Katelyn Vaha'akolo has represented New Zealand in both league and rugby but she had to pull herself out of a dark place to get there.
Within the space of just three years, Katelyn Vaha'akolo has achieved the Kiwi and Black Fern dream.
However, not long ago the 23-year-old "didn't think [she] would be here today".
Vaha'akolo says with the help of her support system she was able to pull herself out of a "dark place".
"In rugby union and league. I could express myself in a way that I've never been able to do before".
"It pretty much saved my life".
The rugby player says that her goal was to be a professional athlete and in order to do this she had to change her mindset.
"Being in an environment where they do demand standards from you and they do want you to succeed. It forced me to get better".
"That's why I am here today because I have improved and healed from what I was going through in the past".
The young athlete also told RNZ that she draws on her cultural roots from her iwis, Ngāti Whatua, Ngā Puhi and Maniapoto and Tongan village, Nuku'alofa to keep resilient.
"I come from a strong line of people and women. My culture makes up alot of who I am and that's where I also get my strength from".
Because she didn't grow up around her Māori and Tongan side, "I feel like its my responsibility to figure out what my whakapapa is and where I come from".
"I think that's apart of why I have been able to succeed because I take initiative to learn those things".
Vaha'akolo had stepped into the league scene reluctantly in 2020 to play for Te Atatū Roosters after being convinced by her friend to play.
"I dropped every single high ball. I couldn't tackle but there was something about me being able to express myself that made me really happy".
The Nuku'alofa athlete says from that moment on she continued playing the game, leading her to debut for the Kiwi Ferns in 2020.
In 2022, she played for the Newcastle Knights' inaugural NRLW campaign, Maori All stars team and the New Zealand World Cup squad in England.
Vaha'akolo also dabbled in union as well for the Auckland Storm in the Farah Palmer Cup.
"I would play rugby on Saturdays and then league on Sundays".
Vaha'akolo says the Auckland Storm environment was very welcoming making her decision to play union easy.
"I knew I had to make a decision on which sport I was best at during that time and I felt it was union".
The midfielder and outside back was then recruited into the Blues Aupiki team early this year.
"In my position I had more opportunity to be around the field more which is another reason why I moved to union".
"To be completely honest there's alot more support in rugby union for women in New Zealand compared to league".
A decision that had worked in her favour after being called up by the Black Ferns for the Pacific Four Series and O'Reilly Cup against the Wallaroos in June.
Vaha'akolo recalls laughing how she was on the toilet when she received the call.
"I started crying straight away. I couldn't believe that someone saw that potential in me".
The Black Ferns player says her long-term goal is to make the sevens team and become an Olympian.
"I need to grow my game awareness, my decision making. A lot of it is my self-belief, I really struggle with doubting myself".
But for now her main goal is to "grow as an athlete and to play freely which is a journey that I am still on".
"I'm just loving my life and being happy where I am".