Our Fijian Women Of The World being celebrated this week lives by co-founder of Apple, Steve Job's quote, "If you are working on something that you really care about, you don't have to be pushed. The vision pulls you." The vision for our #FJWOW was being able to realise her full potential in a sport that began with an impassionate relationship but has since turned into something that not only fuels her aspirations and ambitions but also motivates her and those around her to go above and beyond and aim for the stars. Meet Vakaoca Bolakoro.
In 2008, at the age of 22, Vakaoca joined the British Armed Forces and moved from her idyllic childhood home in Fiji to the UK. A childhood described as one typical of suburban kids, Vakaoca recounts how she was brought up with strong Christian principles & values that have guided her in not only her army career but also netball and with her own family. Although born in the capital city Suva, Vakaoca spent most of her childhood in Labasa, in the Northern part of Fiji. Coming from a family of 7 siblings meant there was never any shortage of company or childhood memories that she believes has laid a foundation of fostering great kinship & comradeship. It also allowed for a somewhat free-range type of childhood that she believes prepared her for life away from home. It also taught her from an early age that nothing in this life is handed to you which in turn built on the type of get-up-and-go work ethic that has enabled her to achieve all that she has today.
Vakaoca describes her netball experience as one of total unexpectedness as she had put her focus into a different sport altogether. Netball for her was an annual participation with the Annual UK Fijian Army Wives Competition and weekly division leagues. Vakaoca describes it as an almost blase approach as she saw it more as a hobby rather than something she could develop into a professional career or to align it with something she was passionate about. Her passion instead was more focused on the sport of volleyball, one she had every route possible for progression mapped out and saw as a sport that she could develop onto a professional level. But in spite of all of this, Vakaoca felt that it was not a dream she felt any connection to and at times left a feeling lacking of fulfilment. Her indecisiveness with the two sports was brought to a crossroad decision moment when she decided to try out for the Army Netball Team in 2016. This is where she believes her turning point to start taking netball seriously, began. Not only did that debut season allow her skills to be honed and showcased, it also allowed her efforts and talent to be recognised when she was awarded Most Improved Player for the season, which further confirmed for her that this was the route she needed to take with her sporting endeavour. Vakaoca hasn't been short of mentors along the way and she credits her successful debut season on the court to her Army Coach, Maggie Jackson and fellow teammate and defence coach, Nordia Masters. By pushing her outside of her comfort zone, these two helped nurture her talent and development in the sport by placing high expectations on the effort needed to be put in into it all by Vakaoca.
2017 also saw major opportunities for Vakaoca come to fruition. It saw Vakaoca being scouted at the Annual UK Fijian Army Wives Tournament by Tania Hoffman, coach for the Superleague franchise Surrey Storm to trial out for the team. She describes the experience as one that was surreal and intimidating as she was the only inexperienced and "non-affiliated" professional team player present. Vakaoca attributes her being able to get through those two days of trials to her faith and her mantra throughout it being - "Experience and talent have nothing on heart and hard work, when you have God, the passion and the right people in your life. There is no door that cannot be opened, no mountain too steep to climb and no person too strong to stand between you, your dream and God's powerful promises for your life". 2017 also saw Vakaoca joining the Fiji Pearls Netball Europe Tour as a training partner which provided a platform for her to play at international tournament level netball.
Asked if she had any advice for aspiring netballers, Vakaoca stressed that personal circumstances should not become a permanent barrier between you and your dreams. Hard work pays off and knowing that being consistent in all that you do will see you reaping rewards in due time. Vakaoca also believes that as a community, we should encourage young girls and women wanting to get into the sport of netball and provide opportunities that allow them to realise their dreams. We have the advantage of already having an established foundation at grassroots level for netball in Fijian communities, however more could be done in terms of training coaches so that those who are at the ground teaching these young people, are better equipped to build up on basic skills and developing new ideas that allow for players to showcase their talent. Vakaoca also believes that the mindset within our communities on netball being one only to be considered as a hobby and not a professional career should be changed. If other sports like rugby and football can be recognised as such, why can't we do the same for our young girls & women and establish networks that provides those platforms for them.
When asked what has been the biggest barrier she's faced, Vakaoca says it's been her own self. For years she's always dreamed about becoming a professional sportsperson but never actually got up and did something about it. She would justify her lack of commitment by making excuses about lack of time and that she could always put it off for another day. By not being accountable to herself, she realised she was wasting a God-given talent. It was that moment of self-realisation that drove home the point for her that she was not only doing it for herself but also her daughter, who was looking to her to set the benchmark and show her that anything is possible with hard work, discipline and sheer determination. If she could go back to her younger self, Vakaoca says she wishes she had someone who could have told her that the reality is, in sports you will have more days that you are not going to play or perform as well as you would like to and that's OK. Young sportspeople should always remember that whilst you cannot control the outcome of your performance, you can however control how you react to it. Don't allow that negative performance to be the definition of how you will perform in the future. Learn from your mistakes, move on and know that is how you get better. At all times remember to be humble and respectful because without these two principles, any success garnered is unworthy.
Vakaoca's biggest motivators to date has always been been her steadfast faith in God, her parents & siblings and also her partner & daughter. This support network has allowed for Vakaoca to step out of her comfort zone and also step up and deliver outstandingly. Vakaoca believes being constantly surrounded with the right people who have always had her best interests at heart has played a major role in her journey and one that still has more chapters to come. Being around people who encourage you and support your dreams has helped her build up her character and discipline that is needed in the long run. In the words of great philanthropist, W. Clement Stone, "You are a product of your environment." And Vakaoca has definitely chosen well.