Raera Vano, or ‘Rats’, as she was affectionately known, passed away in New Zealand on Boxing Day.
Her body was returned to Rarotonga yesterday and she will be laid to rest tomorrow in Tupapa next to her father.
Netball Cook Islands President and former team mate Patsy Hockin paid tribute to the Takuvaine stalwart, labelling her one of the country’s greats and a real character of the game.
“Rats was an outstanding and highly-skilled player and could play at both ends of the court,” says Hockin.
But while she was a dominant figure on the court, Hockin remembers her as a leader off the court as well.
“Her open and fun-loving personality never failed to boost her team – even in the toughest training schedule. Even under pressure during the heat of battle on court, she would crack some crazy comment about the opposition and have her teammates in fits of laughter.”
Hockin recalls the first Pacific Mini Games held in Honiara in 1981 as being Vano’s first national squad trip overseas.
“It was also the first of seven gold medals she was to bring home from every Mini Games and South Pacific Games until 1997. There would have been more, we have no doubt, but netball was not a participating sport for these games again until 2003 when Raera had retired.”
It was a golden period for the Cook Islands netball ‘queens’ – dominating the Pacific scene in the 1980s and 1990s.
Vano was a member of the first team to travel to a World Netball Championships in Scotland in 1987. They placed sixth at that event – the seventh world championship. The national team then placed fifth at the 1991 championships in Australia and gained ninth placing at the world event in England in 1995.
Vano also attended the Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games in 1998.
Hockin says there were also successful tours to New Zealand during the Milo and Fisher & Paykel series held in the 1990s.
“It was obvious that Raera, as a strong supportive vice captain to Selina Napa and also long-standing teammate Elizabeth Tou (PN) during this amazing era, were keys to netball’s success at international level.
“Being a good player doesn’t always make a good coach, but as a staunch member and coach/player for Takuvaine, she proved her skills in this role were also to be reckoned with.”
Hockin says it is a sad time as the country bids farewell to one of its great daughters.
“You were the life of the party, dear friend, the success of any tour. ‘Rachel’ you have been missed in recent years but always remembered and admired. While it is sad to say goodbye we know you deserve to finally rest in painless peace. Our sister Mamia awaits you at the gates of Heaven.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to James, Cecelia and John and to the Joseph family. Aere ra e sister from all your netball family and Netball Cook Islands.”