In order to understand Ayana’s story, we have to take you back to the beginning.
On the 1st of December in 2015, the Director of Platform Sports, Amrit Rai, reached out to Darran on Facebook messenger with the aim of assisting his athletes through the college system. Darran Wrighton was the director of the ITF training house, an initiative set up by the International Tennis Federation, to support elite tennis recruits from the Pacific Island. Darran was extremely open to the idea of using a company to help his recruits through the college process. In 2016 we travelled to Fiji to meet Darran and his team. When we arrived, we were blown away by what we witnessed.
What it’s like at the training house
With an average temperature of about 30 degrees, this might seem bliss to most but imagine that day in day out. This is the heat that you train in for up to 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. No fridges filled with bottled water just water from the tap to cool you down. Your hardest competitor is yourself to push yourself to compete every day with the 16 members of your squad, your schoolmates, and your housemates. What’s the reward? After all, there are no ongoing ranking points tournaments on a Weekly basis; no top dog or ITA ranking points to measure your progress with.
Get up, have breakfast, go to school, finish school, change, train, pick up and fold laundry, dinner, shower, study, sleep – repeat. Your home is not hotel-style accommodation, you share a room with up to 6 people and little storage space and only a pedestal fan to keep you cool at night as air conditioning is not available. Your daily showers may be hot or mostly cold depending on whether the solar-powered system can provide hot water for everyone in the house, and on some days your shower might be pouring a litre bottle of tap water over yourself to wash due to the frequent water stoppages. On other days you may be reliant on solar lighting and candles due to electricity cuts. Yet you have a dream and that dream is to be ranked in the world in a sport that you may have learnt on the dirt or grass or faded multi-court of your home nation.
Some may have come from village communities where most of the family share the same room and sleep on the floor, or some may have come from a more affluent part of the pacific where having your own bed and modem comforts are a world away from the daily life here. But yet for about 3 weeks a year (or more if you manage to make a breakthrough) you get that chance, the chance to make your mark, make your nation and family proud and win those valuable points during an ITF Junior Circuit event. Even just gaining those first points is a major breakthrough considering how many people throughout the world are training for exactly the same desire yet most might have better facilities and competitive opportunities than you may ever have.
This is what drives the players at the ITF/OTF Pacific Training Centre and the ITF House where they live. The chance for recognition in the world of tennis and the potential once that goal is reached to possibly go to College in the USA – a far cry from the likelihood of unemployment or subsistence living that may have been their future were they to stay in their home nation.
Not all will reach the aim of college tennis or junior world rankings but the experience for them is more than just the tennis. It’s the sense of belonging, the family you make by living in such an environment, and the highs when one of you does well or the lows when the daily grind becomes too much. These are just children after all.
No parents or families to pick up after them, no social media or phones to distract them (they get 30 minutes during schooldays to use their phones) and no sweets/soda/junk food in their diet during school days. Reading this many may think – is it with it all these sacrifices and perceived hardships, but they have perceived hardships because the reality of this opportunity for these children is that they can use tennis as a vehicle to improve their career prospects later in life.
Many have gone onto US college and returned as leaders in their communities with professional jobs and some give back to their tennis communities by being board members even presidents. And this is where we introduce you to Ayana Rengiil.
In 2016 Darran Wrighton personally contracted Platform Sports to assist Ayana Rengiil through the college system. Ayana is a remarkable student-athlete. With limited technology, Darran and his team managed to video Ayana playing tennis against a local coach. Without having access to Dropbox or Google Drive, Darran drove 2 hours to deliver the video footage to us shortly before we flew back to New Zealand.
Once we secured the video footage, the networking process began. After talking with a number of coaches, Ayana decided to sign with the University of Alabama A&M. She played tennis there for 4 years, and in 2021, something crazy happened.
Amrit Rai (Platforms Founder) received a call from Ayana, and she sounded upset. Amrit quickly panicked thinking something was wrong, however, it was tears of joy. Ayana graduated with the highest GPA in her entire college class at her NCAA Division 1 school. She then was offered a Forbes Fortune 500 job offer and is now working for a company called Molex as a Rotation Engineer.
We are so proud of Ayana. She used the resources she had access to and made her college opportunity count by working incredibly hard. However, we believe you are a product of your environment, and we cannot thank Darran Wrighton enough. He put his heart into the ITF training program and made it his number one mission to make sure student-athletes were given an opportunity. Without him, none of this would have been possible.
Work hard, be grateful and remember, if you want it bad enough, you can make it happen.
Click here for a full interview on Ayana: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OihLt1Mf5I&t=4s