Mata­mata girl ‘liv­ing the dream’ play­ing sev­ens

Matamata Chronicle - - News - By KAICEY AL­LI­SON AND TERESA HAT­TAN

Be­cause of her blonde hair, blue eyes and pale skin, Brit­tany Coates stands out against a sea of Fi­jian women.

How­ever, de­spite her ap­pear­ance and thanks to im­mense skill, the ta­lented ath­lete has be­come a val­ued mem­ber of the Fi­jian women’s rugby sev­ens team.

The 21-year-old grew up in the Waikato and is cur­rently com­pet­ing on the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit, play­ing in ci­ties such as Dubai, Brazil and At­lanta. In the next few weeks, Coates and her Fi­jian team-mates will be play­ing in Lon­don and Am­s­ter­dam.

Along­side all this, though, Coates is jug­gling a de­gree with a dou­ble ma­jor in nutri­tion and psy­chol­ogy, which she is now com­plet­ing on­line.

Coates grew up in Mata­mata and started out as a ta­lented net­ball player be­fore switch­ing to sev­ens rugby. She played for the Waikato sev­ens team be­fore mov­ing to Auck­land, where she joined the Pon­sonby Rugby Club. She was then se­lected for the Auck­land Storm rep­re­sen­ta­tive team and says it was this ex­pe­ri­ence that helped her gain skills and con­fi­dence, es­pe­cially in re­gards to tack­ling. Along with a few Pon­sonby mates, Coates then played for the New Zealand Raiders at the Fiji’s Co­ral Coast sev­ens com­pe­ti­tion.

‘‘We won the bowl fi­nal but from that the Fi­jian women’s coach, he had heard that my dad was born in Fiji and my nana is half Fi­jian so that qual­i­fies me to be el­i­gi­ble to play for Fiji.

‘‘ He ap­proached me and said he saw me play and he liked what he saw and asked if I wanted to stay an ex­tra week and go to the Fi­jiana women’s sev­ens camp be­cause they were pre­par­ing to go to Dubai.’’

Coates says she was in shock but she agreed to give it a go.

She stayed the week and did the camp. ‘‘It was hard, just train­ing in Fiji.’’

It was then time for Coates to re­turn home but the coach had other plans. ‘‘He said ‘I want you to come back be­cause I’ve named you in the team to go to Dubai’ ’’.

She says she couldn’t be­lieve it. Dubai was the first tour­na­ment and was held in De­cem­ber, when the team fin­ished sixth. Up next up was Brazil, where they won the bowl fi­nal against Spain. Weeks later they re­peated the re­sult and won against Spain, this time in At­lanta.

Coates re­turned home to Mata­mata for a week ear­lier this month be­fore she headed back to Fiji for two weeks of train­ing. Canada is next be­fore the team trav­els on to Lon­don and Am­s­ter­dam.

Coates says the high­light of her ex­pe­ri­ence so far has been the fact she gets to live in Fiji. She now has a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of her fam­ily’s cul­ture, she be­lieves. ‘‘I get to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing that not ev­ery­one can.’’

There are no lux­u­ries. The women’s sev­ens team in Fiji are not paid pro­fes­sional ath­letes like their coun­ter­parts in New Zealand. Coates says they get a lit­tle bit of money ‘‘ev­ery now and again’’. Some­times she lives on just bread and tea and yet com­petes against top ath­letes from around the world on the in­ter­na­tional sev­ens cir­cuit.

‘‘We don’t have the sup­port and fund­ing. That’s hard, be­cause off the field we’re try­ing to deal with that and on the field we’re try­ing to play at the level that these pro­fes­sional women are. That’s all they do – play rugby.’’

She says she doesn’t know how she does it and there are cer­tainly chal­lenges, but the ex­pe­ri­ence def­i­nitely out­weighs the down­side. ‘‘I’m lov­ing it ... it’s pretty much a dream come true.’’

Coates and the Fi­jian team aim to qual­ify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. She be­lieves her team has po­ten­tial. Coates says she al­ways strives to be fit­ter, faster and stronger so that she can be the best that she can be. But there are times when she asks her­self ‘‘why am I do­ing this’’ and times when she feels like giv­ing up.

But, she says the team works so hard and she has amaz­ing sup­port, es­pe­cially from fam­ily, friends, coaches and train­ers, even those in­volved in rugby back here in New Zealand, that she can’t give up. ‘‘Ev­ery­one wants the best for me, which is quite neat.’’

Photo: TERESA HAT­TAN

For­mer Mata­mata res­i­dent Brit­tany Coates plays for the Fi­jian women’s sev­ens team.

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