Young touch star helped by Tania Dalton’s legacy

A fledgling touch rugby international is one of 12 new scholarship recipients as the Tania Dalton Foundation reaches a milestone. 

Tara Turner comes from a competitive family of nine who all play touch rugby – sometimes in the same team. So there were always strong odds the fleet-footed teenager would be good at the game.

At 16, Turner is now proving just how good. The Whangarei Girls High Year 12 student has just been named in the Touch Blacks women’s team to take on Australia in Newcastle next month.

“I was pretty excited just to trial in the first place," she says. "But I was really, really happy when I found out – especially to be in a team with such amazing players." 

Turner has worn the black singlet before, for New Zealand age-group girls and mixed sides. But it’s always been a struggle – as one of seven kids – to find the money to travel and play for her country in a code that doesn’t receive a great deal of funding.

That’s about to become easier for Turner, as one of 12 young female athletes chosen in this year’s cohort of the Tania Dalton Foundation scholarship programme.

The three-year scholarship provides financial support - $5000 a year – on top of help with personal development and mentoring. 

“I feel like their support allows me to pursue anything I want to now,” Turner says. “I think it will also help me build myself to be a better person on and off the field.”

Turner is among athletes from netball, volleyball, basketball, athletics, rugby and water polo in the 2020 intake to the scholarship programme, which honours the life of the late Tania Dalton.

It’s exactly three years since the Silver Fern shooter’s untimely death, and the foundation set up by her family continues to grow. This is the first year there is a full complement of 36 scholars.

“I think Tania would have been seriously stoked and bursting with pride,” says Karen Morgans, the foundation’s scholarship manager. “She would have loved these girls and taken every one of them under her wing.”

The idea behind the scholarships is to help young women, from all kinds of circumstances and at different stages of their development, to “unlock their best selves”.

Morgans uses the career of Renee Holmes as an illustration.

Holmes, a recipient in the foundation’s first year, is now in the Black Ferns Sevens development squad, has captained a NZ development side against France, played sevens in Japan, and had a break-out season for the Waikato women in last year’s Farah Palmer Cup. Her mentor for the past three years has been Silver Ferns assistant coach, Debbie Fuller. 

“She has a great attitude, she continues to work hard on and off the field and she's sure to inspire new girls coming through,” Morgans says.

Girls like Tara Turner.

Although touch remains her No.1 sport, Tara Turner dreams of playing for the Black Ferns Sevens. Photo: supplied. 

From the age of seven, Turner was playing touch after her mum put her on the field. Her parents, Steven and Sam, both play and her three sisters and three brothers have followed them.

The whole family – including Turner’s eight-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister – teamed up to represent their marae, Te Awamaarahi, at the recent Tainui Games, and they often take the field together for their Galaxy club in Whangarei.

“It’s cool. We do the things we do in the backyard – it’s not too serious,” Turner says.

Her 17-year-old sister, Kiante Beazley, has also represented New Zealand twice. In fact, they were in the same NZ U-16 side in 2017.

Although the family live in Whangarei, Turner has spent much of her touch career on the road, travelling south to play for North Harbour and Auckland age-group sides. Last year, as a 15-year-old, she captained Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) to win the national U-21 title.

At this weekend’s touch nationals in Rotorua, she will take the field for the Counties women. It’s meant coming down to Auckland twice a week to train, and relying on help from teachers and friends to catch up on schoolwork.

A typical Kiwi kid, Turner has played a multitude of sports and has just given away netball and league. She’s starting to get serious with rugby – both 15s and sevens this season - and dreams of becoming a Black Ferns Sevens player, like Portia Woodman. But for now, her heart still belongs to touch.

Another of her sporting heroes is her cousin, Paul Turner Rau. The talented Warriors halfback last year won the Sonny Fai Medal as the club’s junior player of the year.

“I’ve played in his touch teams since I was young as. I really look up to him,” Tara says.

It’s likely she will be inspired by other young sports stars during her three-year scholarship. She will have a mentor – from either sport, business or media -- who was a friend and colleague of Dalton. And in the future, she could influence someone else.  

“The girls never leave the Tania Dalton Foundation whanau,” Morgans says. “They become alumni who will potentially be mentors to other young sporting women.”

Tania Dalton Foundation scholars 2020: Ivari Christie, netball (Morrinsville); Maama Vaipulu, volleyball (Auckland); Tara Turner, touch (Whangarei); Mile Naime, athletics (Auckland); Alana Paewai, basketball (Hamilton); Patricia Maliepo, rugby (Auckland); K’Lee Begbie, rugby (Putaruru); Khiarna Williams, netball (Whakatane); Teri MacDonald, water polo (Hamilton); Fiapalagi Lai Kong, netball (Christchurch); Parris Mason, netball (Inglewood); Kenya Watene, rugby (Kaitaia).

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