Last Woman Standing: Joni Swanston

Joni has played rugby for Richmond and Ulster and has also represented Ireland at sailing and Northern Ireland at netball. Joni is well known for her sense of humour; she is very competitive and determined to win. She doesn’t take kindly to anyone moaning, giving up or foolish enough to suggest that women are not as good at sport as men!

“I’ve always been a tomboy. Whenever I was younger, I’d be climbing up trees and falling out of trees and things like that, and I never had a pain threshold, so I was through the roof because I’d never ever been hurt,” says Joni.

Joni wanted a challenge and, following a friend’s suggestion she should apply to take part, she knew straight away she wanted to be involved.

An extreme competitor, Joni says her high notes are “Whenever I win!”, adding: “The Water Buffalo race is the best, it feels a bit more relaxed because it is as much about determination and focus as it is about luck.”

With the Xavante tribe in Brazil, Joni is training for the log race when she finds her determined attitude starting to slip and feelings of vulnerability begin to show.

“The families are quite hard to get to know, I wave or smile and they do nothing, just look blankly at you,” she remarks.

“It’s just the way they are but it’s hard not to let that affect you.”

Joni finds it tough to integrate into the culture and the tribe. She also finds some of the traditions hard to comprehend – in the Philippines, training for the Kali, Master Rommel and his family, who have led the pekiti tirsia kali fighting system for generations, carry out a tradition that involves dripping fresh chicken blood onto the athletes’ heads, a ritual that is believed to drive away any evil spirits they may have brought with them.

Joni says: “It’s hard to understand the reason for doing it and to accept it, even though I respect the fact that different cultures have different beliefs.”

During the endurance trials for the Kali, Joni faces another blow when an injury looks set to thwart her chances to compete. As the family take care of her, while she tries to recover, this set back proves to be a huge frustration as she is desperate to compete.

Joni now plays for Team Northumbria Ladies in the Rugby Union Premiership.


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