A life involved in athletics that included competing for the Fijian national track team, taught sophomore Errol Qaqa, to never give up, an attitude he said has stuck with him to help him overcome life’s challenges. Being rejected from both BYU–Hawaii and the national team did not stop him from eventually fulfilling his dreams to attend school and compete for his nation.
“When I didn’t make the Fijian national [track] team, I had people telling me to reconsider what I was doing, and even my family told me that I should maybe [try] something else. This taught me to push through things and never give up,” said Qaqa, who is majoring in exercise and sports science from Fiji.
Qaqa, who won medals and holds records for his country in hurdles, said his never-give-up attitude brought him to BYUH. “I applied here several times and was rejected. It wasn’t until my fourth attempt that I actually made it in. I knew how it felt to be rejected, but I learned through sports to never give up.”
Knowing Qaqa since childhood, Elenoa Tupua, a senior social work major from Fiji, said, “We went to the same primary school and high school. [We] are from the same ward back home. I see him as a hardworking, goal-getter who always has a positive attitude in all he does. He is someone who believes in himself.”
Making the Fijian national track team
Coming from a family of 11 children, Qaqa said his family was always involved with sports. “My dad represented Fiji in rugby and my older brother went to BYU in Provo on a rugby scholarship. Sports was something I grew up doing.
“My main sports were high jump and basketball, but after transferring to Liahona High School in Tonga, I picked up hurdles because hurdles was not available at the high school level in Fiji.”
Upon completion of high school, Qaqa returned to Fiji and tried out for the Fiji national team. He said he tried out for the Fijian team the first time and did not make it, and then tried again years later and still did not make it.
Qaqa recalled his experience of not making the team. He said, “Maybe there’s something holding me back? Maybe there’s something else I should be doing? That something was serving a mission. I had been putting that on hold to pursue athletics, but after not making the team several times, I decided to go on my mission.”
Despite not training for his entire mission, Qaqa remarked, “My mission taught me a lot about life, to accept things, and it helped me to grow and return more mature. I came back a different person and I think that helped me a lot. It’s all about priorities. If you put the Lord first, he will help you and that’s what happened to me.”
After returning from his two-year mission in the Philippines Quezon City North Mission, Qaqa said he tried out again for the Fiji national team and was able to get in. He said he was a part of the national team for four straight years before eventually coming to BYUH.
Competing for his countryAs part of the Fiji national team, Qaqa qualified for the Commonwealth games and competed in the Melanesia games, the Oceania games, the Asian games and also the Asian indoor games. His competitions took him overseas to Turkmenistan, Malaysia and Australia and to several countries around the Pacific such as Tonga, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
Qaqa said, “Sports has been great for me because it was able to take me out and see the world, which I don’t think I would have been able to do if I wasn’t involved with sports. As a Fijian, you don’t realize how little is known of the Pacific until you go out into the world.
“People knew nothing about Fiji and some people even thought I was African. But it was really good to represent my country and to act as an ambassador and exchange culture.”
Preparing for competition and training with the Fijian national was very intense, Qaqa explained. Preparations included strict, year-round physical training and nutrition plans where he would only get a week off to spend with family and eat what he wanted. “Off-season training would consist of mostly volume work including long-distance running, lifting heavy weights in the gym and swimming in the pool to prepare for competition.
“As competition time approached, we would get into speed work, drills, techniques, and focusing more on our events. We were training every day and three times a week we would train twice a day. I would focus on hurdles on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the morning with a recovery session in the evening. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday would be speed work.”
During his athletic career, Qaqa won several medals and is the current Fijian record holder of indoor 60 metres hurdles. More recently, Qaqa took Spring Semester 2019 off to compete in the Pacific games held in Samoa.
Life after athletics
After several years competing for Fiji, Qaqa decided it was time to go to school. His four older siblings all went to a BYU school and to Qaqa, he said it was a no-brainer to come here and follow his family’s tradition. However, Qaqa said he applied to BYUH and was denied three times before being admitted.
“I learned through my experience of being rejected in athletics to continue to try and apply here after being denied to come to school. I’m so grateful I kept trying because I love being here at BYUH,” Qaqa explained.
“The biggest blessing of being at BYUH is having the gospel connected in all aspects of life, in work and in school,” Qaqa said. “I always felt like this was the place for me, from the very first week of being here I’ve felt this place is special.”
CJ Alonzo, a senior from Chicago majoring in business management, said he was a missionary in Fiji when met Qaqa. “I served in Errol’s area and spent a lot of time with him and his family in Fiji. He is a well-known guy in Fiji for his athletics. Over here, I see him in the gym daily, bringing that work ethic here, but he’s very humble about his background.”
“The atmosphere here is great,” Qaqa added, “Knowing my older siblings came here helped me to feel like I belong here. Knowing I’m part of such a great legacy by working at the PCC and being here at BYUH is a big blessing for me.”
Although he enjoys being at BYUH, Qaqa described how he feels withdrawals from athletics since coming here. “I knew coming here that my athletic career would fade out and sometimes I really miss training. I miss the track. It was my life for years. When I got the invitation to compete in the Pacific games last semester, I jumped at the opportunity. I had to go back and run one last time.”
Qaqa said coming to BYUH will help him fulfill more of his dreams in life. “My biggest goal with coming to BYUH is to be able to return to Fiji. I want to help the communities in Fiji have healthier lifestyles and to help people learn how to take care of themselves physically. I feel like athletics has done so much for me, and I just want to give back to my community with everything I’ve gained in school and athletics.”