Setting the pace
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Selica Winiata’s mum didn’t really want her five-year-old daughter to play rugby. She agreed to it, though, because she was sure it would be only the one game, and that would be it.
Last month, and 27 years later, Peti and Andrew Winiata were by their daughter’s side as she was presented with the NZ Police Association’s 2018 Police Sportsperson of the Year Award, for the second time, in recognition of her national and international rugby career.
That “one game” was the start of Selica’s journey from being the only girl playing rugby at the Levin Athletic Club to becoming vice-captain of the Black Ferns, which she has combined with her career as a traffic constable in New Zealand Police.
Looking back, Selica says she’s not totally sure why it all happened the way it did, she just knows that, right from that first game, she loved the “physical-ness of it, getting muddy and the oranges at halftime! Another highlight was my Dad would give me a dollar for every try. I’m sure I was rich back in the day…”
When Selica received her award last month, she was recovering from surgery to fix a broken nose. The injury happened in December during a sevens game. “I heard it crack, but I didn’t want to stop playing. It was fine… I just couldn’t breathe that well”, and she had to wait three months to get it fixed.
Her resilience, speed and attacking counter play, combined with an obviously high pain threshold, have been hallmarks of her career as a fullback. She may be small, at 1.55 metres tall and 55 kilograms, but that’s never been an impediment.
Those attributes also come in handy on the job too. When she was working on section, she recalls, her colleagues said they didn’t need Delta (the dog squad) for a take-down, because they had her.
Selica became the first female rugby player to reach 100 first-class tries (during a Manawatu-Bay of Plenty home game), though she doesn’t remember a thing about it because just after she reached the milestone, she was knocked out cold and stretchered off with a concussion.
“I’m not a stats person anyway,” she laughs, “even though I score a lot of tries.” Her motivation lies elsewhere. “Every time I have the opportunity to put on the black jersey, it never gets old. It’s like the first time, and it’s the same when I score a try – that never gets old.”
Selica, who is of Ngati Raukawa descent, was born in Levin in 1986, the older of two sisters. The family moved to Palmerston North when she was about 10. Her mum is a nail technician and her dad is an owner-driver.
At Freyberg High School, she played a variety of sports. Unfortunately, there was no girls’ rugby team, but she fixed that problem during one lunchtime, sending a piece of paper round and asking girls to put their name down if they were interested. By the end of lunch, they had a team. By the end of the season, they had won the combined high schools’ competition.
Selica was starting to be noticed. At 14, she debuted for the Manawatu Cyclones in 2001, going on to set numerous records for the province (since then, the age entry point has been shifted to 16).
When she left high school, an American under-23 women’s rugby team happened to be touring New Zealand, playing provincial teams. Selica was asked if she would like to join them for a season in Minnesota.
She spent three months there, immersed in rugby and inter-state competitions, but when she got back to New Zealand, she needed to find a job. Policing had been on her radar, she says, but she was told she should get a bit more life experience.
“I like the outdoors, so I got into road marking. I did that for a couple of years and really liked it, but the irregular hours didn’t work too well with rugby training and games.”
A move to the Longburn meatworks, where she wrangled the large meat slicer, meant more time for sport.
Then, in 2007, she was off to Police College, but fate did try to intervene. “In the first week I was there, I was asked to join the Black Ferns!”
It was her dream opportunity, and many people urged her to grab it quick before it disappeared, but she chose to say no. “The reason was, I knew I would need a career outside of sport. I wanted to graduate and know that I was a police officer.”
Not surprisingly, the Black Ferns came calling again the following year, by which time Selica was working with Palmerston North Police and was able to say yes.
Now the vice-captain, Selica is acknowledged by NZ Rugby as a mainstay of the team, with her ability to score length-of-the-field tries and her pace from fullback and on the counter making her a feared opponent.
Last year, Sky TV made a documentary about her career and she often appears on Sky TV as a rugby commentator.
Presenting her with the Police Sportsperson of the Year Award last month, Police Association president Chris Cahill noted that Selica had reshaped the way fullbacks in women’s rugby are perceived. “Even All Black Damian McKenzie has followed her trademark style – fast, agile and counter-attacking.”
In fact, Selica and the Black Ferns have all made history as the first group of women rugby players to be offered part-time contracts.
Selica hopes the success of the Black Ferns will have a trickle-down effect leading to better resourcing and support for players at the lower levels. She’s already doing all she can to encourage young players and to engage with youth and at-risk groups, breaking down barriers between them and police.
From sports sessions at local high schools to whanau groups, Selica gives advice and shares her story. “I often think, if I could turn back time to high school what would I have wanted? I would have wanted this – skills and drills, and someone to inspire girls, and boys, to play rugby.”
