Seattle stalwart Asari sets sights on return to Croke Park
By Eoghan Tuohey
The international footprint of the GAA, LGFA and Camogie Association is increasing at a remarkable rate worldwide. This is due, largely, to the indigenous growth in participation, volunteerism and coaching of the games among native populations, many of whom have no Irish heritage whatsoever.
The stories surrounding locals' initial intrigue, then enjoyment, and ultimately, passion and love for the games are unique, yet recurring themes crop up when they are asked what first sparked their interest, and why they now find themselves so heavily invested in a game that they never experienced until recently.
Wisconsin native, and Seattle Gaels Chairperson, Vanessa Asari, fits the bill of the American-Born camogie player with no real genealogical explanation for initially delving into the GAA community in the North-West, but has nonetheless found herself entrenched in the GAA community since 2012, and it's a scene in which she's thrived. This is indicative of the cultural shift that has occurred globally across GAA clubs, from what was, perhaps, seen as an Irish-dominated community, into one that can be inclusive of everyone, and it's never too late to get started.
"I started playing camogie in 2012. I've dabbled in football since 2013, but consider myself a fair-weather player in that sport! I happened upon the Seattle Gaels booth during Irish fest, just after moving here, and never looked back.
I love that it's so different than anything else played here in the States. There are so many skills, that you really have to put your mind to it in order to learn them and perform them well. And once you do, it shows! It was a challenge, but a really rewarding one."
The ace attacker will proudly represent the Seattle Gaels on the world stage this summer in Waterford, when she joins players from throughout the country on a representative US side. The number of entrants into the Native Born camogie competition has shown strong increases since the 2016 World Games, and should provide some high-quality and exciting entertainment for spectators throughout the week at the WIT Arena in Carriganore.
Indeed, Asari owes the local GAA club a little more than most would, as her involvement with the Gaels led to her meeting her future wife at a GAA event.
"Meeting my wife at a tournament after I had just started playing (is one of my best memories). She offered me string cheese and found it weird that I accepted (so she would tell me years later). At the time, she didn't know I was from Wisconsin - the land of cheese!"
Despite only taking up the game seven years ago, Asari has already joined an exclusive club of players who can say they've played on the Croke Park surface.
"In 2013, a group of us from Seattle joined up with the London Taras to play in "The Gathering" tournament in Ireland. We played on the hallowed grass of Croke Park and ended up winning the tournament!"
In what has been a short camogie career to date, Vanessa has some other standout moments from her time playing with the Gaels.
"My other favourite memory is when we won the camogie cup at USGAA Finals in 2016. We hosted the finals that year and it felt amazing to be able to win in front of the home crowd."
The Stability and Control Engineer at Boeing has plenty of interests off the camogie field as well - with martial arts being another passion of hers. When asked specifically about the impact the GAA community has had on her, Asari articulates the feelings so many native born players have towards their new clubs, and the reasons why there has been such an increase in indigenous participation.
"What I love most about my GAA club is that they have become my family - and I believe most GAA clubs around the world operate the same way. I'm not Irish, but the people in this club welcomed me with open arms as though I was. They've become my community and have been there for me during some of the worst moments in my life. They've also been there for the best ones! I met my wife while playing this sport and have seen many others meet their future spouses as well. My main goal is to make new members feel as welcome here as I did when I first started learning about these crazy sports!"