'Tough little cookie' scores top sports award
Constable Selica Winiata, the 2013 Police Association Sportsperson of the Year, brings the same energy to her top-level rugby career as she does to her work at the criminal justice support unit in Palmerston North. Kelly Quill reports.
Being told she had been named the 2013 Police Association Sportsperson of the Year was a pleasant surprise for Selica Winiata, but she had little time to dwell on it because she was in Paris with her Black Ferns teammates preparing for the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup, held there in August.
At 155cm tall and 58 kilograms, Selica, 27, has a reputation as the “tiny speed merchant” of New Zealand women’s rugby. Her ability to break through her opponents’ defensive systems sees her diving frequently over the try line.
She has found success in both fifteens and sevens rugby as a utility back, playing domestically for the Manawatu women’s NPC and sevens teams, and internationally for the Black Ferns and the NZ women’s sevens teams.
Back in New Zealand, Selica says she’s still surprised by the win and feels honoured by the recognition. Black Ferns captain Fiao’o Faamausili (and 2011 winner of the same award) says it was a well-deserved win. “She’s an excellent athlete with a lot of energy and a big heart. She’s a tough little cookie and not afraid of the big guns.”
Selica was presented with the award by Association President Greg O’Connor at a ceremony at Central District Headquarters in Palmerston North late last month. “The sheer hard work and personal sacrifices she has made have earned her enormous respect from her colleagues and the wider community,” he said.
The Sportsperson of the Year award recognises Selica’s sporting achievements in 2013, including being vice-captain of the Manawatu women’s sevens team that won the national sevens tournament.
She was also a member of the NZ women’s sevens teams that played in Houston, Noosa and Dubai, and she was part of the New Zealand team that claimed gold at the 2013 IRB Women’s Sevens Rugby World Series.
She won the inaugural SKY Television Fans Try of the Year award for the length-of-the-field try scored in the dying minutes of the second of three tests against England. The try won the game and sealed a series win for the Black Ferns.
There’s little money to be made playing women’s rugby, even at the top levels, so having a job is essential. Selica is appreciative of the support she receives from her Police supervisors and colleagues.
Training for up to six hours each day, six days a week while working shifts was an Almost impossible target, but her supervisors, understanding how demanding representing your country can be, helped her secure a role within the criminal justice support unit. The regular office hours allow her to more easily balance her work and training schedules.
Being away for half the year with camps and tours, as she is, can also place pressure on colleagues, so she’s grateful for their continued support. “Ultimately, this support allows me to train and play the sport I love,” she says.
A natural sportswoman, Selica developed a particular interest in rugby at an early age, though she didn’t get the opportunity to play for an all-girls team until she started high school in Palmerston North. Years playing with the boys didn’t do her any harm though; at 14 she became the youngest person ever selected for the Manawatu women’s NPC team.
She has now played more than 50 games for Manawatu, clocking up another first.
Selica’s on-field successes could have been very distracting for the young schoolgirl. Fortunately, she says, she found Farah Palmer, team captain for both Manawatu and the Black Ferns, to be the perfect role model. She was a great leader who was humble with her achievements, Selica says, and impressed on the younger player the importance of thinking into her future, past her rugby career. “She told me that, as much as we love and enjoy rugby, it will not be around forever. Make sure you have something else to fall back on.”
That advice resonated a few years later when Selica was told she had been selected for the Black Ferns, with a test debut scheduled against Australia. However, it was also her first week at Police College and, she says, she found herself faced with the hardest choice of her life.
Looking back, she’s confident that telling the coach she couldn’t join the team was the best decision, giving her the opportunity to achieve in both areas. “I’ve learnt that in Police, sometimes you have to make quick decisions, which I also have to do on the field. I’ve also become more confident and decisive with what I do,” she says.
Now she is setting her sights on being part of the New Zealand women’s sevens team to play in the 2016 Rio Olympics. “It’s a long time from now until then and anything can happen. I’ll continue to perfect my core roles within my position to give the coaches fewer reasons not to pick me. No matter the outcome, I’ll be giving it my all so I have no regrets.”
Police work and rugby don’t leave a lot of time for much else, but, Selica says, no matter how busy she is, she always has time for her two nephews, Kupa, 2, and Korbyn, 10 months.
Police Association President Greg O'Connor presents Constable Selica Winiata with her award. Photo: NZ POLICE
Selica Winiata photo: GETTY IMAGES
NZ Police Sportsperson of the Year Award
The NZ Police Association has sponsored the Police Sportsperson of the Year Award since 2002. The award, overseen by Police Sport, acknowledges outstanding national sporting excellence by members of Police and has been presented for more than 40 years.
Previous nominees and recipients include: Melissa Mae Ruru – volleyballer; Fiao’o Faamausili – Black Fern; Sian Law – Commonwealth Games wrestler; Jeff McGrath – ironman/triathlete; Grainne Scott – MVP NZ lacrosse team, captain Canterbury women’s ice hockey team; Michelle Nunn – captain NZ women’s wheelchair basketball team, the Wheel Ferns; Tracey Ball – Cowboy Action Shooting champion; Shane Bond – Black Cap; Steve Westlake and Matt Goodman – Atlantic rowers; Jenny-May Coffin – Silver Fern; Murray Pierce, John Gallagher, Blair Larsen – All Blacks; Sam Stewart – Kiwi rugby league star; Roger Gray – All White; Shane Collins, Scott Anderson, Karen Smith – hockey internationals; Sarah Illingworth – cricketer; Phil Skoglund – lawn bowler; Steve Farrell – triathlete; Andrew Collins – athlete; Karen Vaughan – martial artist.