The Olympian reflects on his early steps into rugby
WHILE THE parents were doing full-bore drills on the training pitch, the kids were emulating them exactly. But instead of a ball, Martin Iosefo and the other whippersnappers were using anything they could find. This was rugby 101, but with a charming island twist.
“I was born in Hawaii and lived there ’til I was four,” Iosefo tells Rugby World. “My parents are from Samoa and my father wanted to instil a Samoan culture early on, so he took my older brother (Chris) and me back to Samoa.
“I was there until around 15 or 16 and rugby is the national sport. My dad was part of his village club team, in Vaiusu, so we’d all go to training – that was the bond between the three of us, the boys of the family. My dad was passionate about it because his brothers played.
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“Just like any other islander kid, when my father (Lolesio) and the adults were training, we were mimicking what they were doing at the side. If we can’t get in on any of their training, we will just do our own drill! We’d use a slipper or a water bottle or something like that. We were playing full-on tackling; it wasn’t always my best game because I was the youngest one there and I’d often get planted by all the older boys!”
It’s universally relatable, that desire to emulate dad and the need to run the gauntlet through older siblings and pals. Family is a big part of Iosefo’s identity.
He moved back to Hawaii for high school, while his parents remained in Samoa. Having Chris with him helped, as they moved in with an aunt and uncle from his father’s side. At first though, Iosefo couldn’t find a rugby team in Hawaii, so he ended up playing soccer, basketball and American Football.
A receiver in offense and a safety in defence, he earned a scholarship at the University of Montana. It was there that he found another rugby team. Things moved fast. A coach in Montana saw his potential and connected him with the Chicago Lions team, who were part of the US’s Olympic development plan. “It’s funny,” Iosefo recalls, “at the time I was competing a lot with Perry Baker, who was in the same division.”
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Since those days in 2014, both have become fixtures on the World Sevens circuit, with Olympic medals the goal. Asked what he’d change in sevens post-pandemic, the sevens centre wants to see a greater level of competition across the States, so two teams-worth of series-standard players can become six.
“We have a national club sevens competition. That’s great but there has to be a level above that, or improvement at all tiers, so we can draw more (talent). We need pools of players and to get families into it, parents involved and growing in the whole community.
“The competition level will grow. Then players’ development. It’ll draw more interest, with businesses and new partnership.”
Iosefo sees Major League Rugby growing – perhaps US sevens can do the same? The community is key. And success at the Olympic Games would be a massive boost.
This feature appeared in Rugby World earlier in the year. Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
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