Last year, Leicester Hockey Club’s very own Oriwa Hepi made the huge decision to leave New Zealand behind to journey to the United Kingdom and play hockey in the heart of England. With her husband Sam and baby daughter Maia accompanying her, the trio commenced an incredible journey that went beyond the distance travelled from the southern hemisphere to the northern one.
Writing for our own website, Oriwa provides her personal account of her experience over the past year. In this, the second of three parts, Oriwa talks about first impressions of Leicester and getting to grips with her (and her family’s) new surroundings.
We settled in quite well.
The club had organised a small two-bedroom apartment in the centre of Leicester city. It was perfect and everything was within walking distance. Although late to the party, I indulged myself in the hockey culture and within Leicester Hockey pretty quickly. Gryphon Hockey NZ had organised for Gryphon Hockey UK to supply the goods and I came into the season in England five weeks late.
Playing for Leicester firsts seemed to have a significant amount of history to it, something that needed to be earned and also respected; once Premier League and European contenders fighting their way back into the punishing competitiveness of the top flight.
Man, was I keen to jump into this battle with them. I was around eight months post-baby at the time. I was slow, I lacked control, I lacked fitness; but the quick speed of the game played by Leicester Hockey saw me regain my fitness my control and, thankfully, my speed. I was averaging a goal a game. I am a striker, I am an import, and it is what I expected I should be doing to earn the right to wear the Leicester colours.
It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies.
I am and forever will be a family girl. At home we treat everyone close to us like family, we have family dinners and get together regularly, and I both argue at the top of my lungs with my sisters and relax over some laughs with my sisters. I chill with my parents like we are long-time friends. Family means everything to me. I realised that so profoundly after being in England for a month, half a world away. I was in a dark place, didn’t have many friends, we were new parents.
I struggled so hard to keep it together. There is a strong value that I hold; to always follow through on what I said I would do. So I was always going to finish out the season here. Mainly because I said I would, but also because I knew it would be good for me. It was the best decision I could have made, to not just pack up and leave.
Emma the Argentinian and I then became good friends, along with Heidi and her family. The Argentinian culture just reminded me of the Maori culture from home, which I miss so very much. They turned things around for my Maia, Sam and I. There were also a few young good laughs we like to keep around to keep my social life together somewhat.
Then there was the team, the Leicester girls. They were all so very lovely. So many different personalities it made training a good old hoot. Even if I was part of a few that found things funny.
I found myself in many coaching roles for the club, assisting in the academy for U10s, U12 and U14s. I coached the Leicester U12s to the nationals for the first time ever and assisted the head coach with the U12s at nationals. I assisted and ran many De Montfort University men and ladies training sessions and helped them find a winning game that they were always able to achieve. Although very different to the local style of hockey, I decided to stick to what I know well and coach a more southern hemisphere style of hockey. My thoughts were to coach what I knew and learn more from club hockey, so I can integrate the attacking and defensive styles together into my coaching once I become more competent.
And Sam? Let's say Sam did what Sam does well, found himself little jobs here and there then became the video analyst for my team.
Towards the end of the season, we were looking for a win versus Loughborough University to fight for the promotion spot into the Premier League. Unfortunately, we lost that game but had to keep our momentum up and finish the last few games on a high, and boy did we keep developing. The girls were getting sharper, more unified, more understanding about our personal role and the role of others on the field. Our last few games were nice to play. I was close to the top of the goalscoring board for our northern conference.
I was mentally pulled between thinking I could make top goalscorer. I came into the competition five games behind and I'm still in the running! Then, I thought I needed to stop this train of thought and focus on how to help the team to a win. In the end, I was third top goalscorer of our league, which I am now very happy about.
At the end of year prize giving, I was fortunate to be awarded the 'Players’ Player' award, an award I take immense pride in. As my manager pointed out ‘It's a prestigious award, you're not being judged by your coach, your being judged by all your peers’ and that sits quite nicely in my mind still today.
Check back next week, when we’ll be publishing part three of Oriwa’s story.