Two years ago, Fiao’o Fa’amausili lifted the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland after the Black Ferns’ emotional win over England in the grand final.
“It’s a heavy cup. Not physically heavy, but full of emotions because there are so many people who have played a massive role in this incredible team of women lifting this trophy,” says Fa’amausili as her eyes well up at the mention of the incredible feat.
Very much a pioneer of the woman’s game in New Zealand, the hooker (a front-rower who usually throws the ball in at lineouts), says that the group of woman she began her professional career with at league level in 1998 have paved the way for the woman’s game to become the success that it is today.
Marama Mullen-Tamati’s triumph over HIV stigma
How teenager Thomasin McKenzie lived out a Hollywood dream
Vanisa Dhiru’s vision to shape a gender-equal future
How Kathleen Liberty eased the trauma for the children of the Christchurch quakes
“Our generation has given a massive push to the younger generation. Today, we always acknowledge past players, because without these women – and I count myself lucky to be part of this group – we wouldn’t be here today.
“Women tend to just get on with it.”
This is an attitude the Samoan-born captain says got her and her teammates to fight through the challenges they faced in the early days when men’s teams would be given priority over the women who had to fit in.
“But we loved the game and took whatever we got, never complained, just got on with the game.”
Fa’amausili believes, in addition to the family-orientated culture, the team has a championing spirit, inspired by the many great women who have led the way for women’s empowerment in the country.
New Zealand is still talking about the Black Ferns’ World Cup win – a nod for women who are today more respected for achieving the same as their male counterparts.
“The voice that women have these days is so powerful that we don’t even need to voice it – we just show it by actions.”
Fa’amausili grew up in Auckland’s Māngere East after her parents moved the family from Samoa – she has three brothers and four sisters – in search of a better life.
“Dad sacrificed a lot for his family, even his own education, only to go back later in life to qualify as a lab technician.”
A daddy’s girl, Fa’amausili smiles as she fondly recalls how it was his cheering on the sidelines of her brother’s rugby games that encouraged her to play her first game at the age of 13.
“My dad would get so excited when watching him, and this got me excited in rugby. I played netball, but it felt quite odd having him come watch me play. He was a lot louder on the sidelines of rugby games.”
But rugby was not always Fa’amausili’s first career choice. The World Player of the Year nominee always dreamt of being a police officer.
“I loved watching Police Academy as a child,” she smiles. “I’ve always wanted to put on the black jersey and represent my country in a sport that I love, and to serve and protect my country, and give back to my community, and the best way for me to do that is being a police officer.”
For the past eight years, she has done both – rugby player by day and police detective by night.
Family has been Fa’amausili’s biggest support and this motivates her to want to dedicate her life to serving in her community, “because my family lives in it, I want to make sure that they are safe.”
Her 23 nephews and nieces see her success, as do kids in south Auckland schools, and she hopes to inspire them to live life through the family values she has, and to know that whatever you put your mind to, it can be achieved.
“Always know that you never lose, you either win or learn. You are going to have setbacks in life, and think that something is not in reach. If you believe in something, you are going to do whatever it takes for you to achieve that something,” she says, encouraging young girls to give their dreams all they’ve got.
Earlier last year, Fa’amausili received a letter marked “Confidential”.
Inside, a note informed her that she had been honoured as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her service to rugby. She says the hardest thing was not being able to tell her family – her mum even found out via social media.
“This was massive. I never dreamed of achieving such honour. I have achieved everything I have wanted in rugby – nominated for World Player of the Year, getting New Zealand Player of the Year. I was content. But then this came, I got quite teary-eyed,” she says, saying the award only inspires her more to keep doing what she loves.
Although she retired at the end of 2017, Fa’amausili has been convinced to return, and will again put her body on the line for her country as she hopes to achieve even greater heights in the women’s game.