Lucia, David Hurst, and Northcote Birkenhead Rugby Union and Sports Club president Simon Williamson. Photo / Supplied via RNZ
By Matthew Theunissen of RNZ
The 11-year-old leukemia survivor who was gifted Ruby Tui’s World Cup medal says she has been sleeping with it under her pillow.
Lucia Hurst met Tui at a fan engagement event prior to the final, during which her dad told the Black Ferns star about Lucia’s health battle.
After the Ferns’ epic victory, Tui spotted Lucia in the crowd and placed her medal around her neck, insisting she keep it.
RNZ caught up with Lucia and her dad David at Northcote Birkenhead Rugby Union and Sports Club, where Lucia plays tag rugby, to find out what the gesture has meant to them.
Wearing her North Harbor Seahawks tag football uniform, Lucia proudly wears the gold medal gifted to her by one of the World Cup’s top performers – and one of rugby’s great characters – Ruby Tui.
Her dad David recalls what happened that incredible night.
“I was trying to get Lucia to go back to the car where her brother had been waiting for an hour and had been calling me on my phone every couple of minutes,” he said.
Lucia picks up the story.
“I saw Ruby Tui because my friend wanted to get a photo with her then she saw me and gave me a hug,” she said.
“She had like a lollipop necklace on so I thought I was just going to get a lollipop. And then she gave me the medal.”
The gesture brought Lucia to tears.
Earlier in the week, she and her dad had met Tui at a fans event where they got talking about the 11-year-old’s health battle.
“We were chatting about Ruby’s book … and I suggested that maybe we’ll have to get Lucia to read it,” David said.
“Ruby suggested that it wasn’t a great idea, but it opened the conversation about hardships and it just came up that Lucia went through a bit of a journey herself about five, six years ago.
“Lucia was diagnosed with leukemia when she was almost four. It’s one of those things that’s a journey, isn’t it? I remember a good mate of mine was going through a much tougher battle with his son and I remember him saying there’s always someone worse off and there it was.
“But, you know, the team at Starship are next level and we had an amazing outcome – Lucia smashed every phase of the treatment, pretty much. But we were fortunate we didn’t have to do a bone marrow transplant and we saw kids having a really tough time around us.”
The story resonated with Ruby Tui, whose new book Straight Up chronicles a childhood marred by drugs and domestic violence.
But the day after the final, Lucia became concerned that Tui might be regretting giving up her priceless medal so she and her dad went to the Black Ferns’ hotel to give it back.
“She still didn’t want it back,” Lucia said, adding that she’s been keeping it under her pillow.
Lucia gave Tui her Player of the Year trophy and one of her cancer survivor beads in return.
Northcote Birkenhead Rugby Union and Sports Club president Simon Williamson said they had seen an increase in women signing up to play rugby over the past, with a noticeable bump after the World Cup.
“We’ve got 390 junior players here at Northcote and a quarter of them are now girls and young women who are growing into the game, so that’s a great statistic. But we’re going to see more.
“You can understand why – this is an inspirational World Cup-winning team and this unselfish act just epitomizes what they represent.”
The club is currently seeking sponsors to build dedicated women’s changing rooms and toilet facilities to accommodate the surging interest.
“We run a pretty active website and we’re starting to see inquiries already for next year, not just girls but boys who want to join. I mean, that team was inspirational.”
Ruby Tui was named the breakthrough 15s player of the year at Monday’s World Rugby Awards.
She was also presented with another World Cup medal to replace the one she gave to Lucia, who she said was an inspiration.