Connecting My Roots: Discovering Rugby in the Desert was a Dream Come True
By Sikeli Naivalu
Three years ago this month, I moved from Aspen, Colorado to Ivins, Utah. Although St. George is my mother’s home town, this community was very new and different to me. It was tough to leave my friends in Colorado, after living there for seven years. I wondered if there would be any kids my age in Ivins who shared my same interests. As I got to know the kids in our neighborhood, it seemed that everyone was related to each other. I met several families who had two or three generations living on the same street, which meant they had cousins to play with or grandparents’ houses to visit. I felt like an outsider for a while, until I discovered the Snow Canyon Rugby Club.
As a Fijian-American, who had also lived in Hawaii when I was younger, rugby was the first sport I was exposed to. It was the only sport that mattered, as far as I was concerned. After hearing that there was a solid local rugby program nearby, I showed up at the field behind Snow Canyon Middle School on the first day of practice in January 2015. To my dismay, however, I found out that I was too young to play on the team; I was in 5th grade then, and the teams start with 6th graders and up. But, I couldn’t stay away. Instead, I asked the coaches if they would allow me to practice with the team that season, even though I was not eligible to play in a game. Luckily for me, they agreed!
Right away, I had friends—kids with a similar passion for the very best sport in the world! I went to every practice and often watched the older, varsity kids practice as well. When 6th grade rolled around, I finally got my chance to play—and I was so ready!
Rugby is ranked as the 6th fastest growing sport in the U.S., currently. It is an international sport and was newly featured in the 2016 Olympic Summer Games. Fiji won the gold in those games, by the way, and I followed every minute of Team Fiji’s journey.
As you may know, rugby is a fast-paced competition that includes tackling, but does not include helmets and pads. It requires skills in both defense and offense because the possession can turnover in an instant, and the game rarely pauses. Rugby develops speed, strength, agility, endurance, quick thinking and rapid response time. But beyond that, there is a “culture of rugby,” that few outsiders understand. We call it, a “brotherhood.”
The culture of rugby is like a family. It’s a positive environment to be in. The coaches seek to build character as well as championship winning teams. There’s a camaraderie within rugby that extends beyond one’s own team. Rugby players share a mutual respect for one another. Often, following a game, the hosting team will provide a meal and invite the opposing team to join with them.
I love that rugby drives me to go the extra mile; I try to push myself harder during each play in a match, working to do my job on the field and encourage my teammates to do the same. I also appreciate a well-maintained “pitch,” (aka, “field”) to practice and play matches on. I like to help my coaches before and after our games to prepare the field and manage equipment.
As the oldest of 5 brothers, I am grooming my own family team. We like to play the sport together—with the typical sibling rivalry, of course.
I am excited for the upcoming season in January 2018! It’s a privilege to belong to the Snow Canyon Rugby Club, a world-renowned club that has appeared at international tournaments and is under the direction of Head Coaches Michael Puriri and Coach Jay Day. The history of this club motivates me because its reputation has been achieved by the hard work, talent and dedication of my predecessors. This is a legacy to live up to and to build upon. As an 8th grader this year, I have 5 more years of playing and growing as a part of this rugby team! I invite anyone (girls and boys interested), to come out and join us! You’ll be welcomed to the family. And, I promise, you’ll love this game!
Sikeli Naivalu, age 13 with a size 13 shoe, is a member of the Snow Canyon Rugby Club. He is homeschooled and attends Dixie Leadership Academy. He also enjoys ballroom dance, musical theater, Polynesian dancing, violin, football and basketball.