Oct. 21, 2005
By Benton Strong
He's heard it all before. Numerous stories have been written about it, while television and radio reporters regularly tease each other during UW football broadcasts about the difficulty of pronouncing it.
"Tui Ala-something," former defensive tackle Larry Tripplett told the Seattle Times in 2001.
Any story about Tuiaualuma Alailefaleula has to start with his marathon name.
Pronounced "TOO-ee-ah-oo-ah-loo-muh Ah-la-EE-lay-fa-lay-OO-la," it's a name nearly as long as the road Alailefaleula has traveled to arrive at Washington, starting in American Samoa and including stops throughout the Pacific Rim.
Like his parents before him, "Tui," as he is called by teammates, was born in American Samoa, a U.S. territory comprised of six Polynesian islands in the South Pacific and known primarily for its exports of tuna ... and football players.
As he grew from a young boy into a 6-foot-4, 280-pound young man, it became clear that Alailefaleula was destined to continue a proud Samoan football heritage begun by players such as Pro Bowlers Junior Seau and Luther Elliss. Alailefaleula's road to football success was not a direct one, however -- the senior was forced to move frequently throughout his childhood as a result of his father's service in the U.S. military before finally settling in Anchorage, Alaska -- a far cry from the tropical climes of Samoa.
"I met a lot of new people," Alailefaleula says of the constant moving. "I'm happy that we settled in Alaska instead of any other state, though. I'm an outdoor type of guy."
After a dominant prep career at Anchorage's Bartlett High School, it was natural that Alailefaleula would attend the UW -- in addition to being an outstanding academic school with a winning football tradition, Washington has a strong connection to the Pacific Islands, having developed Polynesian players such as Jeff Pahukoa, Siupele Malamala and Marques Tuiasosopo into NFL-caliber talents.
It was Tuiasosopo, then a star UW quarterback, who hosted Alailefaleula on his recruiting visit, and made sure his fellow Pacific Islander would never want to leave.
"He was a reason why I came over here," Alailefaleula says. "He's a leader and a role model."
Five years later, it is Alailefaleula who has developed into a role model, both for his fellow Huskies and as part of an unprecedented senior class of Polynesian players that is paving the way for the next generation of Islands talent. Washington boasts six seniors of Polynesian heritage in 2005, including Alailefaleula, Manase Hopoi, Joe Lobendahn, Mike Mapuolesega, Mark Palaita and Tusi Sa'au.
Alailefaleula says Polynesian culture boils down to three basic tenets-- respect, faith and family.
"We have a lot of family gatherings, banquets and family nights where we do a lot of our culture dances," he says. "That's the kind of thing that keeps us together."
He has been pleasantly surprised by the Polynesian community in Seattle, especially surrounding the church. Alailefaleula attends the First Samoan Assembly of God church in Burien to help him stay connected to his family and culture.
"Before I came here I thought there was no Polynesian community here," he says. "That was a big thing for me, that I had family here, both with my teammates and other Samoan families."
While Alailefaleula may not be able to see his family as often as he would like, the Polynesian community of Seattle has adopted him as one of its own, while the Huskies' deep Polynesian roots have provided him with familial bonds to his teammates.
The senior has everything he needs -- respect, faith and family.
Now if only people could figure out that name ...