SPORTS

Criticised And Ridiculed But Fijiana Nakoci Never Gave Up

A week ago, Aloesi Naikodravi Nakoci stood tall at the Olympic Games podium in the Tokyo Stadium in Japan. It was a historic moment with a bronze medal around her
08 Aug 2021 12:22
Criticised And Ridiculed But Fijiana Nakoci Never Gave Up
Aloesi Nakoci battles for possession against Australia during the 7s competition at the Tokyo Olympics.

A week ago, Aloesi Naikodravi Nakoci stood tall at the Olympic Games podium in the Tokyo Stadium in Japan.

It was a historic moment with a bronze medal around her neck, a first for a Fijian women’s sporting team.

She is a proud member of the Fijiana team that produced impressive performances in the 2020 Olympic Games 7s rugby competition.

The feat produced by Nakoci and her brave team-mates caught the eyes of World Rugby stakeholders and sporting fraternity.

Unfortunately, missing out on a playoff for the silver and gold medal was probably contributed to by some poor decisions by the referee. The bronze medal victory in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, was worth all the sacrifice.

The convincing display of quality rugby has now made the whole nation change its perception on women playing the sport pundits say they play in heaven.

As a child, Nakoci never thought of playing the sport at national level. Her experience living of the dream has become her best teacher.

But as she grew older, she developed a burning passion for the oval ball.

Such was her love for the game she decided to put on hold her ambition to become. a teacher.

Having reaped the rewards of that sacrifice and persistence to commitment,

Nakoci now believes that it was the right decision to make.

It has allowed her to travel to abroad playing against the world’s best on the international stage.

Nakoci has now achieved what most sports people strive for all their lives. Not just participating, but also securing a medal

at the Olympic Games.

This is the same girl, who had to walk miles to attend training because she did not have any bus fare.

Tough life

The 30-year-old, was born in Ra and raised in Nativi Village by her grandmother.

“My parents are from Naisirilagi, Saivou in Ra,” Nakoci said.

“They split up when I was lot younger and my grandmother stepped in to raise me and my younger brother,” added the eldest of nine siblings.

Passion

Sports was always a part of Nakoci’s life.

It was the one thing she could do and be good at.

“I took up athletics and represented Nalaba District School during Milo Games from under-9 to under-14. Then in secondary school I ran in the Coke Games while

attending Ba Provincial School. I ran the girl’s 100 and 200-metre events,” she said.

“I thrived on opportunities to represent the school in football and participated at district level for the Lautoka women’s football team where I was their striker and also played at the Inter District Championship from 2008 to 2011.”

Move to sevens

In 2015, Nakoci saw an opportunity when calls were made for women who were interested in playing rugby. She made her way to Suva and stayed at a friend’s place to attend the try out.

She’s been part of the team ever since and has played in the World Rugby Sevens Series in Sydney, Las Vegas and Canada.

Even though she was not part of the team that went for the Rio Olympics she was grateful to have been selected to be part of the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Challenges

Nakoci took up sports and followed her passion, she was criticised even by her family members.

Finding her bus fares was a hurdle and she often walked to her training venues.

She said that made her stronger and motivated her to keep moving on in life if she is achieve her goals.

“Now in my hotel room in Tokyo I through of those critics and how they ridiculed me. It motivated me and made me stronger. The sport was mainly played by men and was not easily accepted when women took up the sport and wore rugby boots,” she said.

“My loving grandmother Vatiri Tabuatolu was my main inspiration until she passed away in 2019.

“My grandmother would attend all my games even during my athletics days.

“I dedicate this medal to my number one fan, Bu Vatiri.”

Nakoci said what kept her grounded was the prayers of her late grandmother.

The spiritual teachings during family devotions enabled her to withstand challenges of life.

Riwai tells why she was after Great Britain

Watching national rugby reps from her village play inspired Viniana Riwai to take up the sport.

But she did not dream of playing at two Olympic

Games and now being a bronze medal winner.

In an interview with FASANOC Athletes Commission on Thursday night, Riwai, who hails from Naseakula Village in Labasa, Viniana Riwai said she looked up to former national 7s

forward and 1997 Sevens Rugby World Cup winner Jope Tuikabe and Japan’s Kameli Soejima. They too are from Naseakula Village.

Other players from the village who have made their mark with the national fifteens team are flanker Emosi Tatawaqa and hooker Meliki Baleicakau.

“There are many Fiji reps from my village and seeing them represent the country inspired me,” Riwai said.

“I’m glad that I was able to meet Soejima again through rugby.” Riwai was one of the key players in the Fijian women’s rugby sevens campaign at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

She controlled the backs and was their goal-kicker as well.

She was one of the surviving players from the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil. And she did not want to lose to Great Britain in this year’s bronze medal playoff.

“In 2016, we lost to Great Britain in the main quarterfinal and it was heart breaking.

I told myself that I’ll make it to Tokyo and avenge that loss. And we did defeat them in the bronze medal playoff.

“There have been a lot of sacrifices made for the past five months especially not seeing our families.

“Our coach ( Saiasi) Fuli always reminded us of our families and the COVID crisis in Fiji. These are things that motivated and pushed us to perform better. And our strength and conditioning coach, Tiks (Tikiko Namua), would say that our sacrifice for the games was little compared to

our families back home.

”As they have taken over our daily responsibilities while we are away,” Riwai added.

She also plays for the Fijian women’s football team but right now has no immediate plan of her next move.

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

Feedback: leonec@fijisun.com.fj



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