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Friday, 19 April 2019 08:13 pm

Whippy chases dream long way from Fiji, Porirua, family

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BASKETBALL star Letava Whippy’s heart is split between Porirua and Fiji, but her head is at Long Island University in the US.

The Fijian international has started her fifth and final year of studies at Long Island after spending her US summer break with her son and partner in Porirua.

Whippy, 24, played four years of division one basketball at the New York, college and was named MVP in her senior year.

She has represented her country since the age of 14 where she debut at the mini South Pacific games in Palau, winning gold.

She returned to the games in Papua New Guinea in July this year where Fiji again won gold.

“Playing for Fiji is the greatest experience I believe I’ll ever have in my sporting career.

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“It’s difficult to put into words how much pride and emotion you feel when you get to represent every person and aspect of your country and culture on a national stage,” Whippy said.

She grew up in Suva, Fiji where she was coached into the sport by her parents.

“My parents were both national representatives for Fiji in the sport so my siblings and I had no choice but to be around it.

“I grew up running around basketball gyms and outdoor courts with my cousins and it wasn’t long before I was totally in love with it all.”

Her father Michael coached the Fiji women’s national basketball team before retiring in 2011.

In 2006 Whippy moved to New Zealand to attend Church College in Hamilton.

It was there where she made a name for herself.

Whippy won three consecutive national championships from 2007-2009 and was named tournament MVP each year.

During year 12 she was offered a full scholarship to play basketball at Long Island University.

“I chose LIU over the other colleges because my elder sister, Mickaelar, attended LIU and still worked and lived there.

“I thought the transition into the college setting would be easier if I was around family,” Whippy says.

Her dreams of playing college ball almost ended when she became pregnant her final year of high school.

After giving birth to her son in 2010, Whippy was determined to take up her basketball scholarship at LIU.

“I think I had a big chip on my shoulder after having my son. I never imagined myself as being a mother that young, so I felt like I had something to prove to myself and my family.

“I was now responsible for someone else’s future, and I thought completing my education was an important part of being able to provide him with a life that wasn’t limited or restricted in any way,” Whippy said.

She is completing her Masters in Athletic Training this year and hopes to work at a high school or college where she can be involved in sports.

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Letava Whippy with her family. IMAGE: Supplied

Whippy says living in a different country to her son has been the hardest part about studying abroad.

“I remember the first time I had to leave him was the worst experience of my life. After spending a year and a half of being a stay-home-mum and spending all my time with him I struggled not having him around me.

“I wish I could say it’s become easier to leave each year but it hasn’t.”

Her son lives in Porirua with his father where she visits every summer break.

“Living in Porirua is comforting to me because it reminds me of my home in a way and I know that my son loves it there.

“I like that everything is close and the town center is relatively small and you’re not overwhelmed by large buildings and crowded streets like here in New York,” Whippy says.

She hopes to continue playing basketball at the international level for as long as possible but is unsure if she will play on the professional stage after graduating.

“My family and career in athletic training comes first but if the opportunity presents itself, my family and I will seriously consider it,” Whippy says.

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