Selica’s colleagues who nominated her for the NZPA award (which she previously won in 2013) say they wanted to make sure her efforts, on and off the field, didn’t go unrecognised. “She is representing New Zealand and Police. She’s a role model to others, in particular youth, all genders and all ethnicities, showing there are no barriers to competing at the highest level. She works hard and always tries to be the best she can be at what she does,” they wrote.
The needs of the next generation are obviously important to Selica and that includes within the family. Selica and her parents, who share a house in Palmerston North, are the primary caregivers for her two young nephews, Kupa, 7, and Korbyn, 5. Being able to work FEO helps her manage that responsibility as well as her training and game commitments.
It seems that Selica applies her philosophy about sport to life as well. “I tell girls and boys that it’s all about team culture. The team is only as good as the weakest player and to be successful on the field, you have to have the same attitude and ethics off the field. We take to the field as a team and that gives me confidence as an individual surrounded by my team.”
Highlights of 2018
- Nominated for NZ Rugby Women’s Player of the Year
- Captain of the Manawatu Cyclones women’s team
- Captain of the Manawatu sevens women’s team (and the first province to win back-to-back national titles)
- Vice-captain of the Black Ferns
- Nominated for Manawatu’s Sportsperson of the Year Award
- Featured in Sky TV documentary
SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY
- Involvement with: the CACTUS (Combined Adolescent Challenge Training Unit and Support) programme in Feilding and Ohakune; the Highbury Whānau Recreation Centre; and a facilitator with the Loves Me Not programme
- Guest speaker at the Mana Wahine course run by Oranga Tamariki, Police and other welfare agencies
- Delivering rugby skills to schoolchildren
- Refereeing the local fifteen/sevens module of the Sir Gordon Tietjens Sevens Tournament
- Running free boot camps
OTHER 2018 NZPA SPORTS AWARD WINNERS
Official of the Year
In 2018, Police ISG support officer Dereck McCarthy, based at PNHQ, was appointed by the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), the world governing body of cycling, to officiate at the 76 Indonesian Downhill series held in October of that year.
As president of the Commissaries Panel, Dereck had complete overall control of the international two-day event, assisted by four national commissaries appointed by the Indonesian National Federation.
Dereck has been involved in overseeing mountain bike cycling events in New Zealand and overseas for many years and his selection for the Indonesian Downhill was a measure of his standing in the cycling event community.
He has previously been the chief commissaire for many New Zealand and Australian cup rounds and the Oceania Mountain Bike Championships in Australia, and he was event secretary for the World Cup and World Championship in Australia.
He has also been a team manager for several Police cycling events, including at the Australasian Police and Emergency Services Games.
Team of the Year
NZ Police Men’s Softball
The NZ Police Men’s Softball Team have taken part in interservices tournaments held on military bases around the North Island since 2007, making inroads into the military sports area with the goal of being included as a full member and not an invitational team.
Based on their performance, winning nine titles over that time, it sounds like a “no-brainer” to us, and the team is rightly proud of its record.
Competing against teams from the Air Force, Navy, Army and the Australian Defence Force, the Police team members regularly take out “player of the game” and “player of the day” awards.
Last year, they took the top honours back from the Army, who had won in 2017, and Police players are regularly selected for tournament teams and Evergreen Combined Services Teams.
The team won the interservices competition again this year, despite being dogged with injuries and with only four players returning from the previous year.
Apart from their obvious talent on the pitch, supported by long-time captain Kelvin Roberts, the team has been creating opportunities for members to further their interest in softball in New Zealand.
Administrator of the Year
Detective Senior Sergeant Graham Perks, the district deployment coordinator in Rotorua, is not only a keen triathlete but he actively promotes the sport through the board of Triathlon New Zealand and as a member of the Rotorua Association of Triathlon and Multisport.
Graham joined the national board in 2014, was elected vice-president in 2016 and nominated as president in 2017.
CEO Claire Beard says Graham brought insight, skill and unwavering commitment to the role, much of that during a time of significant financial challenges. He was also a driving force behind a restructure of the high performance department.
In September last year, Graham represented Triathlon NZ at the International Triathlon Union Congress on the Gold Coast in Australia, which also provided an opportunity to support the Age Group and Elite athletes at the World Championship.
A highlight for Graham has been the introduction of the mixed team relay to the international triathlon schedule and Olympic Games. “Triathlon New Zealand has some excellent new talent emerging and this was evidenced by our Mixed Team Relay bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2018,” he says.
Having previously played football, Graham says he came to triathlon later in life and credits it with providing a lifestyle that has enabled him to remain fit and healthy and he enjoys “giving back” to his sport.