Saofaiga (‘Sao’) Saemo is a classic example of the dangers of judging a book by its cover.
A beautician and owner of a beauty spa in Melbourne, Sao’s glamorous look and soft voice conceal the astonishing talent and toughness of one of Australia’s top female rugby sevens players.
In the past few years, this sportswoman has fought her way to the top of the women’s rugby union sevens competition. In fact, she recently returned from playing a key role in the Qantas Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens’ first overall victory in the International Rugby Board (IRB) World Series earlier this year. Held in Rio de Janerio, it was a career highlight for Sao.
Surprisingly, though, Sao says that victory wasn’t as a big a highlight for her as the moment nearly a year earlier when she first made the sevens team.
“I have been chasing this dream for years,” she explained to Balance when we visited the small gym in suburban Melbourne she trains at almost every day.
At the time, Sao was in her 30s and competing against many younger women for a tiny number of spots. But, like many of the inspirational people we talk to at Balance, Sao was absolutely determined not to let anything stop her from achieving her goals.
For me, it was about my dream, and when I look at my teammates or my opponents, I never see an age.”
Gaining the advantage
Sao’s dream of playing rugby for Australia has been a while coming. She started her rugby career fairly late for a professional athlete, beginning in the year 2000 when she moved from Auckland to Melbourne. Although rugby, which has struggled against hard-to-budge stereotypes, can seem like a surprising choice for a young woman, it wasn’t really unexpected given Sao’s background.
“I was born and raised in Auckland so we grew up watching a lot of rugby, watching the All Blacks,” explained Sao. “My brother has played rugby and my family played.
“Then I moved over here [to Melbourne] and Powerhouse Rugby Union, the local club which I now play for, had just started a new women’s team. So that’s how I got into it.”
And, with rugby recently being added to the list of sports for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, Sao now has her sights set on being part of our newest Olympic team. With the current women’s sevens team’s dominance on the world stage, rugby could be a real medal possibility for Australia in Rio.
A beautiful balance
Even if you’re a star like Sao, every game isn’t easy. Being a professional sportsperson in a rough sport, injury is a part Sao’s your life. Her advice to Balance readers who love playing sport is that prevention, including consistent exercise and strength training, are the keys to taking the knocks and bumps of sport, no matter what your level.
“I think it’s really important to understand your body,” she said. “It’s good to have massages and go and get treated at physio, but you need to do a lot of work yourself at home, and that has to become habit everyday.”
For most people constant workouts, rugby-filled weekends, and hard-hitting world tours would be more than enough, but rugby isn’t the only string in Sao’s bow. This tough on-field operative also balances another love in her life: beauty. When we asked how well she balances the constant training and travel demands of world-class sportsperson with running a beauty business, she surprised us with her answer
“Easy!” she said, laughing. For Sao, her beauty spa, which is in the same building as her training gym, isn’t work.
“I started to study beauty almost at the same time as I started rugby, and I love both.”
Not only does Sao enjoy treating her customers, she likes to reward herself for her on-field achievements with off-field pampering.
“I love getting treated, massaged, doing my nails – me treating me!” she said.
“I can train really hard and then completely switch off. And you need that.”
You can see Sao and her teammates in action with the Qantas Women’s Sevens Rugby team as part of the International Rugby Board competition – see wsws.irb.com for details. Or, get pampered at her beauty business, Inspire Beauty and Body, in Highett, Victoria.