It was a spectacular night at the New Zealand High Commission residence. The host, Her Excellency Jackie Frizelle and her husband hosted a fantastic event filled with good food and great company.
Sporting bodies from throughout Upolu were present and Valerie Adams wasn’t the only medal winner seen. Recent weightlifting gold medalist, Iuniarra Sipaia, as well as many other Samoan elite athletes others was in the crowd.
But Valerie Adams was definitely the focus of the night and the center of attention, because of her accomplishments, also her charming, relaxed personality which had everyone in the crowd laughing
Instead of reciting a mundane speech, Ms. Adam’s decided to host a less formal talk show host type question and answer forum, where the public was given the chance to ask Ms. Adam’s anything and everything.
Even the Prime Minister took part in this once in a lifetime moment to ask the two time Olympic gold medalist a qusetion.
Flanked by ex-All Black Tuigamala Va’aiga Tuigamala, Ms. Adam’s bared it all in regards to her journey to the top, the people she’s lost along the way and the dark sides of being an elite athlete.
Here are some of the questions and responses given by Ms. Adams:
Q: Your first meeting in Samoa was with the Prime Minister, what did you discuss and did you give him some advice? Or did he, as an elite athlete himself, as a silver medalist in archery in 2007 South Pacific Games, give you any advice?
A: I think this is a question for the Prime Minister because I’m not quite sure how much we can reveal. Let me just say you guys are pretty lucky to have an example here of an elite athlete. This guy is a medalist, that’s pretty amazing.
We discussed the issues of the world and what we had for breakfast. But it was great to sit down and have a chat with him about issues going on in the world and in the Pacific and in the nations. It was a great opportunity to get to know each other a lot better.
Q. Who was supportive or influential; in your career and how important is it to have the right people around you?
A: To be honest, the biggest inspiration in my life was my mom. My mom died at the age of 39 when I was 15 years old. My mom was full Tongan, straight from Tonga and came over to New Zealand. One thing I’m very grateful for is that she only spoke Tongan to us at the house. I am so blessed that she did that. Today, I can connect with people on our level in our language and I really appreciate it. There aren’t a lot of half castes who speak the mother tongue or the tongue they grew up in, which is generally English.
My mother has always been the inspiration in my life. At a very young age, I started track and field and we didn’t have a lot of money, we came from a very poor family. So every week, after she paid all the bills, we had to survive on $40 dollars a week. Now, I’m not a small eater, neither is the rest of the family, but five mouths. I’m not sure how she did it but we never ever went hungry. And she was able to feed all of us and save some sort of penny for me to be able to go to training on the train.
She’s always been the biggest inspiration and she believed in me as a child. She believed in me as an athlete. She believed in the fact that I wanted to live this dream. Now, on the night of September 15th, 2000, I was at the Auckland hospice with her. Now at that age, didn’t know what a hospice was. Now a hospice is somewhere you go to die. I didn’t know that, I’m from South Auckland; we knew what a hospital was but not a hospice. She basically went there to die. On the 15th of September she had the best sleep of her life. She went to sleep and I sat there and watched the ceremony for the opening games in Sydney and let me tell you it was the most inspirational moment of my life.
I watched it and thought I can be there one day. Now at the age of 15, we like to dream, we dream we want to be rich or be an Olympic medalist of whatever. On the very next morning on the 16th of September at 9 A.M. My mom took her last breath on my chest and I held her hand and she passed away. And it was the most distressing day of my life. It was expected but it didn’t make it easier. Deep down it hurt, but deep down I was grateful that she was no longer in pain.
From that very moment, I had to grow up so quickly as a child. I could’ve gone either way because there were so many influences in South Auckland. As a teenager, I didn’t have any parents left; I was basically on my own. I could’ve either A: drank alcohol, have lots of babies and live off of benefit. That probably would’ve been the easiest option. Option B, was take the God given talent that you’ve been blessed with and inspiration that your mother and the faith she had in you and do something with it. It was the best decision I could’ve made and it wasn’t easy. I look back and I can’t believe I did all that.
