In 1997, Beatrice Faumuina became the first Kiwi to win a world championship track and field title and went on to win two Commonwealth Games gold medals. She is chief executive of the Best Academy for Pasifika Leadership and a new member on the board of the Spark Foundation. Faumuina is a finalist in this year’s Women of Influence Awards

1. Were you always conscious of creating a life for yourself after athletics?

I always knew that I wasn't going to sit still or idle. I grew up in a household of three generations, my late grandmother and my mum and me, where working and studying and developing your skills to the next level was normal.

I saw that all the time. My mother worked fulltime and studied in the evening to advance herself in her career.

So seeing that and being exposed to that was normal to me - making the best use of the time you have. When I could see that was normal behaviour it meant I could do it too. During my athletic career I also studied business and worked part-time. And the sole reason for that was preparing for a life after sport.

Advertisement

2. Do you feel a sense of responsibility or a need to make a difference for Pasifika people in New Zealand?
I'm not sure it's about making a difference. It's about asking yourself how you want this country to look and feel and how you want to contribute to that. That's the bigger question.

3. So you were never tempted to just rest on your discus-throwing laurels?
I never wanted my former life as an athlete to be the only factor that allowed me to just walk into another career path. I wanted it to be on my own merits and that meant to take the time to understand my purpose - who I wanted to work for, who I wanted to be with and who I wanted to be surrounded by. I'm the CEO of the Best Leadership Academy and its charitable foundation. The role, when I first started, was to develop a leadership academy that was going to allow Pasifika men and women who are in fulltime employment to pursue senior executive roles. It was a reflection, and still is very much now, of how there's a very high percentage of Pasifika men and women who are sitting in a mid-level career path [and not in more senior roles].

4. You say you've led a "blessed" life - what do you mean by that?
A blessed life to me is having a mother who absolutely wanted to do the best by their child. How I reciprocated that was to do my best at every opportunity she allowed me, because why would I want to waste that? The Pasifika story has been about the migration to New Zealand and developing the next generation by giving them the best opportunities - I'm that next generation. My late grandmother and mother were born in Samoa and migrated to New Zealand. So I'm well aware of what they did to provide for my family and what my mum still does, and this is my chance to add to the story. It think it's incredibly brave to migrate from a country that is home to another one, and when you have that as your background the world is seen in a very different light. That's where I get my inspiration from - home. People often ask me how I've found my success and I always say it's about faith, family and friends, and random acts of kindness.

5. Has there been a random act of kindness that changed your life?
Meeting my first-ever coach, the late Miriam Stanley, in October 1988. Had I not met her and had she not kindly agreed to be my coach I possibly would never have pursued track and field. I was in my first year at Lynfield College and I represented Auckland in track and field, softball and netball - my aspiration was to be a Silver Fern. Had I not met Miriam, things would have been very, very different for me.

6. Do you enjoy the public side of your life?
When my mother and I are out and about, even with friends, people will go, "Hi Beatrice, how are you?" and I might not know who they are, but I will say hello and acknowledge them. I'm not that "siloed" in my thinking to ignore them because the community has given me support over the years so that's my way of acknowledging that and giving back. I haven't been in a scenario where my profile is so big that I have to hide myself and I know there are some people who have to do that. But I'm well aware people recognise me and it's really lovely when you get that acknowledgment. When I was competing I had no idea, no sense of what it was like back home. It wasn't until I would come home, and get off the plane at the airport, and then when you're out and about with your family, that's when you get an idea of "wow, that was the level of impact". That part I've really liked - getting to know New Zealand. It's never been a burden.

7. How do you feel about your nickname Queen Bea?
It's stuck! I didn't know anything about it until I came home days after winning New Zealand's first world title. It's really endearing to have even been given that name. I was always real with the public - with me, what you see is what you get.

8. How would you describe the moment where you have felt most proud of yourself?
Proud is not a word I would use. You'd be more likely to hear me say grateful for the many opportunities life has given me thus far. I've always been absolutely grateful for those who have been there for me, who have actually made it happen, my support team. Will I ever be proud? No - I'll always be grateful, always be thankful. Being humble is part of my DNA. I've seen examples of people who aren't and I would never want to be in that position myself.

9. Do you still have a strong Christian faith?
Yes, absolutely. It's normality; it's what I grew up with ... Protestant Presbyterian. I'm a deacon at church and I serve on the board.

10. Have you got over the disappointment of not making the final at your last Olympics in Beijing?
I can live with disappointment. I define it as when I've exhausted every single resource towards a goal and even then the result isn't what I wanted. I will take that and use it as a way to improve and I live through it. That's the difference with advancing and not.

There were a lot of things we did to change my overall technique to improve and I think if I'd [gone on] to London in 2012 you would have seen it. But then I was given the opportunity at Best and I couldn't turn it down.

11. You once came second on Dancing with the Stars - do you still dance?
Yes! I loved being on Dancing with the Stars. I'm still very close, dear friends with Brian Jones, who was my dance partner and since the show we've done community ballroom and Latin dancing classes. I was always fascinated with dancing.

12. When are you happiest?
When I'm with my family and friends and we're sharing a meal. My mum's philosophy is that a family who eats together, stays together.