Vala Uale Ma’i is a humble champion.
You have to be when you are chosen as the Guest of Honour for anything in life and yet you end up picking up the rubbish, cutting the grass and cleaning the grounds.
For a Sports tournament, he also donned the famous green colours to lead one of the teams. But that’s Vala for you.
He really is a man who does not need an introduction to Samoan rugby followers.
But for the uninitiated, Vala is the former Captain of the world conquering Manu Samoa Sevens team. An integral part of that champion team, he won the I.R.B. Sevens Player of the year award in the 2005-2006 season.
Vala has paternal links to the villages of Vaito’omuli, Vailoa Palauli and maternal ties to Gautaivai in Savai’i.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, he said he was honoured to be the Guest of Honor at the weekend’s 30th Anniversary of the Marist Sevens.
“The main objective of the Marist Sport’s Club in hosting this event is to promote and develop high quality rugby in Samoa,” he said.
“For thirty years, it means 30 years Marist has been working tirelessly in making sure to develop rugby in Samoa.
“I am honoured and proud of the achievement the club has achieved and congratulations on the Marist Sport’s Club achieving this huge milestone.”
Vala started his rugby career in Savai’i before coming to Upolu.
“Marist Saint Joseph’s here in Upolu used to tour Savai’i to play against my school, Ulimasao College,” he said.
“So we continued that tour and programme, Marist comes over and we have to come over to Upolu over the years.”
Vala said he later moved to Upolu to find a job to support his parents.
That’s when his connections with the Marist Sports Club was born. From then until now, he is an absolute legend at Marist.
But it wasn’t always easy, Mai admitted.
“It was really hard at the start,” he said.
“Moving from Savai’i to seek a job here in Upolu, I was fortunate to play for Marist Saint Joseph’s Club.”
Like many people from the big island, moving to Upolu was an eye opening experience. More people, more cars and some things were done differently.
The one thing Mai knew was that rugby was a lot tougher in Upolu with more competition.
“It was here at Marist I picked up a lot of the skills I needed in my career,” he said. “Playing for the Marist St Joseph’s Club taught me so much about rugby.
“It was back then when it was really hard to get into the Marist team, especially when there were a few big names for Samoa Rugby also playing here at that time.
“We had guys like Semo Sititi, Aleki Toleafoa, Leamy Toleafoa, KaloloToleafoa, Muliaga Brian Lima, Tuala Sila Vaifale and many other brothers who were in the Manu Samoa squad.
“So it wasn’t easy, it was a very competitive environment which means you had to work even harder with those boys around.
“From here, I learned some hard life lessons and motivated myself to be in the level they were in. I asked myself if these brothers were able to put on the Manu Samoa jumper, why not me?
“Marist was the birth place of my rugby career and this was my gateway for overseas and international tournaments.”
Vala is now retired from international rugby and he lives and works in Wellington, New Zealand.
While coaching and sharing some of his expertise might be the natural pathway, Vala said he is taking some time out to focus on his young family.
During the weekend, Mai put on a spectacular performance leading the Marist Barbarians team in their pool games.
“I am still the same person who likes to serve the Club and Samoa,” he said.
“The club taught me so much and I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to be part of this event, not only off the field but on the field as well.”