Porirua College's Ayesha Leti-I'iga fearless on the rugby field
Ayesha Leti-I'iga is fearless on the rugby field.
The Porirua College 16-year-old is the youngest and one of the smallest members of the Wellington Pride in the national provincial championship, but runs into spaces others are too timid to risk.
She's scored three tries in five games for the team, who call her "baby", using to great effect the electric pace she nurtured as a sprinter during her early teenage years.
Sprinting was the sport she first had a serious crack at, but following her first game of rugby two years ago, filling in for her college's sevens team, she has been hooked on the oval ball game.
"I didn't know how to play but because I used to be a sprinter we used that to our advantage," she said.
"As soon as the whistle went, I got the ball, broke the line and scored in the first minute.
"After that I decided I wanted to pursue rugby."
Leti-I'iga's life was touched by personal tragedy in 2009, when her mother, Mary Asolupe Leti-I'iga, died at just 35 years-old after being hit by a car.
Even at the age of 10, Leti-I'iga knew she was at a crossroad.
"I could've gone downhill but I chose to use it to push me even harder with school and sports," she said.
She has now a guardian angel watching over her during her games.
"Every game I write my mum's name on my wrist and it helps me.
"Every time I'm running she's always there running with me and everything I do, I do it for her."
Perhaps knowing there is someone there helps her fearless attitude. Her grandfather, Faaui, who she lives with along with her grandmother, Salafa, also helps make sure she goes into every physical confrontation with a full head of steam.
"A lot of people underestimate me because of my size, but my grandpa always says to never be scared and always play with your heart, because once you're scared it's game over, you won't make your tackles."
However, grandpa wasn't always that supportive of her rugby.
When her aunt, Oriental Rongotai prop and Porirua College girl's rugby coach Fuamai Taumoli, wanted her to play in 2014 her grandparents initially resisted, not wanting her to get hurt given her diminutive stature.
It took a lot of persuading but they eventually gave in.
Her first full season in 2014 saw her make the Wellington under-18 team, something she was not expecting but proud to have achieved.
This year she followed Taumoli to Ories, scoring a hat-trick in her first game against Wainuiomata on the way to 17 tries in 12 games.
Pride coach James Porter said he had been keeping an eye on her since she made the under-18 team and was excited by what he saw.
"We invited her to trial [this year] and from that point she's just been one of the more dangerous wingers in the competition.
"She's quite compact but it's that speed off the mark and I don't know whether it's because she's 16, but she's just fearless.
"Fearless in the tackle, fearless in the carry, she runs holes but that most girls would try to avoid. It's a weapon and we've just got to try and keep getting her good ball."
While she's fearless on the field, she has a bubbly nature off it which is contagious.
Her efforts this year have helped the Pride book a spot in the NPC semifinals, with Leti-I'iga saying she thinks they can go all the way.
It's a far cry from earlier in the season, when she hadn't even entertained the thought of making the Pride.
"I was never gunning for Pride because of my age, I was gunning for under-18s again, so to make Pride was a big achievement for myself.
"It was all with family support, my grandparents pushed me to do my best."
Porter said they had even taken the step of bringing her into the team's leadership group.
"We thought we'd involve her in getting the youngest person in the team's perspective and she's pretty keen on passing on what she thinks, we just think she's fantastic.
"She really is such a talent and she's had challenges in her personal life that she's come through so well."
She's also come to the attention of sevens coaches, with her rapid acceleration appealing in the shorter form of the game.
She has been training with Wellington-based New Zealand sevens player Kat Whata-Simpkins and Wellington sevens coach Charles Aliva, which she hopes will put her on the radar of the national selectors.
"Two years ago I wouldn't have thought that rugby is my future, but now one of my goals is to make the Black Ferns and to go to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, I'm gunning for that."
With that drive and her appetite for hard work, rugby fans would be wise to remember the name Ayesha Leti-I'iga.
Blue Rhythm's Winning Beat (Kapi Mana Article, 23/6/2015)
Blue Rhythm, an eight-piece band from Porirua College, won this year's Pacifica Beats Wellington competition in Lower Hutt on 13th June. They may well have qualified for the national final in Auckland on 12th September. The judges will pick the top six bands and top two solo/duos to attend finals. Finalists will be announced on 19th August.
"We switched around a bit and pulled in Tiresa, the youngest member, at the last minute," lead singer Talitupe Smith. "Although we were really nervous, we were determined to win."
Pacifica Beats producer Elena Lome said Blue Rhythm's upbeat style, use of the ukelele and Samoan phrases made them clear winners. The band wore their full school uniform on stage, which Talitupe said made them look neat even though they felt "pretty sweaty." Pacifica Beats reflects the unique cultural identity of New Zealand and the South Pacific, with entrants required to have some Maori or Pacific elements in their performance.
Lome said as well as incorporating cultural elements in their performances, the Wellington group had to now show their promotional skills. "They have to create a Facebook band page, prepare a media release and band bio and a short video about themselves. We use that in the judging, as we lead up to the national final," Lome said. "The aim is to give them an insight into management and promotional aspects of being a performer."
National finalists will also be invited to University of Auckalnd's Waipapa marae for a weekend of music and mentoring before the finals. If Blue Rhythm were to win the national final, their prize package will include a $10,000 song and video package from NZ On Air and performance spots at some of the 2015/16 Auckland summer festivals.
Jah Mon Fever, a group from Aotea College, were second equal with Aho Fitu from Rongotai College in the Wellington regional finals.
Band Members: Zion Sepelini, Chris Ruaporo, Filipo Fomai, Obe Taumalolo, Seti Sinoti, Talitupe Smith, Kalo Samasoni, Tiresa Fomai
Kapi- Mana Music Competition Winner
Tiare Tamaiva (Yr 10) recently performed in the Kapi-Mana Music Competition in the string category playing the cello.
Tiare gained 1st Place performing the test piece as well as a second 1st place performing a piece of her own choice. Many congratulations Tiare.
Students in the Kitchen
Congratulations to Wiki Mackey and Michala Rei who cooked their way to success in the National Secondary Schools Culinary Challenge last weekend, winning the Wellington regional division. The girls wowed judges with their entree of beetroot gelee with chevre, orange and walnut salad and spiced beetroot and orange. This was followed by a main course of stuffed chicken supreme and madeira jus with dauphiniose potatoes, buttered carrots and broccolini.
They will compete against other regional winners at the end of August, with the winning school team flying to Tahiti to compete. Judge Glenn Fulcher, from City & Guilds said "The competition was tough and all competitors did an amazing job in the 90 minutes they had tocook and plate up their dishes." Well done girls!!