Celebrity News

Queen Beatrice Faumuina’s reign is over

One of the nation's best-loved athletes has decided the time has come to retire.
Beatrice Faumuina

By her own admission, Beatrice Faumuina is not usually a sentimental person. But there are tears in her eyes and a catch in her voice as she recounts what it was like to stand on a dais with a gold medal around her neck and the New Zealand national anthem ringing in her ears.

“It’s overwhelming,” says discus thrower Beatrice, who has won two Commonwealth Games golds. “I can remember it so clearly – I can close my eyes and it’s like I’m there. You never forget moments like that.”

After representing her country for nearly two decades, Beatrice (36) – who’s one of our most successful and best-loved athletes – has decided the time has come to pack away her discus and retire.

“People have been asking me about retirement for some time, and I kept saying I wasn’t going down that path yet. But it does get to a point where you have to think of the future. There are still women throwing the discus at 40, but competing at that age isn’t on my to-do list.

“However, I did know that it would be difficult to make the decision to give up something that has given me so much excitement and been such a big part of my life.”

Beatrice was 19 when she took part in her first Commonwealth Games – in Victoria, Canada – and came home with a silver medal. She competed at four more Commonwealths, including the recent Delhi Games, and four olympics.

Highlights have included winning the World Championships in 1997 – a huge achievement, especially as her first two attempts were no-throws and it all came down to her third and final throw – and of course those two Commonwealth golds, at Kuala Lumpur and Manchester.

Emotion bubbles to the surface when she remembers the thrill of winning the coveted golds and hearing the familiar strains of God Defend New Zealand.

“I was thinking that I was there because other people allowed me to be,” she recalls. “Without the support of my mother and my coaches I couldn’t have done it. Discus may be an individual sport but I was never there alone.”

Sport has never been Beatrice’s be-all and end-all. In between training six days a week and travelling around the world to compete, she’s also studied (doing papers towards a Bachelor of Business Studies, majoring in marketing) and worked in a variety of jobs, from presenting TV show Tagata Pasifika to promoting the KickStart Breakfast healthy eating programme to children.

“It’s always been important to me to work and study as well,” says Beatrice. “I’ve needed the balance it’s given me.

I’ve found that if I just concentrate on one aspect, like training, then my studies would suffer. People have asked how I manage to do it all, but I’ve always made time.”

Beatrice has also been aware her sporting career couldn’t last forever. She realised the Delhi Commonwealth Games were likely to be her last and, when she got home, started thinking about what she’d do if she did retire.

“I thought I would finish my degree and then see what happened,” says Beatrice.

Then she got a phone call out of the blue from Best Pacific Institute of Education, which provides tertiary education for Pasifika people. Best has set up a leadership academy and charitable foundation, and asked Beatrice to be chief executive. She jumped at the offer.

“If I could have written out a description of my dream job, this would be it,” she says. “one side of it is academic, offering a diploma in leadership, and the other side is developing a mentoring programme. It’s helping to take Pasifika people to the next level, in whatever sector they’re involved in.

“It’s moving from one highly competitive arena to another, and it’s so exciting. I’m overwhelmed that they thought I was the right person for the job. I have a lot to learn, and there will be challenges, but I like that.”

Stepping outside her comfort zone has always appealed to Beatrice – that’s why she’s taken on challenges like Dancing with the Stars. Four years after being runners-up in the show, she and partner Brian Jones are still hotfooting it around dance floors, performing at events like the recent Variety Show and also teaching ballroom dancing classes.

“Who thought I’d still be dancing?” she smiles. “It just goes to show, you never know what things will lead to.”

Another thing retirement may lead to for Beatrice is the chance to one day be a wife and mother. Famously coy about her personal life, she will admit she’d love to settle down and have a family. “That’s the only side of your life you can’t predict and can’t plan. If it happens, it happens.”

In the meantime she’s relishing her new job, and as she steps away from the sport that has been such an integral part of her life, she’s grateful for everything it has given her.

“I’ve had so many opportunities; I’ve met incredible people, I’ve travelled,” she says. “As a child I was very shy but through sport I’ve developed a competitive spirit and confidence, which I’ve transferred to other areas of my life.

“It’s taught me how to deal with pressure, and I appreciate that. You really find out who you are, and that has prepared me for the next part of my life.”

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