First Frames: Nathan-Wong hushes doubters with deeds, not words

Source: 1News

Deeds not words - that's the life motto for one of our top athletes who had to overcome plenty of doubt on her way to the top.

During her journey, Olympic silver medallist and rugby sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong has taken inspiration from her pioneering grandfather, her league-playing dad and touch-playing mum.

From day one, Nathan-Wong did things her way though.

“She [was] four weeks early so she probably would’ve been bigger if she lasted the time,” dad Russell said.

You'll soon realise, though, size has never stopped her.

In fact not much has because while sport is in the genes, so is defiance.

It starts with grandfather, or Gung Gung, David whose parents immigrated from China to New Zealand in the 1950s when he encountered racism.

“He was yelled abusive names as a kid,” Nathan-Wong said.

“He had stones chucked at him while he was growing up just for being who he was, just for being Chinese.

“Being my name is Nathan-Wong, I got the old name-mockery-type-thing that comes with my name and being Chinese but nowhere near anything my Gung Gung had to face.”

Tyla Nathan-Wong's grandfather - or gung gung - David collects her NZR Women's Sevens Player of the Year award in 2015.

But like every other part of her journey, Nathan-Wong was out to silence those on the wrong side of history.

“I’m just proud of who I am and what makes me, me - being Māori. Being Chinese. Being European.”

That pride also prevalent in a childhood spent loving sport while also suffering from stereotypes.

Nathan-Wong - the girl with the Jonah Lomu haircut – was told she was too small for teams and unable to handle contact.

It’s fair to say that was poor scouting.

“I had enough belief in myself to go na, you know what? I’m gonna put in that hard work,” she said.

“Whenever I got told something I couldn’t do, I was like okay watch this. I’m gonna show you I can.”

It was an attitude that paid off in a certain sport she discovered at her old haunt of Lynfield College.

“I was like sure, why not? I’m playing all these other sports. May as well give rugby a go.

“I just knew as soon as I played it though, that I loved it.”

Tyla Nathan-Wong.

It was a big call to make though, given her family’s love for rugby league which included Gung Gung playing with Kiwi Roger Bailey.

Nathan-Wong said her family didn’t give her too much stick though.

“It was actually quite funny when I first said I’m playing. They were like, are you sure?,” she laughed.

“As soon as I was like, yes, they were like, okay, cool, we support you no matter what.”

In case you're wondering - they knew they had a special talent on their hands long before that.

In fact, Gung Gung knew the earliest.

“When she was six years old and that’s not exaggerating,” he said.

“Rugby league and rugby union – it’s catch, pass and tackle. It came natural to her.”

The family did everything they could to nourish it.

“I’m grateful to my Gung Gung and my dad for spending those extra moments with me to work on my tackle technique, work on my ability to take down a bigger person in a tackle.”

And it’s paid off with the family home now a tribute to the 26-year-old's success in rugby sevens.

There are trophies, medals, photos, jerseys and a vast amount of other memorabilia.

“I’ve had to put some of them away cause there are just too many,” mum Deanne said.

As the saying goes, good things come in small packages and Nathan-Wong has spent a lifetime proving it right.

As for those who doubted her, her Gung Gung has another saying to silence them.

“I always say, ‘it’s deeds, not words.’”