Life After Rugby with Former Manu Samoa Player and now CEO Lemalu Silao Vaisola-Sefo

 Life After Rugby - Lemalu Silao Sefo

“That’s the thing with rugby, after a game on Saturday, you reflect on Monday, about how you can improve and how you can win the following week. It’s the same thing with health. You’re constantly thinking about ways to improve something for pacific people”.


You’ve worked hard, opportunities await you with a professional career, where do you go from here?

It’s not uncommon for sportspeople to question if they’re on the right path; or how long their sporting journey will be.

We take a look at the choices some of our players have made, and where are they now?


Pacific Rugby Players speaks to Silao Lemalu, who represented Samoa in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, and is now a Chief Executive Officer at New Zealand’s largest pacific social and health provider.

Silao has had an impressive career, and now he’s doing what he’s always wanted to do.


Driven by his own personal experiences, Silao knew that he wanted to help the pacific community.

It was important for him to see that he was making a difference in their lives, and doing something impactful.


Today, he is the CEO at South Seas Healthcare which provides health and social services with a strong focus on the health and well-being of pacific people.


He says a lot of what he does now is around problem solving, and he uses skills and experiences from his rugby background to help.


“That’s the thing with rugby, after a game on Saturday, you reflect on Monday, about how you can improve and how you can win the following week. It’s the same thing with health. You’re constantly thinking about ways to improve something for pacific people”.


His rugby career has even influenced the way he manages his team.


“There’s team talks, there’s huddles, there’s half times, there’s all that rugby lingo that goes on. No ones bigger than the team. Especially in the sector that I work in, you’ve got doctors and nurses and social workers and mental health workers, you can’t work by yourself you’ve got to work in a team”.


Silao was inspired to work this way by his Manager at his previous job at a District Health Board in South Auckland.


He said he was hesitant to apply for better positions, believing he was too inexperienced. The advice given to him was to “do your rugby thing”. This changed his way of thinking and now he says everything is about rugby at work.


It hasn’t always been easy, the transition from rugby to healthcare came with challenges.


“The biggest thing is the mindset. You start questioning who you are again, am I the right person, why am I doing this? I struggled for about six months. I didn’t know I was struggling until you passed the six months. And then you think, is that what I was going through?”.


Silao first got into rugby as a student at Otago Boys High School, and at the time it felt like the logical step for him.

Teachers encouraged him in this direction, expecting that’s where he would excel.


“I came into the school, I was quite a big kid. So naturally, that is where my pathway was going to go. They actually created that pathway for me”.

So he continued to play rugby and on Thursday and Friday nights worked as a bouncer, at The Bowler, a popular Dunedin club.


In 2006 he got a phone call from the coach of the Samoan rugby team, Michael Jones.

“I just got this random phone call, I think it was a Sunday afternoon. He said, it’s Michael here, Michael Jones. He said he saw some clips and that he’s really interested and he’ll keep an eye out.”


The following year he was in France, representing his home country, at the Rugby World Cup.

Silao enjoyed his rugby career, in particular the people he met and friends he made.


“The highlight for me is probably the human aspect of it, the players. The good and the bad and the ugly, because you go through that together as human beings. The good times and when you lose, you get to experience that together”.


During his rugby career, Silao completed a Commerce degree majoring in management and a Tourism degree. His plan was to move back to Samoa and start a business as a tour operator.


However he wound up moving to Auckland and accepted a job as a community development officer at a District Health Board.


“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up working in health. My whole passion was to be working around pasifika people and health just happened to be that pathway to helping”.


Whether it is playing in the Rugby World Cup, his qualifications or all his work for the pacific community, Sialo has a lot to be proud of. So what does he consider to be his biggest accomplishment?

“I’ve got a son who is 12, seeing him grow up”.

“You go through so much for rugby, there’s disappointments and everything else and for work too. Trying to teach him whether you win or lose, disappointment is all part of it and it’s ok to go through all of those emotions. Building that and passing it on to him”.

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Article co-written: Samantha Shields & Vanessa Leota

By | 2022-03-28T15:12:52+13:00 March 28th, 2022|