After meeting for the first time at a rugby trial this year, Azalleyah Maaka and Kalyn Takitimu-Cook
Rugby brought Azalleyah Maaka (NZL) together with a cousin she never knew she had. Now, less than a year later, the two of them are united in seeking a rugby gold medal at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
Maaka, 18, took up the sport three years ago and says it has changed her life in many ways: giving her more confidence, allowing her to travel to new countries for competition, and introducing her to Kalyn Takitimu-Cook (NZL) - her cousin. “I didn’t know she was my cousin until the beginning of this year,” Maaka said. “We had a trial for this (the national team) and I met her. She told me her background, I told her my background and that’s pretty much how we met."
“Me and her just talked, like ‘I’m from there’, ‘I’m from there too’. It’s quite cool actually.”
Maaka and Takitimu-Cook’s great-grandmothers were siblings. The first thing the girls did after confirming their connection through relatives on Facebook, was introduce their parents to each other. “I met her dad and introduced my mum to her dad, and then the family was reconnected,” Maaka said. “I wouldn’t call it destiny but it’s something along those lines.”
Both cousins made the New Zealand rugby team for the Buenos Aires 2018 Games, where New Zealand are one of the women’s title contenders along with France and Canada.
A big part of the family tree, which team manager Tangi Waikari (NZL) also has turned out to be a part of, will travel to cheer them on. Waikari is related to both Maaka and Takitimu-Cook through her father’s and grandfather’s side.
”I think we’ve got the biggest family support here. We’ve got like eight from each side, so 16 in all, just for us. My dad is on the same flight as Maaka’s family,” Takitimu-Cook, 18, said.
Auckland-raised Takitimu-Cook’s heritage traces back to the little settlement of Rangitukia in the northeast of New Zealand’s North Island. That is where Maaka grew up, trying all sports but rugby as there was no club for the “around 50” inhabitants. “I did athletics, netball, swimming. Any sport with a ball I played, except for rugby,” Maaka said.
She gave rugby a chance when she started high school in the larger town of Gisborne, so she would not “feel left out”. She was nearly too shy to show up for training, but that soon changed. ”It’s made me more confident being around people and within myself. It’s been a big help.”
Buenos Aires 2018 is rugby sevens’ second appearance on the programme. The sport features six men’s teams and six women’s teams who will fight for medals beginning on Saturday 12 October at Club Atletico San Isidro (CASI) Sede La Boya in Buenos Aires.
In the men’s tournament, Argentina are looking to defeat champions France, who beat them in the final at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games. South Africa are also strong medal contenders.