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Tennis and the Circle of Life

“Through despair and hope, through faith and love, till we find our place on the path unwinding,” is a section of lyrics from the Disney movie the Lion King and the song The Circle Of Life. I am sure many of us can relate to these words that reflect the trials and tribulations of life, and none more so than Chris, a young Fijian father whose story revolves around tennis and what he describes as his “Circle of Life”.

Chris’s early years in life were largely influenced by his grandmother, who as an avid fan of tennis, introduced Chris to the sport. Being naturally athletic and gifted, Chris excelled at tennis and it was not long before he had the opportunity to move from Suva and take up an ITF tennis scholarship at a resident program in Lautoka. Whilst there, Chris achieved a world ranking and admits quite readily that it was not plain sailing, there was a tremendous amount of hard work and effort along the way and even possibly a couple of broken tennis racquets!! He comments “Well………maybe a few more than a couple; thankfully no one was counting and my grandmother thought it was because I was hitting the ball too hard!! My life at this time was great and I really felt that I knew where I was going. It would be off to an American College, get my degree and come back to a great job in Fiji.”

Unfortunately things didn't quite work out that way. Chris did make it to College in the States and actually took up a place a year early. He readily admits that he wasn’t the best student and going a year early, adapting to a new environment, and not applying himself fully with regards his academic studies meant that he began to fall behind. It wasn’t that long before the gap to catch up academically became insurmountable, and over time, ultimately resulted in Chris returning to Fiji.

Chris explains that “it was a really difficult time in my life, I felt frustrated, let down, embarrassed and when I came back, I pushed tennis as far away as I could. I left the sport, began to party too much, started hanging out with the wrong crowd and to be frank was not proud of the way I was behaving. Maybe that’s a little too much doom and gloom , I mean there were some truly amazing positives. I met my wife and have an incredible son, they both mean the world to me so I wouldn't change that for anything. I was however working on a construction site as a labourer which didn't command much respect , the wages weren't great and I felt like I really wasn’t going anywhere fast . My self-esteem took a bit of a hit.”

But life can be a funny thing and even when all seems lost and you have these moments of despair things can change.

Incredibly Chris had a phone call out of the blue from the President of Tennis Fiji who spoke to him about the Pacific Sports Partnerships and all the positive work that could be achieved through this support and did he want to be a part of this journey? At the time Chris was told there were no promises as the application was not successful yet, but that if he was interested he needed to get back on court and show the Tennis Fiji Executive that he was the guy to help deliver these community programs. Chris said “So that is exactly what I did, I worked on my fitness and started to play in my free time every day. At that time I still had no idea if this would eventuate but it did give me the perfect opportunity and excuse to return to tennis. Unbelievably it was less than four weeks later and I was told that the application was successful and that Australian Aid would help to fund community programs that focus on Health and Wellbeing. Incredibly two weeks after that, I was on the court with the guys from Tennis Australia, Bruce and Mitch, who were giving me formal training in community tennis programs. When I tell you now what happened to my life in this short space of time thanks to the Pacific Sports Partnerships, you will find it hard to believe.

I will try not to pinch myself whilst I am telling it. Firstly I left my construction job and started with Tennis Fiji. I completed my formal Tennis Australia community coaching course. I learnt how to drive and passed my driving test and in fact, today is the day when the Tennis Fiji car arrives that I get to use to help me facilitate the programs which I run. I was selected and represented Fiji at the Punjas Oceania Tennis Championships. This gave me the opportunity to make incredible friends from all around the Pacific including Australia. I won two bronze medals for Fiji, one in the team event and one in the men’s doubles. I met the Minister at the opening ceremony, something which my grandmother seems very proud of. However for me, and what I feel are my best and brightest achievements, are that I help to run community tennis programs all around Suva. This includes schools, settlements and villages. The support from Australian Aid allows me to work with and include the less fortunate and I have a real sense of giving back. I mean, it’s not all me, the Hot Shots Tennis with the modified gear from Tennis Australia really makes my life a lot easier when delivering these programs.

I am excited again for what the future holds. I have just received the approval to deliver this Pacific Sports Partnerships tennis program to an orphanage, and next on the list is to be able to go into special schools and give handicapped children, that are sometimes deprived of opportunity, the same chance to experience tennis. This is where we are at in only three months, imagine what we can do in three years. So this is now my life, and I am so grateful for the second chance. Tennis and the Circle of Life is my story.

If you hear me shouting “Siyo Nqoba,”on the tennis courts it’s not Fijian however it means “we are going to conquer “ and is from the same Disney movie. With the support from the Australia Government and Tennis Australia that is exactly how I feel with regards my life and that is exactly what I feel Tennis Fiji is going to do ……..actually we have begun to do it already. The tennis circle of life is now becoming a reality to more than just myself, in fact for those that it touches, it moves us all. I am excited and look forward to meeting people from all walks of life on this new and incredible journey.

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