She comes from a South Sea Island renowned for their love of sports; specifically sevens rugby. Sevens, the national sport of Fiji, reflects the Islanders love of a contest. Best epitomized when the tiny nation won Gold at the Rio Olympics. The very first for the country, and if there is one thing that identifies the people of Fiji, it is their will to fight against the odds. With a shoe-string budget, that victory is another sojourn ‘against the odds’. This is a three part story of Beauty, Brains and Brawn; about three young women, all defying the odds.
Beauty, Brains And Brawn: Agatha Gibbons
In part one of a three part series, Last Word on Sport shines a light on three emerging stars who are defying the odds: Mere Serea, Agatha Gibbons and Vasiti Baleilomaloma.
The Fiji Sevens team is somehow regarded as rockstars in their country, and other sports tend to take a back seat in Fiji. Women’s sports do not get the credit they deserve–nor the support. In a recent parliamentary sitting, a question was put forward to the Governments Sports Minister. ‘Will their Women’s Sevens Rugby Team be given contracts?’ The ministers answer was “they are just getting started, they will see down the line”.
Subsequently, last weekend in Kitakyushu, Japan, they defied the odds to reach their first semi finals ever in the World Rugby HSBC Women’s Sevens Series. It proves the point that women’s sport is growing in the islands, and can be a pathway for our young women to defy the odds.
Young Women Using Volleyball as a Pathway
Volleyball; like rugby, is played in all small villagers and sports grounds in Fiji. Whether it be on a street or a backyard, children will find a place to play the game. With just a ball and a group of friends, the love of sport can be born.
Rugby might be the national sport, but volleyball is growing steadily to become a force to be reckoned with in the South Pacific. Fiji are currently ranked 137 in the World, while the Women’s team–known as Fiji Kulawai–are ranked 115 [as of August, 2016].
Through their love of the sport, all three young women, each from humble backgrounds defied the odds to excel in their chosen sport. All three have caught the eye of scouts and gained exclusive scholarships to study overseas in the United States. Through hard work, study, faith and passion, each has found that there is a bigger world out there if they dedicate themselves.
— J (@spanishfijian) May 2, 2017
Beauty, Brains and Brawn from the South Seas
These beautiful young women, all with brains who are each excelling academically, and all three with the natural abilities and brawn to play volleyball at collegiate level in the United States. Through their journey, they learn about what drives them, by their struggles and triumphs. With supportive families back in Fiji, they are inspired to be the best they can, and strive higher in all aspects of their lives.
Part One: Agatha Elizabeth Gibbons
Former Saint Joseph Secondary School student, Agatha Gibbons is currently the Assistant Coach for the Eastern New Mexico University volleyball team. A talented sports woman, Agatha won a scholarship to the United States after a tennis coach spotted her talent at ISS (International Secondary School). Since then, she hasn’t turned back from that opportunity, and is making a name for herself both on and off the court.
With a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice, and minor in Psychology, Agatha has one more year to go in her Masters Program: Sports Administration. The 25-year old from Sawaieke, Gau started her overseas education with the New Mexico Military Institute (NMMI). Beginning in 2010, Agatha received a full scholarship to Eastern.
Excelling on the court, Agatha had over 100 blocks playing for Eastern but fell just short when at NMMI, with 99. Her position of middle blocker takes advantage of her height and brawn.
In the first of our three part series, Jovilisi Waqa speaks to Agatha Gibbons.
What started out as fun for her joining a Kulawai (Fiji Women’s volleyball) recruitment program has brought her to where she is today. After focusing, it took her four months to learn the fundamentals of Volleyball, and she hasn’t look back.
After moving to New Mexico, Agatha won the ‘Female Athlete of the Year’ at NMMI. She made the All Conference Team in both her freshman and sophomore years. Achieving ‘Top Eastern Defensive Player’ and ‘Top 20 in the Nation’ in her state blocks. Those statistics will tell you of the dedication and hard work she puts in, to strive to be the best in her chosen sport.
Even with this success, this maybe news to most Fijians but the ‘vasu’ of Somosomo is still humble at heart, with all that she has accomplished thus far. And while recognition back in the Islands is yet to be widespread, from hers and her two volleyball sisters success, that spotlight will soon fall on these women.
Asked by LWOS ‘how the assistant coaching role came about?’ Agatha just said “coach offered it, and I took it up.”
This week’s http://t.co/Fewnk5M8w8 Student Athletes of the Week:
E’lon Spight, Agatha Gibbons, Fabienne Wilson, Kevin Roa, Beth Blind.
— KENW SportsLook (@KENWSportsLook) October 27, 2014
LWOS: What are you Goals?
“I hope to get my Masters in Psychology, and hopefully get a job as a Detective”. She wants to help Fiji Volleyball in the future, especially in establishing a pathway for more athletes to the US system.
Tell our readers about your struggles?
“Being away from home and not having my family around.”
Have you had any disappointments?
“I got an ACL injury in my sophomore year. I was out for nine months after my surgery, and dam I was so down. That was a hard turning point in my life. I made me work harder towards my goals.”
The former Vatuwaqa rep said, “Fiji has a long way to go in Volleyball. I tell you, here the girls hit like the guys do back in Fiji.”
What are some of your greatest triumphs so far?
“Getting my college degree in Criminal Justice. It was a long bumpy ride but I got it and now doing my masters. There’s so many triumphs, but that would be my favorite because it took a lot of hard work. Late hours trying to balance school and volleyball.
“And trying to stay on the Dean’s list every semester was the other thing I had to do. Coach was always about A’s and B’s, if we got a C we would run laps.”
What keeps you going?
“My mum keeps me going. Every time I’m drained and falling apart I always think of my mum and that pushes me all the time. She has worked so hard and supported me and my family all my life.
“Both my parents have worked hard, but my mother pushed me academically and dad was always about working hard in the gym and out on the court”
What advice do you Have for Youngsters Athletes Chasing a Dream?
“There is no such thing as limits. Set your goals and go beyond those limits to achieve them. After all hard work definitely pays off at the end of the day. Being a student athlete is a role that is not easy but it takes a lot of courage, determination and hours.” Agatha Elizabeth Gibbons
As the late Mohammed Ali said;
“I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion”
Defying the Odds with Beauty, Brains and Brawn
Many can learn a lot from Agatha Gibbons. About her determination to succeed in her education and her chosen sport. And like Jennifer Lopez penned; “No matter where I go, I know where I’ve come from… I’m still Jenny from the block.”
She maybe from the block (from the Islands) but one day Agatha, Mere and Vasiti can each do their islands proud. Agatha, by being that Detective she dreams of, who studied hard when sport gave her the opportunity in the United States.
All three have shown us that ‘nothing is impossible’ and that message is what is needed more of, to inspire the young women of Fiji.
Last Word on Sports thanks Agatha Gibbons for the use of her personal photographs.
This is part one of a three part series, by Jovilisi Waqa.
“Main photo credit”