mailife - - Advertisement - By MELA KATONIVUALIKU Pho­tos IVAMERE ROKOVESA

Wal­laby Makes it Count for Fam­ily

LOS­ING his mother Adi Li­tia Le­vulevu at the age of eight af­ter her long bat­tle with cancer, and his fa­ther Samisoni Tikoinasau away work­ing over­seas for most of his child­hood was a rather rough be­gin­ning for Ratu Henry Vafo’ou Speight. It could have re­sulted in him tak­ing a wrong di­rec­tion in life, but what it did was spur him on and give him a pas­sion to sup­port char­i­ties work­ing to help fight cancer. Speight made his de­but for the Brumbies dur­ing the 2011 Su­per Rugby sea­son in a game against the Chiefs in Can­berra. Then, af­ter be­com­ing el­i­gi­ble for na­tional se­lec­tion on 11 Septem­ber 2014, the Naivic­ula vil­lager from Wainibuka made his Wal­la­bies de­but dur­ing the 2014 Spring Tour against Ire­land. “Play­ing pro­fes­sional rugby in Aus­tralia was one of my goals and what in­spires and mo­ti­vates me is my fam­ily and the sac­ri­fices they made to en­able me to be where I am to­day,” Speight said. “I am just try­ing to make their sac­ri­fices worth it, I guess.” Speight and his sib­lings are long term sup­port­ers of char­ity work deal­ing with cancer. In 2016, he shaved his hair for Walk On Walk Strong (WOWS) Kids Fiji Foun­da­tion that helps chil­dren who suf­fer from cancer. Back in Aus­tralia, Speight man­aged to raise F$57,045 within two months. “I have al­ways had a soft spot for kids who suf­fer from the dis­ease. It is re­ally hard to see kids go­ing through chemo­ther­apy treat­ment, so it is close to our hearts.” “Most times when I score a try I make a W sign which is for WOWS Kids Fiji Foun­da­tion and I am thank­ful I can be in­volved with them.” At times, Speight writes on his wrist tapes the ti­tle of Hymn 80 - Dei Tikoga Vaka Na Vatu Dina (He Set My Feet Upon The Rock), his late mother’s favourite in the Fi­jian Methodist Hymn book. “I miss my mum a lot and I write Hymn 80 or just a sim­ple ‘Mum’ on my taped wrist to keep her close to my heart when­ever I play. “My mum would be laugh­ing down at me from Heaven be­cause she used to call me her lit­tle piglet be­cause I was chubby and fat as a small kid and would only cry when I was hun­gry,” Speight said. “If only my mum could see that her lit­tle piglet turned out to be a pro­fes­sional rugby player in Aus­tralia and is now play­ing

for the Wal­la­bies.” The 29-year-old who is deemed the quiet one is known as ‘Bro with the Fro’ and ‘Silky’ to his team­mates. “I think the ‘fro’ is just there with my hair,” Speight said. “Silky, on the other hand, is from my Fi­jian smooth skin which some of my team­mates envy – but to be hon­est how the name came about and stuck.” But he thinks the name Silky started with the Brumbies be­cause they re­spect him and be­cause he is a man of a few words. “I just lis­ten and do my own thing. I don’t say much. But some­times I un­ex­pect­edly drop a line or two when we are jok­ing around and my mates are caught off guard, so I think the name ‘Silky’ also came about from there.” The for­mer Queen Vic­to­ria School stu­dent who will al­ways call Fiji home has played against his coun­try­men. “I played against Fiji in rugby 7s back in 2015 but the test match in June was an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence for me as I played for the Wal­la­bies against Fiji. “I had this spe­cial feel­ing and I am grate­ful that our Wal­la­bies coach Michael Cheika ac­knowl­edges that some of us in the team come from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and back­grounds and he does not put any re­stric­tions on us singing both na­tional an­thems,” Speight said. “I was singing the Fi­jian na­tional an­them as well, and it brought back mem­o­ries of how I used to sing it dur­ing as­sem­bly at Veiuto Pri­mary School and later on at QVS. “For me singing the na­tional an­them of my coun­try of birth de­spite be­ing an op­po­nent was a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause I never dreamt I would be play­ing against Fiji. I have al­ways dreamt that I would play for Fiji and sing the na­tional an­them in Hong Kong or some­where. But to hear the na­tional an­them and to line up against the cibi (Fi­jian war cry) – to me that was a very spe­cial mo­ment in my rugby ca­reer.” De­spite play­ing for the Wal­la­bies, Speight still con­sid­ers the white jer­sey as spe­cial. “No mat­ter where I go, when I see a Fi­jian team play­ing, I will sup­port it 100 per cent – un­less I have to play against them. Other than that, I will al­ways sup­port Fiji and back the boys to per­form.” When asked if he would con­sider play­ing in a white jer­sey in­stead of a green and gold one, Speight said it would be hard to try and wear the white jer­sey now. “With the level of com­pe­ti­tion here and the qual­ity of play­ers abun­dant lo­cally, it would be very hard for me,” Speight said. Grow­ing up, Speight has al­ways looked up to his older Fi­jian broth­ers Si­tiveni Si­vi­vatu and Joe Roko­coko, who both made it into the num­ber one rugby team in the world - the All Blacks. “I have a lot of re­spect for th­ese two par­tic­u­lar play­ers, mainly be­cause they are Fi­jians and I could re­late to them and they take me closer to home,” Speight said.

“See­ing them mak­ing it into the All Blacks team is an achieve­ment. They are just two or­di­nary boys from Fiji and if they could make it, there is re­ally no excuse why I or any young per­son like me can’t make it and achieve our dreams.” The name Speight in­stantly rings a bell for many Fi­jians lo­cally and abroad be­cause his un­cle Ge­orge is cur­rently serv­ing a life sen­tence in Fiji prison for his ac­tions dur­ing the May 2000 coup. Asked about his re­la­tion­ship to Ge­orge, Speight ac­knowl­edges that Ge­orge is his un­cle. “I don’t deny it, I am of the view that I can choose my friends but I can­not choose my fam­ily – they are God given and de­spite their short­falls what­ever it may be, they will al­ways be fam­ily.” And fam­ily is just what Speight misses the most when he is abroad. “I miss the com­pany of hav­ing my fam­ily mem­bers around, so be­ing over­seas can be quite iso­lat­ing. I miss hav­ing my aun­ties, un­cles, and cousins around un­der one roof. “And that is the first thing I al­ways miss is the noise. I get home and it’s re­ally quiet whereas here in Fiji there is al­ways the sound of laugh­ter and peo­ple talk­ing and kids play­ing around and that the first thing that hits me when I get back.”

The lit­tle ‘piglet’ as his late mother Adi Li­tia Le­vulevu used to call him. Henry Speight and his late mother.

Young Henry Speight with his sib­lings back in the day.

Henry Speight and his brother dur­ing his younger days at Veiuto Pri­mary School.

The love of fam­ily and the sac­ri­fices they made is what keeps Speight go­ing.

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