Life can change in an instant.
For Tautai Toko Tofaeono, he knows this very well.
A pilot by profession and once a promising player for both Manu Samoa and Toa Samoa, it all came unstuck quickly.
It happened when he was working for Polynesian Airlines when the aircraft crashed at Mt. Vaea.
The accident proved the end of his dreams to continue to represent his country. It also spelled the end of his career as a pilot.
Speaking to Sunday Samoan, Tofaeono said the period directly after the accident proved one of the most difficult parts of his life.
Angry and frustrated at his inability to continue doing what he loved, he fell into depression. Two years of frustrations.
“It was pretty hard,” he remembered. “It was very disappointed and frustrated. Being an active person and then all of a sudden, my lifestyle had been changed. It was really hard.
“I was here for two years after the accident and I was very depressed that I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t go back to the work force and there was nothing I could do.”
But this story has a happy ending. Tofaeono did not stay angry and frustrated forever. Instead, he decided to move to New Zealand to where he went back to University.
His studies became his therapy and it was from there he was able to get his life back on track.
“I graduated and got a job in the airline industry. That’s how I got myself back, starting slowly, getting rid of stress from the accident,” he said.
“So far, it’s pretty good, even though I‘m still struggling with some stuff, I can do it. It’s pretty good and work keeps me busy. I’m all active with outdoor and office work.”
This week, Tofaeono is back in Samoa for the celebration of Rugby League Samoa’s 30th birthday, culminating in the test match at Apia Park yesterday.
He said he is happy to meet up with some of his old teammates and friends.
He has also used the opportunity to inspire young people not to give up.
His inspiring story of determination and steel will power is set to inspire a new generation of young people.
“Train hard and be honest with yourself,” is his advice to young people.
“If you really want to achieve your goal, you have to be honest with yourself.”
During his prime, Tofaeono balanced studying as an Air Traffic Controller with pursuing his career as an international rugby star.
“I represented Samoa both in league and Manu Samoa.
“I was part of the Manu Samoa and Toa Samoa set up.”
He had to juggle the sports with his career.
“I was training in Singapore, as an air traffic controller,” he said.
“So every time I get off Uni, I get lucky to be selected for both teams.
“I finished the training after three years, I got a chance to attend the National University and study as a pilot. I did the same thing, I played rugby between them.”
Tofaeono said it was a lot of fun then.
Fast forward to today, he has found renewed sense of hope, having overcome tremendous odds to be sharing his amazing story.