We catch up again with the talented, mother of two Kayla Ahki who has been named in the Barbarian team to play against the England Red Roses Sunday 2nd June. Prominent players from all over the world sprinkled into one team. Kayla was part of the first ever Women’s Barbarian team last year. Plus Kayla and brother, Luke McAlister were the first siblings pairing for the club. She also shares with us how life has been abroad with her family.
What was it like to be apart of this Historical rugby club?
I was lucky enough to be contacted from the Women’s Barbarians team manager after they found out I had joined up with the Glaswegians Club Side in Galway, Ireland. I was nervous at the start to commit as I had only played a few 15s games. Connacht were really supportive in letting Pita miss a week to travel with Stella and I to London to support me for a few days whilst I trained with the team and the games as it’s such a famous Club. It was a huge honour and an experience I will never forget. I remember standing up in front of the squad in our first meeting and our homework was to colour in on a Worlds Map places we had played rugby, people we met through rugby etc. I remember all the ladies saying how many international 15 Caps they had and I stood up saying I have ZERO, as I have never played for the Black Ferns 15s side but they were all really supportive and I guess 7s is rugby. The game was also in SNOW which was a first for me so rather testing, I was frozen and most of the squad are from the Northern Hemisphere so they were just laughing away at me.
You now join the team for the second time round, How does that feel?
It’s been pretty special being back in this environment as the unattached, zero capped player. Such an honour being in the same room with the best players of the women’s game. Loads of experience around me, young and old so its pretty surreal. Also getting an opportunity to rub shoulders with ladies I’ve played against and have wanted to smash hahahaha! Like Nolli (Danielle Waterman) we’ve had loads of battles on the 7s field and now it’s cool to be on her side. Training with her has been epic and hopefully I’ll get to run out beside her on the field which would be awesome. Reuniting with the Black fern girls has been very special, especially one of my mentors with my rugby 7s days 2012-2015 Linda Itunu. It’s been awesome being back in the rugby environment with her and her entertaining self.
How have you found life abroad?
Connacht was a great experience. Our first time away as a little family of 3 on the other side of the world. The Irish are great people, and we were lucky enough to have the support of Bundee and Kayla Aki which was huge for us. The culture was great and Pita really enjoyed it there. I joined the local womens 15’s rugby side (Glaswegians) a way to meet new people and make lifelong friends as sport does, so I played a few games for them (my first for 15s rugby) which was a tad different to 7s haha.
Now we are in Toulouse, its pretty cool. The only hard thing about the place is the language barrier but I’ve learnt a bit of the basics now that I’ve got used to driving on the left hand side. There are a few ‘foreign boys’ in the Toulouse squad so we always have family BBQs, dinners, kids birthdays or night outs together. It’s like a family away from home which is nice and great support system. Pita has got a lot of game time in the second half of the season which has been great, seeing him back on that field.
Your father Charlie and brother Luke were professional athletes, Did you feel any pressure to follow in their foot steps?
I have never felt I have had pressure on me whatsoever throughout my life (oh apart from my Dad and Bro trying to make me train in my teenage years, which I was too cool for haha). If anything I feel privileged that my old man and brother have both been professional sportsmen, as I have been able to lean on them for advice, they listen to my whining (at times) and they also have helped me with rugby skills and the mental side of being an athlete with the pressures that come with it.
Also being married to a professional rugby player must be nice to have that someone who understand your lifestyle and vice versa?
Yes being with Pita and now married to him has had a lot of ups and a few downs (being apart in the early stages of our relationship), I guess its never easy with the amount of travel Rugby has, so the early days were tough but in saying that we both know what we are going through on the field and off the field, so he is my biggest supporter, biggest critic and vice versa.
When he was with Connacht and you were with the 7s team, Where did your daughter Stella go when mum had trainings or tournaments?
I was lucky enough to have the support of the current Black ferns 7s management team and the New Zealand Players Association which allowed me back into the environment, they allowed a support person (my Mum) to be involved, to travel with us to tournaments and camps, trainings which was huge for me. It allowed me to return back to the 7s, aren’t Mum’s amazing! But in December I had to make the decision to withdraw from the Black ferns 7s for the time being to be overseas with Pita and Stella. With being the first mother to have a child and then return back into the environment, changes had to be made contractually to the Women’s contracting model. The NZRU and Players Association worked hard on ensuring that its possible and the support is there, so with having children is not a burden and you can make it back into the environment afterwards and be supported. That was pretty special and I am happy I have helped pave the way for contracted members to be able to have a baby and return back into the environment if they wish, knowing they will be supported financially too.
What challenges do you face with being a parent and pro athlete?
I guess time management was the big learning curve and making sure I planned way ahead in advance as much as possible. It was also motivating as well, as being a parent drives you so much more as you want to make him/or her proud!
How do you find balance in your rugby and family life?
I think my rugby and family life are well balanced, it’s not always easy, but communication is the key as well as time management.
What advice can you give others who are pro athlete and parents?
Make sure you have a great support network/system around you, whether that’s family, friends or even people within your sporting environment as you cannot do it alone, you will always need help at some stage, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!