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Tongan dragon boater makes NZ team after only 3 months in sport

Alakihihifo Vailala

Alyce Kaume’afaiva says more Pacific young people should consider getting into the sport of dragon boating.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A Tongan dragon boater is hoping her story can inspire more Pacific people to try out the sport.

Alyce “Toretto” Kaume’afaiva was only a few months into the sport last year when she got selected to be in New Zealand’s premier women’s team.

“I couldn’t believe it, I had to kind of shake myself out of it and just give myself some kind of credit for all the training and all the work that I’ve been putting in and actually trying to do better.

“I had the expectation of not making the team simply because I had only been three months deep into it.”

Last August, Kaume’afaiva travelled with the team to compete at the Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Thailand.

Although not placing, she was awarded rookie of the year for both her club and for the Auckland region.

“We’re [Steel Dragons] one of the only Polynesian clubs across New Zealand. We’re more than just a club, it’s more like a family.”

This year in September, she’ll be competing for her club, Steel Dragons at the Dragon Boat Federation’s World Championships in Ravenna, Italy.

“With this new season we had a lot of new people coming in and it was by coincidence that a lot of them were Tongan and that was such a wholesome thing to see more Tongan people coming in.

“I started a 5am session just to help everyone including myself with their fitness and to also create a safe space outside of training for them to ask questions because I see myself in them.”

Kaume’afaiva trains six days a week along with balancing a full-time job and says her passion for the sport fuels her.

“I do it all for free. Getting to Thailand was a struggle, the financial part of being in this sport is hard but it's my passion.”

She says when it comes to her work ethics and passion helping others, she credits her father.

“Growing up being the youngest, I was his little tail. He always taught me that if you’re going to do a job, you put your best foot forward and make sure that it is your best work.”

Looking back at her journey in dragon boating, Kaume’afaiva says it’s been challenging.

“It’s always challenging doing something new and stepping out of your comfort zone.

Especially when it comes to our pacific people. We like being comfortable, we just settle and stay there and that is probably why there’s not a lot of growth but there is so much potential.”

Kaume’afaiva wants more Pacific youth to get involved in dragon boating.

“If you’ve got the muscle and the strength and the mindset to drive then you’re all good.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you should look a certain way or you should weigh a certain weight.”

“You do not need to fit in. You are already in the picture. We’re not here to look like everyone else. You just have to find how to use what you have to your advantage.”

Hero Image: Alyce and the NZ Team's prems team coach, Jimmy Heta at the Dragon Boat World Championships in Thailand last year. Photo/ Supplied

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