Rugby and netball professionals learnt of a life beyond sport
Kevin and Anna Senio know what it’s like to balance sport and faith. Kevin, a professional rugby union player, and his wife Anna, a netballer, have both represented New Zealand in their sports.
Kevin has played with New Zealand teams Bay of Plenty and Canterbury, the Junior All Blacks in the Pacific Five Nations, New Zealand’s national team the All Blacks and now French team ASM Clermont Auvergne.
Though Kevin grew up attending church and believing there is a God, he found the ceremony of his traditional church boring. He figured there was more to faith than just going to church, but was unsure of what role God played in his life as a sportsman.
Focused on sport as a teenager, Kevin found his achievements gained him recognition from others, but wondered where dedication to sport led for top athletes. “I would read and hear about sports icons breaking records and superb athletes making mega bucks, but I thought to myself there must be more to it than just this,” he said.
Kevin lost interest in church until meeting with old school friends. They invited him to a night where Christians would be sharing their stories.
“On the night, individuals got up and shared the work God was doing in their lives and how He was using their talents that He had blessed them with, many with sporting talents,” Kevin described.
“I was fascinated and taken back. I then realised that there was a place for sports in the eyes of God and it was a great opportunity to serve and praise Him for the talents He had blessed me with. That evening I invited Jesus into my heart. I confessed Him as my King and Saviour.”
Kevin heard Jeremiah chapter 29, verses 11-13. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.”
“Having a relationship with God, I acknowledge Him daily through prayer and try to live a lifestyle pleasing to Him,” Kevin says.
“I am not always perfect at this, but I have found the Bible a great guide for me to follow, and also a great comfort when I fall short. The longer I am a Christian the more I discover the depth of God’s love and forgiveness.”
Kevin still loves rugby, but now sees it as a way to show his thanks to God for His love and grace. He no longer seeks recognition from others, but has peace knowing that God loves him.
Kevin met Anna in 2000, at a nightclub in Auckland. That year, Anna had been considering leaving her netball dreams behind after missing a spot in New Zealand’s team for the World Youth Championships and injuring her knee.
However, as she told Bay of Plenty Times, “The more I tried to stay away from netball the more I was drawn to it. I knew I had been blessed with the talents to play netball and I needed to use them."
While Anna found an aptitude for netball at school, she grew up with low self-esteem.
“I came from a large Samoan family where our home was like a halfway house,” Anna describes. “I remember growing up with the typical all night parties and early morning clean ups. I grew up in a family where abuse, both physical and emotional, was the ‘norm’.”
Like Kevin, Anna believed that there is a God and more to life than sport but did not think she could know God personally. “I went through life with no goals or direction. I had a positive attitude at times but most of the time was really insecure,” she said.
Yet Anna’s netball career was taking off as she played for the New Zealand under 21 side and Samoa national team.
Arriving early for training with the Northern Force team one day, Anna walked in on some of the girls in a Bible study. “I sat down and I remember thinking ‘I want this, I want to be part of this,’” Anna recalls.
“I met with a friend the next day and received Christ right there in the shopping mall! I knew straight away that God was what I had been looking for. I physically didn’t feel anything but I knew that I was a changed person. I had been forgiven and given a new purpose for living. I knew that He loved me unconditionally and that He was always there for me,” she told Athletes in Action.
Anna says having her first daughter before she and Kevin married in 2003 left her with a low self-esteem as others questioned her faith but, through this she learnt that God’s grace is enough, naming their daughter Grace as a reminder of His love.
After a wedding that ended up being twice the size anticipated due to their large families, Kevin and Anna moved around New Zealand for their sport.
In 2005 they reached the height of their careers, with Kevin gaining a place in the All Black trial squad a day before Anna joined the Silver Ferns, New Zealand’s national team.
Anna left professional netball in 2006 to concentrate on the family. The couple now have two other daughters and live in France while Kevin plays for Clermont.
Anna says, “My life hasn’t become easier now that I am a believer, if anything it has been harder, but through it all I know in faith that I am a child of God and that He has plans for my life,” she states.