High school honour inspires former All Black to make lifestyle changes
By Soana Aholelei
A rousing haka from Kelston Boys High School students welcomed back ‘old boy’ and rugby legend Va’ainga Tuigamala last month.
The school’s ‘Field number 1’ was being renamed after the former All Black and Manu Samoa player Va’ainga Tuigamala.
“I always got goosebumps when I used to do the haka for the New Zealand All Blacks as well as the Manu Samoa’s siva tau,” Va’ainga says.
“So, you know, when I saw that, to do it in my honour, oh… again it’s just hair tingling with emotions and that’s just very proud.”
All Black number 900, Va’ainga was the first to don the black jersey from the West Auckland high school.
Friends, family and other rugby greats were on hand to mark the occasion, including another rugby legend, former All Black Tuifa’asisina Sir Bryan Williams.
“It was fantastic. It’s been a wonderful afternoon of stories, of emotion really, and such a depth of feeling about what Inga has done for the school and done for the game of rugby,” Sir Bryan says.
The sense of occasion not lost on the Va’ainga.
“I’m blown away to be honest, and to have my own family here, my mother, who was such a big influence, and to have my siblings and certainly my beautiful wife and some of my children here… and friends.
“Friends that have helped shape me, friends that have spoken into my life and made a huge influence, made me think about what I want to achieve. It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” Va’ainga says.
His old school friends game him the nickname ‘Inga the Winger’, a result of his prolific try-scoring down one corner of the field.
“I’ve got to look at the archives and see how many tries I scored over those four years. I was in the First XV. It was certainly beautiful times and wonderful memories of Kelston,” Va’ainga says.
Re-naming of the field’s also been a reminder for Va’ainga of his current journey to better health. He is involved in a collaboration with Alliance Health Plus to improve his health and promote healthy lifestyles.
“My title is ODICE – which stands for Obesity Diabetic Intervention Champion Evangelists.
“I’ve had my own health struggles. I had a stroke not long ago, about eight to nine years ago, bad sleep apnoea, high blood pressure for the last 20 something years. I’m pretty much a walking symbol of not being really healthy, and that’s my fault.
“There’ve been so many wonderful programmes that lots of other organisations have brought a lot of awareness too.
“I’m more into the intervention and preventing things getting worse, so that’s my role at the moment. And I’m loving it,” he says.
Va’ainga may not be the superstar of yester-year, but he has a message for those aspiring athletes.
“I always say to the new rugby players that come through, talent is not good enough,” he says.
“Knowledge plus the mental application plus the discipline, plus nutrition, all those things add up to making the player that they are today.”