Olympic Sevens women’s player Tyla Nathan-Wong’s first rugby game was in a tournament at Blockhouse Bay Primary School. She remembers being the only girl on the team and playing in bare feet.
It was a humble beginning that thousands of youngsters could relate to. Now at just 22 years old, she has got the reward of an Olympic medal as part of the “Sevens Sisters” for the years she has dedicated to intensive training.
At the Olympics the team was gutted that they could not bring home gold, but now, looking back, Tyla says she realises what an incredible achievement they accomplished. “We went out and emptied the tank, and gave it everything we’ve got, but we just couldn’t get it across the line.” Since then, the fantastic support of friends, family and people across New Zealand has helped her to get a better perspective and realise that they have done well.
It all started here in Blockhouse Bay for Tyla. She fondly remembers her teacher Mrs Barrett at primary school. They are still in touch as Tyla’s mum is a hairdresser and does Mrs Barrett’s hair, as well as her daughter’s.
During her primary years Tyla met her first All Black, Jona Lomu. We asked her about her memories of the Bay. Tyla says she had a lot of cousins living in the area at the time and they used to hang out around the shops. Her favourite place was Bay Fisheries for fish and chips. The shop probably hasn’t changed a bit!
Sports continued to grow as an interest through her time at BHB Intermediate so that when she arrived at Lynfield College in Year 9 she says “I did something like 10 sports. It was crazy!”
At Lynfield Tyla really got back into rugby, encouraged by ex-Black Fern Vania Wolfgramm (nee Lavea) who was sports co-ordinator at Lynfield College at the time. Wolfgramm was later named as NZ Women’s Sevens Coach in 2012 with an eye to Rio. Wolfgramm said at the time “girls need to play for something – there needs to be an incentive.”
It was during her time at Lynfield, Tyla first got into club rugby. She credits her Dad and Grandfather as the biggest influences on her rugby – “they taught me the basics of ball handling and tackle lessons. They were the driving force.”
The team won the first three World Sevens series in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but Australia was coming up fast, and were picked to win Rio. Women’s Sevens entered the Olympics almost by default because gender equality meant that Sevens would only be part of the Olympics if women’s teams were included. All we can say is thankfully they were, because the men’s team left many feeling that NZRU wasn’t taking Sevens seriously.
Now with the success of the women, suddenly there is a global opportunity for female athletes in NZ to aspire to – something that the Rugby Union is leveraging with a national tour of “seven cities” – including Ruatoki.
NZ Rugby Head of Women’s Rugby Cate Sexton said the organisation was incredibly proud of what the team has achieved in Rio – both on and off the field. “Many Kiwis have never seen the team play before and the public’s been blown away by the players’ skill and heart” she said.
Women’s rugby is the fastest growing part of the NZRU. Sexton says “these women are role models for young girls. The players are keen to give back and help grow the game for girls.”
Tyla notes that women’s rugby has enjoyed tremendous growth since the Sevens were included in the Olympics in 2010. She says she is glad to have showcased the game. “It’s great to inspire the next generation and to create a legacy.”
From a barefoot kid at Blockhouse Bay Primary School to Olympic medallist – thank you Tyla for being part of our lives.