a big part of what I had archived and also what I want to archive in life,” he said.

“I’ve accepted my failures and now use them to help me navigate the next chapter in life.

Falling down is part of life but getting back up is living.”

Making changes

Kaliopasi said he had to change his vision and it has changed him too.

“From 163 kilos and now I’m at 138. This is me 2021 and the best of me is yet to come,” he said.

At 21, Kaliopasi has time on his side to reinvent and reinvigorate himself.

He said it took a lot of courage and self esteem to be able to share his story.

No second thought

One final question though from Grassroots 360 to Kaliopasi which many of rugby followers will have keen interest on, if Flying Fijians head coach Vern Cotter approached you, would you be keen to wear the famous white jersey?

Kaliopasi answer was instant: “I would be honoured and proud to represent Fiji, the country where my rugby began and for the people of Fulaga in Lau where my dad is from,” he added.

Additional information  from Grassroots 360


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