From judoka to wellness coach

Naisiga at Nanuku

Nanuku’s Sisilia Naisiga

By Kite Pareti

Sisilia Naisiga took up judo at the age of 15 in a journey that has taken her to Japan, the Olympics and now Nanuku Resort in Pacific Harbour.

Naisiga hails from Macuata in Vanua Levu with maternal links to Naitasiri in Viti Levu. 

“When I was attending Cathedral Secondary School, I lived with my uncle who was a police officer. That time, a Japanese volunteer from JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) came and taught martial arts at the police academy in Nasese,” she recalls.

One afternoon, my uncle asked me to take a lesson. Once I entered the gym, the coach threw a uniform at me to get changed and start training.

Naisiga remembers being thrown to the ground by younger kids like “a piece of paper”. “Even though I put on full strength, they were just throwing me, and I was like, ‘This is interesting!’ 

“So the next time I went on the mat, I did not talk as I was so eager to learn everything,” she said. 

That determination to learn led Naisiga to represent Fiji in judo in multiple international competitions. 

“I went to play in Japan. My coach Mr Hasegawa, who has passed away, sent me to a competition in Tokyo for a week. The following year, I went to a competition in Fukuoka. One of my coaches had a friend in the sport and they got interested in the way I played and wanted me to join their judo club and live with them. So that’s how I spent eight years in Japan from 2000 to 2008,” she said. 

While in Japan, Naisiga competed in the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“I loved being there. I was the flag bearer in Athens and walking through that large crowded stadium, you just can’t explain that feeling. The atmosphere is incomparable to the South Pacific Games,” she said.

Years of hard work had paid off for Naisiga, although she recalls being a little star struck by some of the world’s best athletes.

“The people I competed against at the Olympics were the ones I wouldn’t normally compete against–they are really strong! And even though you train really hard, their techniques are different. Though I may be nervous at times, yet I get this urge to throw them. They’re just too good! My first opponent was from the Netherlands. She’s really tall so I had to be quick. Technique is very important because when you get close, you get thrown,” she chuckled. 

Family matters

Naisiga at the 2002 Commonwealth Games
Naisiga at the 2002 Commonwealth Games (Photo: Olympics)

As Naisiga was doing her hard yards in another part of the world, she always kept her family in mind. 

My mom and dad separated when I was four years old. I went through lots of things. But it’s amazing how God can lift us up. I didn’t take the negative side. I just wanted to strive for something good,” she said. 

Naisiga’s late mother, a domestic worker at the time, would host gunu sedes (a traditional form of fundraising) to help fund her trips overseas. “I would travel with coins in my pockets. It didn’t bother me because it was still money. When I returned, I would bring home chocolates,” she said.

The family bond continues to this day, and Naisiga says her main reward is seeing her daughter, who’s currently in Year 8, following in her footsteps. 

My daughter recently competed in the Takayawa Cup in February, and won her weight category,” she said.

Bula Nanuku

Naisiga transitioned into the tourism industry to support her daughter, joining the luxurious Nanuku Resort in Pacific Harbour in 2013. 

She started work there as a security officer. 

“I was so thankful. So, the HR asked me, ‘Do you have any experience working in the tourism industry?’ I said no, it was never on my list. All I knew was saying Bula!” 

From security officer, Naisiga moved to the spa activities team. Now she is the resort’s first wellness coach. 

“I teach the guests many sporting activities like boxing, sailing, snorkelling, and take them hiking to nearby waterfalls. Hiking and snorkelling are guest favourites,” she said. 

Naisiga loves her job and believes the resort has prospered post-Covid because of the union that exists amongst the workers. “We work like a village tribe. Even though there were few or no guests and some being laid off [during Covid], we helped maintain the whole place.” 

Whether in the dojo or outdoors, Naisiga is definitely living the best of both worlds and she hopes to see others succeed in her field. 

“We have good judokas, but they need more improvement. I really want to encourage our young competitors to always aim high,” she said.

This article first appeared in Fiji Traveller, July-September 2023.

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