Celebrity News

Warriors star Sione Faumauina’s sweet baby surprise

The devoted dad is thrilled to be living a life that's very different to what he imagined.
Maree Wilkinson

Since his dramatic entry into the world at 4.22kg, not-so-little Leslie-John Viliamu, aka LJ, has been at the centre of former Warriors star Sione Faumuina’s life in Rotorua. “Here’s hoping he’s an athlete too,” says the doting dad, who is juggling fatherhood with speaking engagements and running a business.

He and wife Renay are also parents to daughters Ella, eight, Aiva, six, and son Kees, three, and the Match Fit star says it’s a life he thought was in “no way possible” back in his sporting heyday, when the pressures of his career caused drinking issues, relationship turmoil and mental illness.

Sione is loving life with wife Renay and kids Ella, Kees, LJ and Aiva.

Fortunately, Sione, 42, emerged from those dark times to find Renay, whom he married in 2018, but his dreams of building a big family seemed unrealistic as his wife had been told she couldn’t have children.

The couple tried for five years, before a doctor suggested flushing Renay’s fallopian tubes to clear blockages. Within days, she was pregnant.

Three kids later, Renay, 38, and Sione – who also has a 13-year-old daughter, Mahlia, from a previous relationship – had decided not to have more children when a suspected bout of COVID turned out to be a surprise pregnancy!

LJ’s arrival was a roller-coaster, with Renay put under full anaesthetic while giving birth via Caesarean four weeks early. She awoke unaware that LJ was in the special care baby unit (SCBU) due to breathing difficulties and low blood sugar.

Life with a newborn takes plenty of teamwork.

Renay recalls, “I came to and looked for baby. They’re like, ‘He’s down in SCBU,’ which was not the gender reveal I’d imagined!”

Now home and healthy, LJ – named after Renay’s grandfathers and with a middle name honouring Sione’s granddad – has his sisters arguing over who gets to hold him, while Sione has been more involved than ever and is relishing bonding with his youngest.

He’s striving to parent each of his children in a tailored way – something he was taught by his league coaches, he explains. “I’m learning to be who each of my children need me to be, because if you use

a blanket approach and treat them all the same, it’s not as effective. My youngest daughter’s hands-on and loves affection, whereas my eldest wants me to tell it like it is. Leslie’s grandmother thinks he’ll be more reserved and I’m seeing that.”

In action for the Warriors in 2004.

Sione and Renay, who run branded merchandise business Pinpoint, are instilling his Samoan culture and her Ma¯ori-Pa¯keha¯ heritage into the kids’ lives. The former athlete teaches them Samoan greetings, while they’ve spent time on their marae with Renay’s wha¯nau.

Having turned his life around following those well-publicised alcohol-fuelled scandals that shadowed his league days, Sione’s now passionate about giving fellow athletes the voice he once lacked with his recently launched sports media platform Unspoken.

“With everything I went through, there was no platform for me to share my side,” he tells. “I still get people saying, ‘You’re actually not too bad!’ They’ve had this perception from what they read 20 years ago. Unspoken comes from all those times I didn’t have a voice.”

Sione’s first guest on the platform was former Warriors teammate Manu Vatuvei, who was released from prison in May after serving almost two years for importing methamphetamine. During the powerful interview, Manu reveals he once considered suicide – something that Sione also thought about at the height of his struggles.

“I’ve never shared this publicly, but I contemplated taking my own life in 2004 and if it wasn’t for a friend coming around to check on me, I don’t know what would’ve happened,” he shares. “It wasn’t just that I was in the media for all the wrong reasons, but I had a lot of off-field stuff going on.

“At 23, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I locked myself at home and pulled all the curtains, then I heard someone knocking on all the windows. That’s when I realised, ‘Someone does care.’ We had a heart to heart, then the club connected me with a psychologist, which was eye-opening. They shed light on how the way I’d been reacting to situations could be born out of events from throughout my life.”

Still reluctant to admit he needed help, Sione quit after a few sessions, but turned a corner after he started going to church again. Quitting alcohol, building good support networks and playing his best season of league ever, he had the “best year of my life” in 2005. However, it came to an end when he failed to be Warriors Player of the Year, which was his biggest goal.

“I got up, left prizegiving and ordered three shots of tequila,” he recalls. “I was all sour grapes, thinking, ‘I gave my all. Stuff this!’ Then I got back into partying hard. Being a sookie and not getting the award made me go, ‘F*** it.’ If I had the same mindset I have now, I would’ve just gone, ‘I’ll try again.'”

Sione eventually got sober and stayed that way for seven years, but he now drinks occasionally and responsibly – just not in front of the children, who are now becoming curious about his past. After seeing him on the reality TV series Match Fit, the girls asked, “Daddy, you used to get in trouble? What for?”

“I knew that day would come eventually,” he says. “It’s about being open and honest with them. I tried to explain in a way they’d understand. No matter how much I’ve turned my life around, my past will always be attached to my name. I just want them to know the mistakes Daddy’s made and what he’s learnt from them because I wouldn’t be the man I am today had I not gone through that.”

Sione also credits Renay for making him a better man – even if their relationship has taken the backburner since LJ’s arrival.

Chuckles Renay, “He’s on one end of the house putting the younger ones to bed and I’m on the other end with baby. Our communication revolves around cooking dinner or making school lunches. It’s like a working relationship, but we know that won’t last forever.”

If you’re struggling with your mental health, please call or text 1737 at any time to speak to a trained counsellor for free. For Suicide Crisis Helpline, phone 0508 TAUTOKO. In an emergency, always dial 111.

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