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Kristiana's secret struggle: 'All the pain was worth it'

The netballer reveals how injury and loneliness nearly robbed her of a sporting dream

By Rebekah Hebenton
When Kristiana Manu'a decided to return from Australia to represent Wellington, the city where she was born, on the netball court, she was looking forward to reconnecting with the home she left behind when she was only three months old.
Now, as she celebrates her first-ever ANZ Premiership win alongside her Central Pulse teammates, the 26-year-old says she has forged a more special connection with the city than she ever could have imagined.
"I knew we could do it," enthuses Kristiana. "There was just something about this Pulse team that really excited me. I could see us standing up there on the podium."
As she stood with the gold medal around her neck, it was a triumphant moment for the defender, whose performance played a pivotal part in clinching the convincing defeat over the Northern Stars, after she had to fight her way back to the top after a devastating injury almost ended her career.
In 2018, only two years after making her professional debut for the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic, Kristiana was sidelined after she ruptured her Achilles tendon and spent 10 months in recovery.
'I wasn't as good as I was and I was on the bench. It was a tough pill to swallow'
"I don't think anyone realises the toll a long-term injury takes on you," she tells. "Something you've been working for your whole life is stripped away from you and you just have to deal with it. I questioned whether I had the ability to come back. It was a character-defining moment for me."
Even after recovering, Kristiana was frustrated by how much her performance had been impacted after almost a year of not playing. She admits that persevering and getting back to peak performance is one of her proudest achievements.
"My first two years after I debuted, I was playing really well, but when I came back after my injury, I wasn't as good as I was and I was on the bench. It was a tough pill to swallow. I had to keep reminding myself why I love netball so much and why I'd put in all this work. Having my family's support was crucial for me to keep working."
The star didn't realise the rehab it would take to get her back in the winners' circle
Spending a lot of time on the bench is part of the reason why Kristiana returned to Aotearoa. After playing for the Sydney Giants for five years and not getting as much court time as she would have liked, she decided it was time for a change.
"I put out my feelers to all the clubs to say I wanted to come back over and have a crack in the ANZ Premiership, but the Pulse was the only team that had space.
"Looking back, I don't think I would've wanted to have been a part of any other team but the Pulse."
Not only is Wellington where she was born, but it is also where her mum Lineta, 54, grew up and discovered her love of netball, which she passed on to Kristiana and her sister Nineva, 27.
"My mum went to Wellington East Girls' College and played netball there. A little part of me is living her dream, so it's very special for us to have that bond."
Kristiana is one of four siblings and she says the whole family are very close. She admits after playing for Sydney for the past five years, where her family are, living away from her whānau has been a challenge.
"They're so supportive," tells Kristiana. "Back home, they come to pretty much every game. It was tough – it's never easy moving away from your family, so thank goodness for FaceTime and phone calls so I can stay connected with them."
Kristiana can't wait to show Chase more of Aotearoa
Luckily, her partner Chase, 24, who she met two years ago after being introduced by friends, joined her in New Zealand, which has helped ease the loneliness. And Kristiana has loved showing him the beauty of Aotearoa.
"He came over just to support me, which I love," shares Kristiana. "It's his first time here and he's really enjoying it. We've been to Queenstown and Taupō, and up to Auckland, but he's happy that the netball season is over so we can explore some more."

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