Fly my winged child

Ben Volavola with mum. Picture: SUPPLIED

THIS is a two part series where Flying Fijian Ben Volavola’s mum Ema Volavola talks about what it is like being the mother of a star rugby player. Ema reveals the good, the bad and the ugly side of professional rugby. She penned this before Fiji’s game against Wales at the Rugby World Cup in Japan on Wednesday.

MY trip has been nothing but fun and amazing! The fact that this trip is to celebrate my 50th birthday which happened to coincide with the Rugby World Cup has been nothing short of a blessing.

In fact, the additional blessing is that I get to share this with my Natabua High School and lifelong best friend Cathy Kumar (nee Fong) who is also celebrating her 50th birthday.

Rugby has brought countless blessings and has done so much good for my little family of three to which I am and will always be grateful to my Lord Jesus Christ for.

However, we have also had some bad times as well. But in this environment of professional sport, unfortunately, along with the good and the bad, the ugly does raise its head every once in a while.

The good

Being a parent of an international professional rugby player has brought with it many travelling opportunities.

My first being the trip to New Zealand to watch Ben play in the under-12 Manly Representative side, followed by a trip to Canberra for the under-15s 10-a-side competition that Ben was a part of, the U16 National Championships in Brisbane where Ben played for the Sydney representative side, trial games in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Australia, Wollongong and Central Coast, a trip to Italy with the Australian U20s, trips to Melbourne and New Zealand during his Super Rugby career, to England and Wales for the Rugby World Cup in 2015, to France and back home to Fiji to witness a number of the Flying Fijians’ games and now here in Japan.

But it isn’t just the travel that I enjoy. It’s the meeting of like minded individuals who are family members of the players, loyal fans and friends who love this sport we call rugby.

Individuals with kindred spirits who support the team regardless whether they win or lose. Individuals who understand the difference between constructive versus personal criticism. These individuals I have the utmost respect for, and some have become lifetime friends.

Then there is the financial aspect of this sport.

From where we have come from to now, the financial benefits that this sport has brought Ben is something that I as his parent would never have been able to provide him with or as a young adult once myself, a life I could offer my parents.

If anything, it has been such a blessing.

Raising my boys in Sydney, Australia, I was always of the mind that life for my children and the next generations to follow will always be better than the life I have lived.

Not just financially but more importantly spiritually and in every facet of their lives.

This is mainly the reason I chose to move to Australia for further studies. I wanted to give my children a better life than what I was exposed to. Studying full time at the University of Sydney, juggling two jobs at the same time and getting them to their curricular activities such as rugby for both my boys was not a walk in the park. It was tough but it was never an issue. All I settled in my heart and mind was that as long as I gave them the support that they needed and was the present parent, my children would blossom and grow in whatever field they chose to apply their minds to.

After the many years of sowing into my children’s lives as a solo parent, I can look back now and say it has all been worth it.

There are so many memories whirling around in my head that as I looked out of my window on my latest Shinkensen train trip enroute to Tokyo from Osaka, I reflected back on a conversation I had with Ben during our road trip from Suva to Nadi.

As we approached Nadi, the Pacific bus that runs every day from Lautoka to Suva via Nadi drove past us. And as it sped past us, Ben shared that it was not that long ago when he was travelling in a similar bus whenever he came to visit family during his early years of a Super Rugby player.

Not that there is anything wrong with travelling on the Pacific bus, it was just that this time round, he could afford a rental car to help drive him back and forth to Nadi, provide family transport as and when they needed it and drive me, to the airport on my way back to Sydney.

I realise that I could be deemed biased here given I am his mother, but Ben is perhaps one of the most generous, kind, calm and level-headed individuals that I know. I know that he is a great rugby player, but what I am most proud of Ben is his desire to give back where there is a need. In his capacity as a Flying Fijian Ben has become an ambassador alongside Patrick Osborne, also a Flying Fijian of Edufijikidz. It is a charity organisation that supports and empowers children and teachers in underdeveloped Pacific countries with the basic resources and knowledge to further their education. And only recently, Ben became an ambassador for the charity organisation called Homes of Hope.

Homes of Hope is the only organisation of its kind in Fiji and the South Pacific that provides long-term care, support, and holistic restoration for girls and young mothers and their children. Homes of Hope desires to lead the fight in the South Pacific to promote freedom from stigmas and depreciation of women.
His drive to want to make a difference reminds me of a scripture in the book of Luke. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” His want to help has blessed me to no end.

The bad

But with the Good comes the bad.

I don’t believe there is one person who has come away without some sort of injury at one point in time playing rugby. By definition in its simplistic form, bad is the opposite of good. In the Cambridge English dictionary, bad is defined as “unpleasant and causing difficulties or harm”. Injury is the bad in this context.

Ben was 13 years old when he had experienced his first injury. It was during a game between the U13s Manly, Sydney representative side against a team in Rotorua, New Zealand.

He had injured his finger and post an X-ray, it was found that his injury was a hairline fracture on his index finger. But this was not going to stop him from playing. I remember standing next to him telling his coach to put him back on the field. So they did after strapping his finger with tape.

It was a few years later as he was training with his Under 16 year old Oatley Rugby team mates that he sprained his ankle and could not play in the grand finals. He was so upset that he couldn’t play but he was determined to get the boys fired up for the game. They went in as the underdogs and won.

There were more injuries to follow during his last year at school and during his Super Rugby career that required surgery. And these injuries were not only physical but also emotional and mental.

The challenge is getting back to playing at the standard you were playing at or higher before the injury. There were bouts of fear and uncertainty when he got back into training and playing, but this was something that like many other players he had to overcome and he did. If there is one thing that I know about our Flying Fijian, it is this. It is his belief in God and in himself that enables him to overcome the challenges and for that I am eternally grateful.

Like every other sport, alongside the good, there is the bad and of course the ugly.

As much as we love the game, the ugly side of it always rears its ugly head particularly when things aren’t going well.

  •  Continued in tomorrow’s Sunday Times

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