Erikana Pedersen Baledrokadroka is the second Fijian woman to play for the New Zealand Silver Ferns netball team.
The midcourt player, who plays under the name Erikana Pedersen, hails from Nairukuruku, Matailobau in Naitasiri.
She made her debut for the Silver Ferns during the Constellation Cup in 2018 and continued from where defender Vilimaina Davu left off.
“Growing up, Vili (Davu) was the most well-known Fijian in the Silver Ferns, but I also know (Fiji-born) Leonie Leaver who played goal shooter for the Silver Ferns,” she said.
“The journey has not been easy but it has been rewarding, the people that I have met, and the experiences that I am able to get through and alongside family and friends as well.”
Erikana started playing netball at the age of nine.
She said her family in Fiji supported her at every game that she played despite being born and bred in New Zealand.
Her dad Ratu Jope Tini Rinabobo, also known as Paul Baledrokadroka , is a teacher at Kelston Boys High School. He attended Marist Brothers High School in Suva and is the younger brother of former military Colonel Ratu Jone Baledrokadroka who now resides in Canberra, Australia.
Erikana played netball through her primary, intermediate, and high school where she captained the premier team.
“I always dreamt of donning the black dress (Silver Ferns) at a very young age,” she said from Christchurch.
The dream was a reality in 2018 when she debuted for the Silver Ferns at the Constellation Cup.
Playing along netball legends including Laura Langman and veteran shooter Maria Tutaia– Folau was a special one and an experience she would never forget.
Erikana is the eldest of five siblings, who all play different sports.
Siladora represented New Zealand in swimming, Rovucago Mandela, a younger brother, is on a basketball scholarship in the US.
Robonowai plays rugby league in the National Rugby League’s Newcastle Knights Under-20 team, Year 12 twins, Leilani and John Paul, are in their final year at Northcote Intermediate School.
She said: “My childhood was very busy, we all played different sports, at different times of the year. And mum and dad were constantly driving across Auckland and taking us to training and games.
“We were all very competitive with each other as well, simple games like cards or playing basketball or volleyball in the backyard all get us so competitive. And we are also willing to do anything to win.
“I had played basketball for one or two years, but I was not very good at it so I turned to netball.
“My family in Fiji has always been so supportive of me and probably believed that I will be a Silver Fern before I became one.”
Erikana said her family members in Fiji had been her number one supporters.
“I guess, looking back at the people who have gone before me and my ancestors paved the way, that people like myself and my brothers and sisters were able to grow up in a country like New Zealand and have the opportunities that we do,” she added.
The midcourt player said being named in the squad for the 2018 Constellation Cup was an unexpected one.
She was only invited to a training camp, which was one of the toughest she has been on.
“At the end of the season in 2018, I went on a holiday to Samoa with my best friend.
“While I was in Samoa I received an e-mail from the Silver Ferns coach. “She invited me to a training camp, which was held a few days after I landed in Auckland so I had to quickly find my netball shoes and start training again.
“But while I was at the training camp I heard that they had already chosen 11 out of 12 players for the Constellation Cup and there was one spot remaining that it was for a midcourter.
“The training camp was very hard but it was probably a blessing in disguise that I came in fresh and very relaxed from my holiday.
“My mindset going into the training camp was to have fun, use it as an experience to get better as a player.
“So at the end of the camp, when I found out I made it to the team, obviously I was excited, but also very speechless.”
Erikana said it took her 10 minutes to realize that she has made the Silver Ferns.
“I honestly just could not believe it. I left the room and quickly called mum and dad, they were so excited for me.
“So I went on that Constellation Cup and made my debut at the end of 2018 which was a very proud moment for me,” she said.
“I guess I had always dreamt of wearing the black dress one day and just putting that black dress on and standing with some of the greatest netball players in the world, players like Laura Langman and Maraia Tutaia- Folau who I looked up to growing up.
“It was a surreal moment and singing the national anthem as well, I obviously shed a few tears.
“It was an awesome experience.”
Erikana did not play netball last year due to an ACL knee injury. She made her return to this year’s ANZ Premiership for Mainland Tactix.
She is a part-time student at Massey University, pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in Accounting.
Erikana works part-time as a reception in a physio clinic and wishes to be an accountant after completing her studies.
Edited by Leone Cabenatabua