Tumua Anae was born in Hawaii and grew up in Newport Beach. She started her career playing high school water polo at Corona del Mar with me. I went on to be a washed up athlete, while Tumua won multiple national championships as USC’s goalie. She ended her career with the most saves in school history. Tumua joined the U.S. National Team in 2010, and was later selected to play in the 2012 London Olympics where she and her teammates won the gold medal. Tumua recently married Futi Tavana, former BYU volleyball standout and current member of the U.S.A. Volleyball Team. And yes, their kids will definitely be able to beat up your kids.
LJ: Can you tell me about the transition from being a collegiate athlete to a professional?
TT: After my senior season at USC, I was invited to play with the United States women’s national team. That’s when I committed to pursuing water polo professionally. I think that the decision to continue to pursue athletics is a tricky one. To many, it seems like an easy decision, but there are definitely things I wasn’t completely sure about. It came down to my love for sport. I wanted to become the best athlete that I could possibly be. I wanted to explore the potential to be great and I wanted to fulfill my childhood dream of representing my country.
LJ: What was it like being a Mormon in the Olympic Village?
TT: This is a funny question. People always ask if the village as crazy as people say it is. It was just like the dorms for professional athletes. Most teams stayed together; everyone in my suite was on my team, and the floor was all water polo players. All the United States athletes stayed in two buildings. Everyone ate in a cafeteria that was pretty normal…only I was eating with Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, which was awesome! One of the coolest experiences in the village was the night before opening ceremonies. We were sitting as a team in the dining hall eating dinner, and there was a big commotion. The USA Men’s Basketball team came in and everyone was trying to get a picture with them. We had just met them in Vegas the week before at a closed practice, so they recognized us and wanted to come eat with the water polo girls! Having dinner with Kobe was the best date I’ve ever been on…sorry Futi.
I guess the answer is that being Mormon in the village wasn’t really weird at all. There are a lot of very religious, faith-based athletes. In all of my traveling, I think I’ve been blessed to witness so many different forms of faith in so many different countries. While it was hard to attend church while competing, I feel that my testimony of the gospel has been increased through my Olympic team experiences. I don’t think my testimony had been as self-regulated as it was during that busy time, but I know my prayers from the village and all the places that we traveled to were answered.
LJ: How did the obvious physical and emotional challenges you went through affect your relationship with God?
TT: Our coach always reminded us when things got tough that we were trying to be the best in the world. In order to do that, we needed to be better at every aspect of our game – we had to be mentally, physically, and emotionally sharp both individually and collectively.
For me to be at my best, I needed the help of my Heavenly Father. The stakes are high when you are competing at that level. It’s sometimes hard to see the big picture. But for me, the gospel was that perspective. It kept the important things the important things.
This rang true for me when I had to get shoulder surgery in October 2010, 3 months before full-time Olympic training. Right after, I could barely swim a lap. It was incredibly discouraging, but I know it also strengthened my relationship with God. I prayed and fasted about my Olympic venture…and when you have God backing you up, you don’t give in. A seemingly physical task of recovery and training was very much a matter of strengthening my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
Throughout all the training and practice, I also saw how blessed I was – particularly that I couldn’t have done any of this without the blessing of such a wonderful family. Heavenly Father knows us personally, and one of the ways I know is because of the people he surrounded me with. Two people that really impacted me through all of this were my cousin Meghan Porter and my Aunt Valerie Anae. They both passed away after fighting cancer right when I was leaving for London. I can’t say that I would have been there without them. Meghan had organized a family reunion around my Olympic schedule, even when we weren’t sure if I had made the team. She never lost faith in me. Aunty Val was my second mom; she taught me the value of hard work and was the epitome of a competitor. It’s because of the faith that my family had in me that I was able to stand on that podium. I couldn’t be more thankful to my Heavenly Father for choosing to surround me with people who love me unconditionally.
I’d say pursuing a worthy goal with the knowledge that your Heavenly Father supports you in it, and doing it with a perspective of keeping the important things important, is what made my experience so worthwhile.
LJ: Was there anything about life as a professional athlete that surprised you?
TT: I think more than surprise, there were a lot of things that I had to adjust and adapt to. First, the term “professional” makes you automatically think of Kobe, Lebron and big-name athletes. Those athletes love what they do, and get paychecks that are worth loving. For most Olympic sports, the paycheck is not so lovable. I was certainly not expecting to make millions playing water polo, but I realized I had to really play for the love of the game. Yes, we are paid and able to sustain somewhat of a living in California, and for that I am grateful. But when you are putting your heart and soul into something you’re passionate about for 4 years (and for some girls on my team, it had been 16 years), you learn that it’s not as awesome as it looks at the Olympics. The reality of my gold medal is that I lived at home, trained all day and had little time or energy for anything else.
But on the flip-side, you realize what your body is capable of doing. It was amazing! I’ve never trained as hard or as frequently as I did in preparation for the Olympics. In high school and college I trained hard, but I had outlets like class and other things that took up the rest of my day. When water polo was my only focus, it was amazing to me how far I could push my body. It became a 24/7 process of killing my body and then recovering. I was surprised at my physical, mental and emotional tolerance and I’m proud of the work that we did as a team.
LJ: What’s next for the future Tavana family?
Well, Futi and I got married in Salt Lake in May. Futi is playing with the U.S. National Volleyball team during the summer, and we will see where that takes us in the fall.
It’s been an interesting transition out of sports, only to be brought right back in through Futi. I was able to visit him in France last Thanksgiving and I was reminded of the commitment that level of competition requires. I’m excited to support him through this Olympic dream and excited to see the journey through a new perspective. But, he’s got to bring home a gold medal or I’d be a bit unimpressed (I’m kidding…kind of).
LJ: What if your kids can’t swim or play volleyball? Haha JK, but seriously…
TT: Futi and I laugh about this all the time. I think our future kids may suffer from a case of over-breeding. But in all honesty, we are active people and we would love to share those hobbies with our children. I think the bigger issue is USC or BYU, but we have some time till we have to pitch our alma maters to our kids…and you better believe I’ll shamelessly flash my national championship ring around that time so they get the hint.