Two sports twice the fun

Otago basketball and sevens player Soraya Umaga-Jensen. Photo: Gregor Richardson.
Otago basketball and sevens player Soraya Umaga-Jensen. Photo: Gregor Richardson.
There are not many athletes around busier than Soraya Umaga-Jensen.

Over the past month she has had to juggle playing for the Otago Gold Rush, a trial for the New Zealand sevens development team, playing 15-a-side rugby for Pirates and her job as a physio.

But that is nothing new for the 27-year-old.

A talented all-round athlete, Umaga-Jensen has made a habit of playing two sports at a high level.

She has been a key part of the Gold Rush for almost a decade and, since she  took up sevens in 2012, has been part of the Otago team since.

At the national level she played for a New Zealand select team against China B in basketball last year, while also having her recent sevens trial.

On top of that, she plays representative touch.

Balancing it all was a difficult act, but one she made work.

In general, the sport that was in-season got priority. However, there were times when one would get pushed aside for the other.

While she said picking one over the other might help her in her ultimate goal of making a full New Zealand team, it would not be easy to give up the others.

"It’s so hard when you don’t really get paid to do it and if you can play them all, why not? It’s so much fun," she said.

"And it gets really stale if you do one season of something then it’s like, ‘yeah I’m ready for the next one’."

Umaga-Jensen came south from Wainuiomata in 2009 to study to be a physiotherapist at the University of Otago.

She remains proud of her roots and hopes to show it was possible to achieve what you want to regardless of where you come from.

"I’m just a big believer in trying to show my small suburb, that’s very low decile ... that anything’s possible.

"You can leave the ’Nui and go and do a degree, you can leave the ’Nui and go and live in a different country and get a job. You can still do it all if you come from a low-income, low-decile area."

One who has followed in her footsteps is  younger brother Thomas. He has signed with the Highlanders and plays for University in club rugby.

Her other brother, Peter, has linked with the Hurricanes, while her uncle is former All Black captain Tana Umaga.

However, it was her cousin, Tu Umaga-Marshall, who was her inspiration to try multiple sports.

Umaga-Marshall played basketball at NBL level, sevens for New Zealand and Super Rugby.

While she thought he made the jump because rugby paid better, offering a means to support his family, her main focus had been enjoyment.

However, money is still important and while sevens now has a pathway, that is not the case in women’s basketball.

She said had it not been for funding from both Basketball Otago and the Skeggs Foundation she would not have been able to play the sport beyond club level.

"The money side of things is big. The fact that we don’t get paid to play, I don’t even care.

"The fact that we don’t have to pay to play basketball, we’re such a fortunate association.

"I know in the women’s league other associations do have to pay."

In 2012 she was invited to a "Go for Gold" sevens camp with New Zealand Rugby, in preparation for the Olympics.

She was one of many cross-code athletes who had taken up sevens since its introduction to the Olympics.

NZR had done a good job of growing the game in a fun way for girls and it was becoming a more attractive option.

"If you’ve got the natural ball skills of a touch player, the vision of a basketball player, it’s easy to want to try sevens."

She had enjoyed her involvement in the national set-ups of both sports, both having been good learning experiences.

While unsure of what the future held, she said it was  likely to be one of two things.

"If I stay [in Dunedin], I’ll just continue on with being a physio and playing sports.

"If I go, it’ll probably be to London. I just need to see the world.

"My only other option in life is to travel and see things.

"But I love sport so much that it’s so hard to leave. [Dunedin is] such a great city, too."

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