Weightlifter Feagaiaga Stowers was just 17 years old when she won gold at the Commonwealth Games held on Australia’s Gold Coast in April.
It was a crowning moment for perhaps Samoa’s brightest young athlete.
And Stowers’ star shines even brighter given the darkness that surrounded her upbringing. A survivor of abuse, there was a time when Stowers used to think her life didn’t mean anything.
“Not being able to be with family is the saddest thing,” she told the Samoa Observer in 2016.
“I used to be afraid of the outside world and I thought that everyone was just as evil as the people who hurt me.”
She was taken in by the S.V.S.G Campus of Hope in 2013 and the only person she felt she could trust was ‘Mama Lina’, the SVGS president Siliniu Lina Chang.
“Feagaiaga has come a long way from a shy and hopeless survivor to a champion that she is today,” Siliniu said in a statement after the Commonwealth Games.
She said Stowers was one of the girl survivors of violence that took up weightlifting as part of their rehabilitation programme in 2015 through a partnership with the Samoa Weightlifting Federation.
“Through weightlifting, she found a way to release her anger and her sense of hopelessness.”
S.W.F president and head coach Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork told the Samoa Observer after the Commonwealth Games that he saw potential in Stowers the first time he had met her.
“Feagaiga is a special young lady. I think when I say special, she’s had a bit of tough upbringing.”
He said he is happy that weightlifting has saved her and given her the right path to follow.
“We just needed to instil the discipline, the drive, the direction to guide her.”
He said she’s a quiet young lady, and rarely says a word even to her coach who she works with daily.
“Even when she’s injured, she still doesn’t say a word, so I have to find out from some of the senior girls that she’s injured.”
In an interview with Samoa Observer in 2016, Stowers said that Tuaopepe gave her hope by introducing her to weightlifting, the sport which gave her a second chance at life.
“Once I got to train with Tuaopepe and I saw how amazing it is to be noticed and appreciated by people, that really cheered me up.
“So coming in here has made me realise that what happened in past is the past but it is up to us to choose which pathway to take, it is up to us whether we dwell on the past or start a new beginning for our own self.
“He didn’t look at my background; he didn’t look at my past but he focused on how I can become somebody in the future.”
Tuaopepe said she has the same natural talent as Ele Opeloge, and is every chance to emulate the Olympic silver medallist lifter.
“So for her to reach this level at this young age, and she’s only been lifting for three years, or little bit less than three years, is fantastic.”
Stowers told the Samoa Observer after winning gold at the Commonwealth Games she never thought it could happen.
“What I have learnt from this competition is to not run away from challenges; God will always make things possible.”
She said the medal wasn’t just for her, but also her family, friends, country and teammates.
Stowers will always be grateful to Siliniu for pushing her to do something that matters in life.
The S.V.S.G president said Stowers’ success was humbling, not just for the gold medal, but because of her successful reintegration into society.
“With confidence and determination, the once shy teenage girl is now a Champion in her own right; a survivor living life to the fullest outside of the Campus of Hope.”
That former shy teenage girl is training every day for upcoming International Weightlifting Federation World Cup in China next February, before the Pacific Games is held in Samoa in July.
Her long term goal is the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where she’ll hope to match or better Ele Opeloge’s silver medal at Beijing 2008.
Given all that she’s come through in her first 18 years of life, you would have to back this member of the Samoa Observer’s People of the Year 2018 to keep on shining.
Samoa Observer By Thomas Airey , 30 December 2018