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Maria Tutaia: ‘why I came home’

The netballer speaks about her close-knit family.

When netball star Maria Tutaia says home is where the heart is, she’s not just trotting out an old saying – she really means it. Family is a major priority for the Silver Fern, which is why she chooses to live at home with her parents, two of her sisters, her brother-in-law and three nieces.

She may be an independent 25-year-old with a demanding sporting career and a busy social life, but she says for the time being her heart – and the rest of her – will be staying put in the family home in west Auckland.

“For all of us it is family first,” says Maria, who is the youngest of six siblings. “We are a very close-knit family and I plan on being at home for some time to come.”

Maria’s not shy about letting people know how important her family is to her. Three years ago she publicly cited them as the reason she decided to move back to Auckland from Hamilton, switching from the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic team to the Northern Mystics. She also appears on a TVNZ ad kissing a tattoo of her parents’ names on her arm and saying, “Love you, Mum and Dad.”

Maria and her mother Niukini

Maria reveals that while her appearance in the ad may be a hit with mum Niukini (56) and dad Fuisami (58), the tattoo was not. “Mum wasn’t too pleased.” Niukini says, “She came home one day and said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you – don’t be angry.’ I wasn’t happy – but what can you do? I think she had our names done because it was the only thing she could get away with.”

Maria has a particularly strong bond with her mum, and she smiles as she describes Niukini as “da bomb”.

“My mum is amazing. She is a very strong woman and a wonderful mother. Like any mother and daughter we have our ups and downs, but you can count on her for everything and anything. “She speaks her mind, my mum, and will always tell you the truth. Sometimes you don’t want to hear it but she always has such wise words. She’s always right – I don’t know how she does it. My mother does know best!”

Maria and her sisters Rosa, Viona and Loterina (known as Rina) all agree that their parents were very strict, but now they appreciate having had such strong boundaries. “We have followed the way they were with us with our own children,” says Rosa, a mum of four. “We got our values from them.”

“We were raised to put family first and look out for each other,” adds Viona. “We’re lucky to have such good role models,” says mum-of-three Rina. The sisters – who also have two brothers, Tyson and Masalosalo – say that while their parents may have been tough, they were also fun and their household has always been full of laughter.

“When I have kids I want to be the sort of mum my mum is,” says Maria. “She always taught us to believe that nothing is impossible. I think she’s done an awesome job of raising us – we’ve all turned out pretty well!”

Niukini smiles modestly when her children sing her praises but it’s clear her kids – and now her grandchildren – are the centre of her universe. They all still live either with her or nearby, apart from Masalosalo who is in Australia and whom she misses very much.

She admits she found it very difficult when Maria moved to Hamilton to play for the Magic for two seasons in 2008. “I felt like I had lost a part of my body. She came home a lot but it was so hard every time we watched her drive away again. After the second year we said, ‘Why don’t you come home and play up here?'”

Maria says although she found it hard leaving her Magic coach and team-mates, she was pleased to be back home. “Being in Hamilton was my first taste of being away from home and I didn’t really enjoy it. I liked the people I stayed with and playing for the Magic, but I just missed my family so much.”

Maria adds that people are sometimes surprised that she’s still at home with so many other family members, but she considers herself extremely fortunate to be surrounded by the people she loves. “It’s great,” she smiles. “I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”

We are family: Rosa, Rina, Maria, Niukini and Viona

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