By Josefa Babitu in Suva
It might have been just a bronze medal to some people but for the Fijiana team — especially Sesenieli Donu — it was the fruit of sacrifice and a token of appreciation for her village of Vatukarasa in Nadroga.
After an intense competition for the bronze medal with Great Britain at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Japan, the country’s women sevens rugby team bagged their first ever medal after defeating their former coloniser 21-12 last Saturday.
The excitement spread like wildfire in Vatukarasa as one of their very own has her name down in the history book especially at a hard-hit time when Fiji is battling the deadly delta variant of covid-19.
“This is gold to us to see that one of our own women got to the top and played against teams from bigger countries,’’ Donu’s uncle Jone Domonakibau said.
“After losing both her parents at a very young age, Sesenieli became determined to be one of the best players in rugby and she has proved herself.
“She would lose herself to training and even if it meant for her to be surrounded by men as this was a male-dominated sport. She never gave up.”
Donu was picked for the sevens squad after she proved herself worthy to be with the team at the 2020 Women’s Skipper Cup games in Lautoka.
The 25-year-old’s Olympic journey out of Fiji is her first time in a foreign land and Domonakibau said it was a deserving trip after what she had been through.
“We are so blessed to have witnessed her rugby life at the Olympics and we look forward to more magical works of God in her life as we know she is a capable child.”
He knew that Donu would do wonders when they would see her returning from her training at the beach near their village early in the morning.
“She would wake up around 4 to 5am in the morning when the village is silent and run to the beach and train.
“It was not a surprise to many of us waking up to her return after an intense exercise.
He added that the village was organising a celebration for the 25-year-old when she returns.
“We are aware of the restrictions in place and so we would do something really small yet meaningful to show how proud we are of her.
Captain thanks Fijians
Like Donu, the rest of the history-making team could not contain their happiness as a video by the Fiji Rugby Union featuring the Fijian captain Rusila Nagasau saying “thank you” to people in the country.
“I want to thank the girls for standing up and winning the bronze today,” she said.
“To our family and friends back at home, I would like to say a big vinaka vakalevu (thank you)… thank you very much for your prayers and support.
“To the government, thank you so much for helping us throughout the five months of quarantine back in Fiji.”
PM congratulates Fijiana
In his official Facebook page, the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama congratulated the team of women for the legacy created in Tokyo.
“Ahead of the Rio Olympics, there were 200 registered women rugby players in Fiji. Now, there are more than 1000.
“With the eyes of the young women of Fiji upon these heroes — no doubt we’ll soon see many thousands more.
The prime minister said the best was yet to come from the team.
The women’s sevens team will return to Fiji next Tuesday and spend 14 days in quarantine before rejoicing the win with their loved ones afterward.
Josefa Babitu is a final-year student journalist at the University of the South Pacific (USP). He is also the current student editor for Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s student training newspaper and online publication. He is a contributor to Asia Pacific Report.