Women's Sevens Player of the Year Tui spreads the gospel. This piece first featured in Rugby World in December.

Immediately after the final match of the Rio Olympics and a silver medal for the Black Ferns, Ruby Tui wasn’t sure whether she would continue to play.

“It was such a life-consuming goal to get there,” she tells Rugby World. “It was hard because in New Zealand there were so many women who wanted to go to the Olympics, but in order to do that they had to be professional – in order to do that they needed support.

“I made the decision to leave home and try to go higher up that mountain. I had no money, I just packed up my car and it seemed like every day was a battle, you know. I really kept with it and I’m really grateful I had that experience, but man it was cut-throat!”

Ruby Tui

Award winner (Getty Images)

The day after the medal ceremony Tui decided she would stick with sevens, to begin the process of chasing down new rugby targets. A weight lifted. And there was one thought that stuck.

During the medal ceremony, Tui felt like she might have let down those who did not make it to Rio, by finishing second. By her own admission she was “being a bit sooky (sulky) about it”. But then the woman presenting the medals told the Kiwis she had won Olympic silver twice in a row. That perspective snapped her and team-mates out of it.

Tui says that she recalibrated and having come from the very basics of the sport – she converted to sevens through the Go4Gold scheme – she looked up, saw a bright future for women’s rugby and said: “I’m in.” Things are easier.

The Black Ferns have since won the Commonwealth Games, Sevens World Cup and, not that personal accolades are what it’s all about, she’s reigning Women’s Sevens Player of the Year too.

“I’ve seen too many good people go off the deep end”

“It was such a cool experience to get over to the Rugby World Cup in Japan with my mates and it was a really cool experience to win,” Tui says of the awards night. “I’m really thankful to whoever even nominated me in the first place. That’s crazy to me. I was in a category with Sarah Hirini, Tyla Nathan-Wong, and I get to play with Kelly Brazier and Portia Woodman. I reckon I play with the best players in the world every day.

“So it was a huge honour and a privilege but it definitely wasn’t a goal of mine. My goal is to be part of the best rugby sevens team in the world – and that’s not just on-field but off-field within our community and culture as well.”

Now a commentator and passionate advocate for spreading awareness of athlete mental health issues – “I’ve seen too many good people go off the deep end and seen too much talent wasted” – Tui has gone from considering leaving sevens to hoping it and the Olympics movement can bring more people together.

She says: “Sevens has the potential to be a massive catalyst for better conversations around mental health,” adding that she will never stop talking about it. This is a very modern role model.

This piece first featured in Rugby World magazine in December.

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