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Dee Bolakoro: “I can still do more and there’s nothing impossible in life”

Bethan Goodwin of Strathclyde Sirens during the Vitality Super League match between Strathclyde Sirens and Serven Stars at Studio 001, Wakefield, England on 13th January 2021.

When it comes to International Women’s Day inspiration, LCpl Dee Bolakoro is right up there.

Aged 35, the Fiji international balances representing Severn Stars in the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) with her career in the Army. Not only that, she is also a single mother.

Bolakoro took on the first part of this balancing act when she moved to the United Kingdom from her native Fiji in 2008.

With family involved, Bolakoro had an ambition to join the British Army and to see more of the world in the process.

“I came to the UK in 2008 to join the Army and to see the world. I had cousins and brothers that were already in the British Army. I’m the second youngest in the family and it was the first time I left my family. It was a  very big decision for me.”

As a engineer, Bolakoro has risen through the ranks to become a respected Corporal in the organisation. In doing so, she is helping set a precedent for women and those who join the Army from abroad.

“I’m very proud to have that title because I’ve been wanting that for many years now.”

“The highest rank there’s been for a Fijian female has been in a war room officer, so there’s a couple that have done better and I’m just following in their footsteps.

They motivate me that I can still go on because when I started off I thought that was just going to be a Private during my army career. Seeing them get promoted every year, I’m like ‘yes, I can still do more and there’s nothing impossible in life’.”

When she first arrived in the UK, Bolakoro had no real intentions of playing netball at a high level. In fact, she was originally a volleyball player. However, her spell in the Army led her towards the VNSL thanks to coaching icon Maggie Jackson.

“When I came over to the UK, I played netball for fun and then, because I’m in the Army, I heard Maggie Jackson was the coach for the Army Netball team. So, I decided to give it a go for Army Netball and from there I realised I’m good in netball.

“I got scouted from a tournament from where Tania Hoffman was watching and straight after the tournament, she approached me and she asked me if I wanted to come and do a trial for Surrey Storm.

“Back then I didn’t even know the Superleague was something that the UK had, I was just used to watching Silver Ferns and Australia.”

Her time in the Army, though had made her adept at the sport she now players at the highest level, featuring for Fiji at the Vitality Netball World Cup 2019.

The former Celtic Dragons player feels she has learned a lot of skills that has made her transition in the netball world seamless.

“It starts with the discipline. With the army, everything you do you need to be five minutes early, everything has to be five minutes ahead. So, being an athlete at this level, I put that on netball as well, trying to early to training and making sure everything is a step ahead rather than being late.”

Balancing elite netball and a successful Army career has come with its challenges, but Bolakoro points to the support of Severn Stars and her employer in helping manage the two.

“Sometimes it’s tough, trying to do work and thinking of netball the same time but I think I’ve managed it well so far, not only with work but with my family as well and people around me.

“The army has given me all the support to go to training, they’ve given me the time, especially in my workplace from my chain of command. From Severn Stars, the Head Coach is very understanding of my work.

“With their understanding of work and from work understanding netball, I think they’re kind of making sure it works both ways for me personally because sometimes if I get called to work and it doesn’t work with my training programme, they really try their best to sort it out and it’s vice versa with the head coach as well. So far, I’d say it’s been great.”

Bolakoro also balances these two aspects of her life with a third; motherhood. The defender is keen to show her what is possible to achieve as a woman in and out of sport.

With all VNSL games being shown live on Sky Sports this season, her daughter has the opportunity to watch her mother succeed from home this year.

As someone who juggles three important parts of life – netball, career, family – Bolakoro is a role model for future generations like her daughter.

“Being a single mum it’s hard, I would definitely say it’s hard. I’m quite glad, my daughter she’s ten now, she understands when I’m away most of the time. She is the one that motivates me as well and I just want to be a role model to my little girl.

“She misses watching me live as part of the crowd but she watches all my games and straight after every match, she gives me feedback. She does the performance analysis. After the first game she gave me feedback and I showed it to the players as well, they were touched by it. She’s the one that motivates me in my games.”

“She plays netball, she’s been training as well, she even was training today practicing her shooting.”

On the subject of International Women’s Day, Bolakoro’s advice is that if you put in the hard work, success will come.

“I always tell my daughter, advice from my mum to my daughter, is that always put in the work first and always work hard and be relentless. And never give up, no matter the bumps in the life because the bumps are what makes you.

“For me, I always challenge myself everyday and the things that make it easy for me, I know that with God I would say nothing is impossible. And putting God first it just makes it easy for me because it helps me put the right choices in, the right decisions.

She is proud to be a role model to younger women in the Fijian community in the UK.

“I’ve always been tutoring the young ones, I mean they watch the game and they message saying ‘oh I want to be like that and be a netball player and reach that level’ and me telling them that nothing is impossible.”

“Whatever they want to achieve, they can reach their dreams, so if I can at the age of 35 going on 36 then definitely they can as well. I would say age is just a number but if there’s a will, you will achieve want you want in life.”

International Women’s Day takes place on 8 March 2021 with the campaign theme of #ChooseToChallenge. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

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