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Family and faith support Bessie Manu on court

By Katie Riordan

Elizabeth Manu may not quite be a household name yet but she is on her way. Usually known as Bessie, this is one young woman with a huge future in New Zealand’s sporting scene.

Bessie took up netball at the age of eight, choosing the sport simply because there wasn’t much else on offer for girls. Ten years later she is a key player at goal defence for the Ballantynes Canterbury Flames, and at age 18 has already made her mark in the New Zealand under-21 squad. She shows every sign of achieving her goal of becoming a Silver Fern. “It’s a slow process. I’m chipping away at it,” she says.

Hearing ‘God Defend New Zealand’ played as she lined up on court for New Zealand’s secondary school netball side is a memory that Bessie actually shudders to retell. The atmosphere of an international game with a capacity crowd both overwhelmed and excited her.

For a woman on the path to national and international success, Bessie is refreshingly grounded. Her most memorable game, she says, was the one she played with Rangi Ruru’s A team last year to finally conquer the South Island Secondary Schools competition. It was her third and final year on the team.

Bessie credits her success both to the love and support of her family and to her Christian faith. Bessie’s father Tavake Manu had a career in the army before becoming a Methodist minister. Both careers have meant Bessie and her siblings grew up living in different parts of New Zealand.

Bessie’s talent for netball began to shine while a pupil at Christchurch’s Rangi Ruru Girl’s School, and rather than move her with the family to Gisborne when Tavake was appointed to the Methodist Church there, the difficult decision was made for her to become a boarder at the school. Bessie talks of this separation from her family as the hardest thing she has had to overcome but she also credits it for giving her the independence and mental toughness that has contributed to her success.

“My family has played the biggest part in my success, the biggest hugest part,” she says. Bessie’s gratitude and appreciation towards her parents is evident. She smiles when she says that her parents have an 0800 number to their home to ensure that their children can call home anywhere, anytime. While her netball commitments mean it is not easy for Bessie to visit her parents’ home often, they do make it to many of the Flames’ out of town games and she loves having them in the crowd.

Faith is a big part of Bessie’s life. “It keeps me on my feet”, she says. She remembers her developing faith as a child, and talks fondly of her father’s approach toward teaching Christianity. “It was never, ever forced on us. He allowed us to have our faith and come to Church on our own terms”.

Bessie holds her Christian faith as a central force in her life. Recently the Flames players implemented the routine of a prayer together before each match, with captain Vilimaina Davu or Bessie usually leading the prayer.

As well as balancing five to eight training sessions each week and her Flames games, Bessie is a full time student studying for a law degree at Canterbury University. She denies that she is super organised in balancing all her commitments, and credits her many support systems, from the Flames’ coaching and support staff to the family and friends who support her and share her faith.

A law degree will lead Bessie into criminal law or perhaps into sports contract law. She confesses that she is attracted to sports contract work partly because she would relish the chance to meet New Zealand’s sporting elite. She balks at the idea that she is becoming one of them and is stunned to hear that not only has All Black Caleb Ralph heard of Bessie Manu but that in an interview he named her as the unknown power within the Flames. “Oh my gosh! That’s pretty great”, she laughs.