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Evania’s gold medal sparks school pride

Evania’s gold medal sparks school pride
"It’s just great when kids have a dream and follow through with it."

The former Catholic school students who represented Australia at the Rio Olympics will have memories to last a lifetime – and some will have medals to remind them.

They include Evania “Vani” Pelite – the former St Columban’s College flyer who crossed for a try in Australia’s women’s rugby victory over New Zealand in the gold medal game.

And her former teachers say she won’t be changed by that most prized of sporting achievements – Vani is about as modest as they come.

It capped in incredible journey from St Columban’s at Caboolture, where Acting Principal Cathy Galvin recalls Vani as one of the most modest, hardworking and polite students she has seen.

So much so that when a fellow teacher sent through the school’s congratulations on Facebook this week, the response from Vani, who hails from Deception Bay, was almost self-deprecating.

“She wrote back something like `Yeah — who would have thought?’’,’’ Ms Galvin said.

“But that was just the way she was at school. We are extremely proud.

“The game was in the morning and we had a staff briefing at the time and everyone was watching it on their devices so we put in on the TV.

“It was such an exciting game.

“She was a beautiful girl when she came here, very humble, very modest, not big-headed, just very respectful and polite and hardworking.’’

Although Vani’s sporting prowess brought her accolades and acclaim, she shied away from the limelight.

Her skills go far beyond rugby, which she only took up after a chance meeting with rugby sevens player Rebecca Tavo.

Tavo spoke at St Columban’s sports awards when Vani was 16.

Vani’s former teacher Karley Banks says her star sports student was inspired by Tavo’s talk of the Rio Olympics and set her mind on making the team.

“Sixteen-year-old Vani was listening to Rebecca talking about playing in the Rio Olympics,’’ Ms Banks told The Caboolture Herald.

“Vani is quiet, reserved and modest, She doesn’t get too excited about many things, but you should have seen the light in her eyes when Rebecca started speaking.’’

Rebecca Tavo skippered Fiji’s squad in Rio qualifiers, but had planted the seed for the young Aussie, playing her in the second round of the Olympics.

Ms Banks says she still has the photo of the pair at the school awards.

“It’s just great when kids have a dream and follow through with it,’’ she said.

Ms Galvin says Vani excelled in touch football, playing for Australia, and school basketball, athletics and netball.

She returned to the school two years after graduating to speak about her achievements.

Too shy to get up and speak alone, she agreed to a Q & A with Kelly Woods, who played touch football for Australia for a decade.

“She was asked why she switched and she said it was because rugby was more fun,’’ Ms Galvin said.

“When I think about her, I think about this very polite quiet girl who played rugby.”

The former Catholic school students who performed in Rio will return with mixed emotions.

Vani’s achievements did not stop at sport.

She received several Principal’s awards for her academic ability in Chemistry, Physics and Maths B.

Vani was the proud recipient of St Columban’s bursary in its second year.

The scholarship, known as the Class of ’69 Bursary, was awarded to Vani in her senior years at the school.

“I interviewed here for her enrolment and she showed then that she has a very strong moral code,’’ Ms Galvin said.

The former Catholic school students who performed in Rio will return with mixed emotions.

Clare Polkinghorne’s Matilda’s were outstanding in the women’s soccer competition, before their thrilling loss to Brazil in a penalty shootout in the quarter-final. The co-captain attended St Martin’s at Carina and Lourdes Hill.

Former St Joseph’s and St John Fisher, Bracken Ridge, student Emily Seebohm won a relay medal during a busy swimming program. Leah Neale claimed a silver medal in the women’s 4 x 200m relay, cheered on by family including sister Sarah from St Mary’s College, Ipswich.

“These athletes have performed very well and represented their country with distinction. We’re very proud of them,” Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.


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