In 2016 Latter-day Saint Tiana Mangakahia may well be an Olympian. Last year she moved away from her home in Redlands to accept a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. This month she will represent her country in international play in The Netherlands.
“Being relatively short at 165cm tall has not hindered Tiana Mangakahia from reaching the dizzying heights of international basketball,” writes Judith Kerr in The Redland Times after Tiana was named Queensland Basketball Player of the Year.
“I haven’t been blessed with height,” says Tiana, “but I think I have been blessed with sporting talents. I constantly have a prayer in my heart to be able to keep going—right up to playing for Australia in the next Olympics.”
Tiana’s mother, Cynthia, says those goals take a tremendous commitment on her daughter’s part. That commitment has been tested this year as the year 12 student has had to live away from her family for the first time. “I miss them heaps,” Tiana says.
Her five older brothers are all basketballers and were probably responsible for Tiana’s becoming enamoured with the sport at age five.
Her dad, Terei, is a PE teacher, a basketball coach, and her biggest fan. If videos are made of her games, he watches them repeatedly to see if he can suggest any improvement in her play. “She may be the shortest on the team,” her parents admit, “but as point guard, she sets the team up--and she’s fast!”
Tiana’s mother says of her children, “Their success takes an endless amount of support. I spend half my life in the car transporting them to and from Church activities, and the other half watching their games“.
How is Tiana getting along on her own? “The Church members in Canberra are good to me, and I love being with them on Sundays,” she says. She attends early morning Seminary three days a week, joins in Young Women's activities when she can, and reads her scriptures at night.
“There are not many Mormon girls playing elite basketball,” she says, “so I hope I can leave my teammates with a good impression of the Church.”
The schedule at AIS is rigorous, with morning, afternoon, and evening training sessions. The top flight athlete comments on the physical stamina required: “The Word of Wisdom makes perfect sense. Staying away from drinking, smoking and drugs is critical if your body has to perform at its best, and a healthful diet fuels your body for optimal performance.”
Tiana was selected for the Australian team that played in China in May of this year. An American web site posted the following during the games:
"Tiana Mangakahia, 5'6" Point Guard - Australia The most dynamic passer in the tournament. The leader of the Aussie team was named all-tournament in Fuling and Zhongxian both with a 22 point effort against New Zealand and by leading Aussies to win over China in Fuling with 14 points, 4 assists, 4 steals. Led the Australians to 4 wins on the tour and will lead them to the World Championships in The Netherlands this summer."
Tiana’s parents were not able to go with her to China, but they will accompany her to Amsterdam. Do they have any anxieties going to watch Tiana in the international arena? Will Tiana have any? “Of course” says Cynthia, “but a prayer can help to settle the nerves.”
That approach to life seems to have taken root in Tiana, who describes the games as 'really physical.' “When I get knocked down,” she says, “I stop for a second, pray that I’m OK, and get back up.”