Now she ia the most inspirational person, as I was growing up, I’ve also learned that it’s important to have positive people. People that believe in you and trust and honest people that are there for you. As athletes, we all need to surround ourselves with positive honest people who are there to support you as an athlete and not for themselves. It’s very important, if you want to get to the top, because they say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to raise a champion to find that medal.
I kind of describe myself as a bus. Imagine there’s a bus and I’m the driver of the bus, now that anybody that is in my bus is going to bring value and inspiration to my bus. Once you start mucking around in my bus, I’m going to kick you off. And I’ve done that.
Because they should be there for you and the bus needs to get to the destination and you need to get out and perform? On the way to Rio and on the bus route during the last 18 years of my life, I’ve kicked a few people off the bus, but some of them I was able to pick them up a few stages down the road. They just had some rectifying to do. That’s how I kind of run Valerie. Valerie Adams is an athlete but Valerie Adams is also a person and the funny dude and family and love.
Q: what is the hardest thing about being an elite athlete?
A: One of the hardest things about being an elite athlete is that it’s easy to get to the top, that’s easy. But it’s hard to stay at the top, it really is. There are things like Top?? Syndrome. When you do great, everyone’s all for you, great fantastic. And one day or one competition, you’re slightly under par, in their opinion not yours, and they just crucify you. And that’s the hardest thing that people feel entitled to an opinion and with Facebook and Social media, it opens up the channels a little bit more. There are warrior trolls who sit behind a key board and slaughter you.
I’ve grown a very very thick skin and I actually don’t care what people think. For example, last week I got a message from somebody that said, “I need to change churches because I’m going to go to hell.” I was like, “Okay Jesus.”
These types of comments come all the time and that’s the hard part about it.
The positive side of being an elite athlete is that I’m here because of my journey. I’m travelling the country and New Zealand because of my journey. My biggest thing is inspiring our future generation wherever you are.
But also females. I’m a very, very strong woman physically and mentally. It’s very important to me to come out here and inspire our female sports people or just females in general, to go out and have a go at doing a sport or go out and do some physical activity, because we are just as valuable as anyone else. You are beautiful and you can do it, you really can. You just have to put your mind to it, you just have to set yourself up mentally to tell yourself every day, that personal affirmation, I can do it, I’m the best, I’m beautiful and that’s the joy of being in the position that I am. You’ve rattled off all my achievements but I’ve always said If I can inspire one child, they can be an example to their parents or anybody else around them, I can retire happy. That’s the honest truth.
Q: You represent New Zealand and won so many medals, is there a chance that you can represent your mom’s homeland (Tonga)?
A: It’s very hard to do so, with track and field, you have to have a two year stand down and you actually can’t compete for anybody, when you change nationalities. But I believe God has put me in New Zealand, not only to help my people in Tonga, but also the rest of the Pacific. I have a better presence to competing for New Zealand. To answer your question on that, it is a two year stand down and I’m too old for that. Unless you wanted to say Samoa, then the Prime Minister can work something out. I don’t think the crown prnice of Tonga will be very happy with.
Q: How many meals do you eat in a day? Also, a lot of ladies don’t like weightlifting in Samoa, what are your ways of getting ladies into weight training?
A: 6. They're not Samoan or Tongan meals, it’ not a suckling pig or something. It’s portion sizes; it’s an educational side of things. It’s knowledge and knowledge is powerful. One thing with the P.I.’s that I’ve learned is that if you show them something physically it’s easier to understand.
Strong is beautiful. It depends what you’re training for. People might look at me and go, “Oh gosh she’s a giant.” But these man arms won me two gold medals.
Question from the Prime Minister: If you ask a question of all the sports people here, of the biggest problem of the promotion of sports, you will be landed with one answer: money. Recently as I mentioned in my speech, we were presented with a new approach by Key and that was to give us, 10 million NZ, and we’re very grateful. I did ask Key, this is awfully insufficient. I’m sure you will be asked when you go back , the biggest problem you faced in encouraging sports in the Pacific Islands. You can mention that I mentioned the money. Thank you very much.
A: First of all thank you would’ve been a better response. That wasn’t a question that was a request to be a messenger to my Prime Minister in Auckland. All right, Mr. Prime Minister I’ll see if I can get a date with him so I can let him know.