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Barbra’s Story

You don’t become New Zealand’s top power-lifter without being incredibly driven. And Barbra Auva’a is certainly that.

Whether putting herself through drama classes to improve her English as a new immigrant from Samoa, or completing her university degree in drama and Pacific studies, or pushing herself in a solo sport when it was barely represented, or pushing herself to join the police force as she is now, Barbra gives everything she’s got.

Just ask the 11,000 people who follow her on Instagram and recently watched a video of Barbra at the Weightlifting Nationals giving so much to a clean and jerk that she fainted backwards and narrowly avoided serious injury—Barbra is driven to be the best she can be, which usually involves pushing herself into unfamiliar territory.

What isn’t so commonly known is where that motivation comes from.

When she sat down with us at Crave recently for an Under the Hood feature story, it took a while for the conversation to circle around to the topic of what motivates Barbra.

Who are you doing all this for? we asked. Her answer was a surprise.

‘I guess for my parents, and especially for my little sister. She is my motivation.’

Barbra then told us about the tragic family past that has shaped who she is today, and the passion to keep achieving in order to keep the memory of her parents alive, particularly in the imagination of her sister.

‘My mum passed away giving birth to my little sister,’ Barbra told us. ‘That’s why she’s my everything, why she’s that little girl that keeps popping up. She’s 11, so it’s been 11 years since my mum passed away. And after mum passed away, my dad passed away because he was sick.

‘He was the quiet one in the relationship. I really did feel for him when my mum passed away. I was more sad because I felt like he just didn’t have anyone to talk to. I saw true love. He was heartbroken. He just wasn’t himself. So I was worried about him, and three years later he got sick and passed away.’

Barbra says she was lost when her parents died. Having been brought up a Catholic (she attended Marist College in Mt Albert and describes St Lukes as her stomping ground) Barbra says she came to hate God.

‘I think with everybody that has lost someone, you go through that stage. Because I lost both parents it took me longer. If there really is a God, why did you take the only two things that really matter to me? For kids, their biggest motivation is their parents—to see them happy when you achieve something. That’s what I wanted. I want to see them there and for them to say, I’m proud of you.’

Barbra’s motivation is more than that though. It’s about filling the void in her sister’s life, and giving her something to aspire to.

‘Everybody looks at me and goes, you’ve lost your parents, that is such a sad thing. But what about my little sister? She never knew anything about my parents. So she’s had it worse. I think that I am lucky to have known them.

‘Imagine what she is going through, thinking that it’s her fault. With everything that happens we need to make sure that it’s not her fault, and that she knows she is the biggest blessing in our lives. As sad as it is, she is still the happiness that came to us.

‘With her, I always try to lead by example. I always tell her, if you have a dream, chase it. It may not be easy, but you have to keep going. With everything that I do, if I feel like failing, I see her in the corner of my eye—if I fail, she’s going to watch me and she’s going to be heartbroken.’

Barbra’s been coming to Crave since its very first days, back when she was working at Health and Sports during her uni studies. Crave is the place she comes with friends to ‘get some shit out’ as she says. To this day, she has the same group of friends from Marist College, many of whom have also lost a parent and can share the journey with her.

Like Barbra, they know what it’s like to keep the memory of a loved one alive, years after they have gone.

‘I want people to remember them. Even though they’re gone, it doesn’t mean they’re fully gone. I think I get scared that people don’t talk about them. But they will always be remembered by me, and I want to make sure that everybody remembers them. Back on the islands, I’m not known as me, I am known as their daughter. So when I go back and say I’ve achieved something, it’s my parents who have achieved it. It reflects on them. Your parents are who you are.’

That goes for Barbra and all her siblings, including two younger brothers.

‘I want to make sure that they know who we are when we go back home. I want them to talk about our parents and how amazing they were, and how amazing we are because of them.’

As for her spiritual journey, Barbra says she has made a renewed commitment to at least have a conversation with God. It might not be pretty, but she wants to keep the lines of communication open.

‘This year, I made it a goal that I will start talking to God. It doesn’t have to be a good talk. I’ll tell him how I’m feeling, and at the end of the day he would always be there. He has a plan. It might not be what I want, but he does have a plan and you just have to go down that road. He’ll have something for you at the end.’