With the Pacific Mini Games running, we are going to see a lot of coverage of athletes receiving Gold Medals, doing victory laps around the stadium and being lauded and applauded. But what about the unsung heroes, without whom no athlete can do?
These people do the same hours of training, show the same commitment, passion and determination but there is no medal, no podium, no applause, no public recognition and usually no monetary reward. Who are these unsung heroes? Coaches.
Coach Denni Kalenga is one of these unsung heroes. Kalenga is Head Coach for Vanuatu’s Parathletics squad. Born on Tanna, Kalenga attended the Lycee in Port Vila and moved onto a coaching position there for some years, before taking up an Australian Pacific Technical College scholarship funded by the Australian Government to complete a qualification in electrics.
“I established a small electrical repair business,” explained Kalenga as he helped his team choose the right sports footwear for competition next week, “But my real interest was sport. So I did my International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) qualification and went back to the Lycee, then onto my current role as Sports Coach at Ecole Central.
“Then I heard the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee was looking for a coach for athletes living with a disability.
“I’d done some work with Jean Noel Anis, Sports Development Officer at Wan Smol Bag so I put my hand up to help. I knew there would be no salary but I really strongly believe everyone should have the chance to play sport.
“Playing sport means participants have a healthier lifestyle, meet new friends, gain new skills but also playing sport can increase self-respect and self-confidence, all of which our para-athletes really need.” Kalenga volunteered his time and started coaching the Vila based para-athletes in shot put, javelin and running both at Ecole Central as well as a larger group at Wan Smol Bag.
“We had a very large group of para-athletes identified in Luganville,” explained Margaret Macfarlane, President of the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee, “So with funds for Mini Games activities generously provided for us through the Ministry of Youth and Sport, VASANOC and Van2017, we flew Kalenga up to Santo for a training and skills workshop.”
On Kalenga’s recommendations based on merit based criteria, 8 Sanma athletes were selected for the final team of 11, reflecting the big pool of talent previously untapped in the northern provinces, three of whom have already gone onto achieve pre-selection based on high performance for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Currently Denni’s focus is on the Mini Games.
“I have moved into the Athlete’s Hostel with the team so I can be there with them and pay attention to their food and rest periods as well as the twice daily training sessions I have designed, ahead of the arrival of Chris Nunn High Performance Coach for the Oceania Paralympic Federation who joins the team today,” Kalenga explained.
Funded by Oceania and the AGITOS Foundation, Chris Nunn will support Denni, Jean Noel Anis and Dorian Naliupis in providing further skills and fitness training for the Vanuatu team but also other Pacific Island parathletes before the parathletics events commence on 11th November.
Our Vanuatu para-athletes may well win a medal but of course coaches do not.
So when you are cheering any of our Vanuatu athletes remember the coaches, sitting unobtrusively on the sidelines and give them a round of applause too – our unsung heroes!