Challenge SPORT

A different league

Former women’s rugby league captain’s life changing decision

Luisa Avaiki in action
BARCELONA, SPAIN - 2002: Samoa's Luisa Avaiki in action during the Ireland v Japan match during the IRB Womens's Rugby World Cup in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo Dave Rogers/Getty Images)

Luisa Avaiki, the former captain of Fetu Samoa, the Samoan national women's rugby league team, grew up attending a traditional Samoan church.

"I was always aware of God," she told Beyond the Ultimate, "but it wasn't something I thought you lived. I went to church every Sunday because I was forced to go, but during the week I did the opposite. I always tried to get out of church, so if we had a tournament on Sunday, I was happy."

Luisa's life revolved around her friends. She started drinking at 12 and was a heavy drinker by the age of 15. "I thought life was about having fun, being with friends, going out, and playing sport," she says. "I basically lived two lives: one with my family going to church and another with my friends partying."

Luisa Avaiki with trophy
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 2009: Kiwi Ferns captain Luisa Avaiki holds the Women’s World Cup they won during the Civic Reception for the World Cup winning Kiwi league team held at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Village in 2009 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty Images)

Her family had high expectations for Luisa's academic achievements, but soon her grades started suffering.

"During all this, one of my friends kept nagging me to come to her youth group. Finally, I went. The message was convicting, but all I could think about was that I had a big party to go to," Luisa recalls.

“My life was a mess ... but I felt everything was going to be alright”"Before I could make a bee-line for the door, another friend came and asked me if I wanted to go forward and accept Christ. Deep down, I knew things weren't right. People saw me as a happy-go-lucky person, but I knew my life wasn't right. I knew I was living a temporary happiness with friends, alcohol and basketball. So I went forward and accepted Christ.

"Everything was different from that night that I gave my life to the Lord. My life was a mess in my studies, with my family, and with my drinking, but I felt everything was going to be alright."

Luisa started playing rugby league a couple of years later. "Right from the start I felt God wanted me to play rugby league," she says. "I had a Christian friend playing and a Christian coach. In the second year of playing league I got into the New Zealand team."

While rugby union is popular in Samoa, league is not as popular, and the Samoa Women's National Rugby Team, also known as Fetu Smoa, is based in New Zealand.

Luisa Avaiki
Luisa now works as an assistant coach with National Rugby League Victoria.

Luisa also played for the Kiwi Ferns for 15 years, and was captain for eight of those years. She told the Samoa Observer that Pacific Islanders are suited to playing in league as the physical side appeals to them, and their emphasis on family means they enjoy a team environment.

"We Pacific Islanders are always around family, both our immediate family and also our extended family," she says. "So it's natural for us to go into a team environment because that's what we do at home."

Two of Luisa's favourite verses are Philippians 4:6-7, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus," and Isaiah 40:31, "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint".

"God has taught me to not only be thankful to Him for placing me in rugby league but also to play my best for His glory," she says.

<< Lessons from a sausage dog (Part 2)