Tania Dalton was one of the most fun, energetic people you’d ever hope to meet and had with an insatiable lust for life. She was also a great believer in the role sport can play in a young person’s life and the good it does for our communities and society as a whole.
In establishing the Tania Dalton Foundation following her sudden passing in 2017, Tania’s husband Duane and the organisation’s trustees have set about to make a meaningful difference in the lives of young New Zealanders and unleash their “epic potential.” The first major iniative has been supporting talented young sportswomen, who may have some hardship, with financial assistance, mentoring and personal development opportunities.
The foundation has partnered with a handful of codes to help identify potential recipients, and within rugby they have found a group of girls where ‘epic potential’ may be an understatement. In fact the TDF may be New Zealand Rugby’s next great talent scout.
You can see some of the scholarship holders play this weekend; Princess Elliott and Isla Norman-Bell carving up on the wings for Auckland, Renee Holmes running the cutter for Waikato, Tenaija Fletcher on the flank for Harbour and Amy Rule propping up Canterbury’s front row. A handful of others are also being supported by the foundation – Dhys Faleafaga, who made her Black Ferns 7s debut last season, Caterina Poletti, Mahina Paul and Rischay Lemanu are also among the 24 athletes selected in the Foundation’s first two years.
Each of these young players is still in their teens, in the formative stages of their careers and each has big aspirations. Big aspirations mean big sacrifices.
Fletcher, who made her debut in the loose forwards for North Harbour last week, has just turned 17, lives in Warkworth and goes to school at Mahurangi College. This season Harbour is training three nights a week during its Farah Palmer Cup campaign, so each afternoon Tenaija catches a bus to Silverdale, gets a lift to training at East Coast Bays, then grabs a ride back to her Aunty’s house to stay the night before catching the bus back first thing in the morning to be at school on time. It’s a logistical challenge some of us would struggle to make once, let alone week after week, and at the age of 17….and, just quietly, Tania would be thrilled at least one of the girls is playing for Harbour!
Help, support and guidance is critical in helping these young women reach their epic potential, and the foundation teams them up with a mentor to offer an independent ear. A major requirement is for the scholarship recipients to have a willingness to “pay it forward,” that this help up in reaching their rugby goals doesn’t just start and stop with them.
If these are the traits the Tania Dalton Foundation looks for in their scholarship recipients and if Tenaija Fletcher’s commitment is just one example of the dedication our new crop of FPC players are displaying, we can only be assured that the future of domestic women’s rugby, and indeed New Zealand sport, is in very good hands.