Pregnancy & Birth

Tall Fern Tessa Boagni ‘I’d love my boys to be proud of me’

The basketball star and her rugby-pro partner are chasing their sporting dreams while raising a family

By Jo Bailey
Juggling international sporting careers with the demands of raising two young children is not for the faint-hearted. But with mutual understanding, and the support of a legion of family and friends, Tall Ferns basketball star Tessa Boagni and professional rugby player Ethan Roots are taking the challenges in their stride.
When Woman's Day visits Tessa, 27, and Ethan, 25, at their Christchurch home, the couple's adorable newborn son Benji is being doted on by his proud three-year-old brother Noah.
On a two-year contract with the Exeter Chiefs rugby team in the UK, former Crusaders and North Harbour player Ethan is back in New Zealand for a whirlwind two-week visit, between pre-season training and the start of the Premiership Rugby competition, to meet his new son and enjoy precious time together as a family of four.
The devoted parents hope big brother Noah and Benji will grow up to be besties.
Tessa rushed into Christchurch Women's Hospital at 1am on 21 July, and Benji was born less than two hours later, at 2.50am.
By 6.30am, mother and son were back in the comfort of their Merivale home. Benji's speedy arrival meant that Ethan, who was in the middle of pre-season training in the UK at the time, nearly missed the birth all together.
"It wasn't until I came off the training field I realised I had missed a text saying Tessa had gone to hospital," recalls Ethan. "I raced into one of the coach's rooms and jumped on FaceTime. Literally five or 10 minutes later, Benji popped out."
Tessa says her son's natural water birth was a "silver lining" after suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum – the severe morning sickness that famously struck the Princess of Wales – throughout both pregnancies. With Noah, Tessa also had a difficult birth that left her mostly confined to sitting or lying down for three months.
"I was violently ill with Noah until about 26 weeks and was ill again right throughout the pregnancy with Benji," she shares. "I never thought it would happen to me as I was so fit and healthy, and Mum had kept playing basketball until she was about six months pregnant. I thought I'd be exactly the same."
When we catch up with Tessa a week after Ethan's return to the UK, she is slowly getting into a routine of single-parenting their two gorgeous boys.
"Benji is a bit more grizzly than Noah was during the newborn stage but sleeps really well. Mum takes Noah to preschool four mornings a week, which is a big help."
Tessa admits it's "definitely tricky" parenting on opposite sides of the world and she's excited to be heading to the UK with the boys, hopefully early next month, to support Ethan.
Tessa hopes to get back on the court when she visits Ethan, who is playing in the UK.
Now well on the road to recovery after Benji's birth, she is also looking forward to getting the green light to start training again. "Not working out is really hard for me both physically and mentally. I
miss getting a sweat up and also the camaraderie of training with a team."
While in the UK, Tessa hopes to join a team to play in the British Basketball League and would love to get back in the Tall Ferns squad for the Olympics. She says the couple's mutual understanding of the requirements of top-level sport is the secret to successfully juggling their careers with family life.
"We encourage each other to chase our dreams and take every opportunity while we can. Ethan is a great dad and support. He understands I can't stay in the UK for 12 months of the year because
I have my own goals."
Ethan says he "really misses" Tessa and the boys when they are apart, especially knowing she is "doing all the hard yards" back home in Aotearoa.
"It's amazing how she does all that and also keeps reaching for her goals."
'I missed a text saying Tessa had gone to hospital'
Before she heads to the UK, Tessa has a couple more Tauihi national women's basketball games to commentate for Sky Sport, a role she took up when her pregnancy sidelined her from playing for Mainland Pouākai in the competition.
"Even though I was so sick during the pregnancy, I was determined to do it. I've wanted to get into sports broadcasting for some time."
To ensure she was well enough to commentate, Tessa would do absolutely nothing the day before the game, then take a double dose of the same high-strength anti-nausea medication given to chemotherapy patients.
Ethan's mum Cara (left) and Tessa's mum Jane are a big support.
She says the incredible support she gets from her mother Jane McMeeken, Ethan's mum Cara and a large group of friends dubbed "Noah's Nannies" helps her to follow her career ambitions.
"When I was commentating recently, Mum was on the sideline with Benji and three of my friends were watching Noah. I could see him being a menace from the commentary box. At one stage, he took all his clothes off! It absolutely takes a village and I'm so lucky to have them all."
A gifted athlete, Tessa debuted for the Tall Ferns in 2015, aged just 18, and has been a key member of the team ever since.
'At one stage, he took all his clothes off! '
Incredibly, in 2021, just a year after Noah's difficult pregnancy and birth, her trademark determination and grit saw her return to fitness and play a season with the Canterbury Wildcats, before heading to Jordan with the Tall Ferns for their Asia Cup campaign, with one-year-old Noah in tow. In 2022, Tessa played for Mainland Pouākai in the Tauihi competition.
Tessa comes from a famous basketball family. Her mother Jane is a former Tall Ferns captain and her father Kerry is a former US professional player who was drafted by the Utah Jazz in 1986. He was one of the first African-American players to move to New Zealand in the late 1980s and became a Kiwi NBL legend. Tessa's sister Kate was also a Tall Fern and is a Commonwealth Games silver medallist.
Pride in her family's basketball legacy, and particularly her mum's story, has fuelled Tessa's determination to get back to her best on the basketball court, alongside being a devoted mother.
"When Mum was playing for New Zealand, she had two little kids and was at law school. She went on to become one of the youngest judges in New Zealand. I'm so proud and inspired by her, and I would love my boys to feel the same way about me."
Time together is precious for the long-distance pair.
With her siblings a lot older than her, Tessa is glad Noah and Benji will have each other as they grow up. "Ethan has a brother with a similar age gap to the boys and they are so close. We joke that Noah and Benji are the Root Boys 2.0, which is really special – although I'm a bit nervous to see if they are going to be like Ethan and his brother Jimmy!"
Tessa says she and Ethan definitely want to expand their family in the future.
"We'd love to have more children, but I want to give basketball one last crack first to see how far I can go and how long I can keep playing."

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