Started slow, finishing hard
Many athletes have the same thing to say about how and when they found love for their sport.
Majority say that the love for their sport came to them when they were very young and they have never given up on it ever since.
But for Jeff Lepa who hails from the villages of Lefagaoalii and Vailoa Faleata, he only fell in love with rugby when he turned 15.
Being brought up in New Zealand where rugby is perfection, the influence reached the big Samoan lock slowly but sure enough, he quickly made a rugby name for himself.
Jeff’s height edged him towards basketball and volleyball in the early years of his life.
“I was actually not into rugby until I was 15,” he told Samoa Observer.
“I was more into basketball and volleyball but then I picked up the love of rugby then I started playing college first fifteens rugby.
“I then picked up a scholarship with Christchurch boys high, after that I joined divisional rugby.
“I then managed to grab myself a semi-pro contract in Scotland with Falkirk, and then returned to join the Canterbury B team; after that I ended up playing up in Nelson.
“The thing is; out of all the teams that I have been with, my highlight would be playing here for the Manu Samoa at the international level of rugby.
“This is the pinnacle of my rugby career; I am actually really proud to be able to represent my country.”
With rugby being a major sport in N.Z., it’s shocking that the love of rugby didn’t reach Jeff sooner.
“In New Zealand rugby is so massive,” he said.
“No other sport comes close to how big rugby is over there; not only did my surroundings influence me to love rugby but when I started I knew that I could make something out of this sport.
“Knowing that I will end up somewhere with rugby, it made me love it and pursue it with all of my heart.”
According to Jeff, his favorite part of rugby is the friends you make; to him there is nothing stronger than the bonds created with teammates.
“The friendships you make through the sport is unreal,” he said.
“You meet amazing people and you make lifelong friendships; you just become one with people that you meet in certain different teams.
“When I change teams I will never forget the boys I played side by side in the past; you create bonds that will last forever.
“That has made a massive impact in my life.”
Jeff continued to speak on how important his family’s supportive role was during his rugby career.
“Mom and Dad are my number one supporters throughout my whole life,” he said.
“My dad was a typical Samoan dad, he was both my biggest supporter as well as my side coach; if I had a bad game then he would let me know bluntly, and he would also give me a really big hug if I do well.
“He would sit me down with a few drinks and go over the game.
“My dad inspires me so much; just how much of a hard worker he is; he has been the main provider for the family throughout all these years especially when we moved to New Zealand from Samoa.
“He has sacrificed so much for his family; I am who I am today because of him.
“Rugby was his favorite sport as well because back in the days he used to play for Lefagaoalii; so all his stories kind of inspired me to pick up that rugby ball.
“The support my parents have shown me is just massive and it means the world to me.”
Aside from rugby, Jeff also values education.
“A message for the young people of Samoa would be to stay in school,” he said.
“School is important even if you’re passionate for rugby; school will give you something to fall back on.
“You have the game of your life one week and you think you’re worth a million dollars then the next week you break your leg and you have nothing to fall back on.
“I reckon education is more important than sport, but if you have a love for the game then great, pursue it, but first and foremost make sure your brain is full.”
Jeff concluded with an expression of gratitude towards Samoa for all the rallying behind him and the boys.
“Thank you for your support Samoa,” he said.
“I hope that in the coming years the support will still be strong; no matter what the team goes through I just hope and pray that you will be behind us through thick and thin.
“We will always do our best to make you all proud.”