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Hi I'm Leilani

I grew up in New Zealand. I'm a former world number one squash champion. I'm a Mormon.

About Me

I grew up believing that I could achieve or reach any goal. My parents gave me the sense that I could be successful in life even though we didn't have a lot of money. They gave me self esteem and optimism. My three sisters and brother were my first role models. At school, they were always coming first, second or third in athletics and swimming competitions, or getting selected for the A team in sports. I loved that about them, and I wanted to live up to that. I had some pretty amazing friends at school who were high achievers in academics and sports, e.g. maths, english, art, equestrian, diving, and swimming. It wasn't easy juggling school and sport, but when things got tough we were always there to encourage each other along. I started playing squash when I was 10 years old. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my dad and drawing up a plan to become the number one squash player in the world. He showed me how to make clear goals and clear ways to measure success. He believed in me and that helped me believe in myself. My dad was a tough coach and often people would say he was too tough. But, he knew that if I stood any chance of competing with the best, I had to train like the best, from a very young age. He was right! 15 years later I became the number one in the world. Everything I achieved in squash I owe to my parents. Today, I'm a wife and mother of four young children. I am also studying in the field of Health Science with a major in Sport and Exercise.

Why I am a Mormon

The gospel has been in my family for many generations. For example, my great-great-great-great-grandfather was the first Northland Maori chief to be baptised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My grandfather regularly sent large packages of fruit and vegetables from his orchard in Kawakawa (far north) to the labour missionaries building the New Zealand temple in Hamilton in the 1950s. When my parents were teenagers they attended a Church College, a Mormon high school, which is where they met and eventually got married. My siblings and I were baptised and confirmed as members of the church when I was 10 years old. A few years later I followed my parents footsteps and attended Church College where I eventually graduated in 1991. After that it gets a bit pear shaped. Somehow I got it into my head that keeping the commandments cramped my style and I was better off without the church in my life. So, from the age of 18 to 25 I didn't go to church and focused all my energy and time on becoming the best squash player in the world, believing that by achieving that goal would bring me ultimate happiness and riches. So, for seven years I trained my butt off, working my way up the ladder, only to find out once I got to the top, that I had been climbing the wrong ladder! I had just won my first British Open title, supposedly living the dream, but instead of feeling happy, I felt sad and unfulfilled inside. Though I had everything, I felt I had nothing. Strange but true. These feelings pointed me back to church. I will always remember the first day I walked back through the chapel doors. Though I was scared and didn't know anyone, the sense of being home again was overwhelming. For the first time, in a very long time, I felt happy in my soul. From that day I decided to live my life in a way that fully supported my soul. That was in June 2000.

How I live my faith

Today, I'm the Faith in God leader in my ward, which means I plan activities for primary aged children to help them achieve 24 goals over a four year period, to do with 'Serving Others', 'Developing Talents' and 'Learning and Living the Gospel'. I retired from professional squash in 2002 after marrying my husband in the New Zealand temple. We now have four beautiful children. I still love to play squash, but I no longer play competitively because of my commitment to keep the Sabbath Day holy. Though my life is largely focused on raising our young family, I have managed to find a little bit extra time to support community initiatives I feel passionate about. For example, the NZ National Depression Initiative (because of my own experience with post natal depression), and becoming an ambassador for the 2010/2011 NZ Breastfeeding Campaign.