In sport you hear coaches talking of resilience, bravery, determination, the spirit to conquer, the grit to beat the odds against you.
Vanuatu’s para athletes exhibit these characteristics and more. In Vanuatu you can factor in lack of opportunity, difficulties with transport, facilities or equipment to train, difficulty of finding the right sport to suit your ability, little funding or focus on para sports, no specialist coaches – all adding to the challenge of being a para-athlete.
In the next few weeks, we are going to focus on some of our para athletes – some already in intensive training for the South Pacific Mini Games. The Van17 organisers have already received 74 indications of interest in entering track and field categories from para athletes all around the Pacific. New Caledonia, PNG, the Solomons, Tahiti, Vanuatu, Wallis and Fortuna, Fiji and Tonga have submitted entries in shot put javelin, track and table tennis.
Ellie Enock from Aitchin Island Malekula was only 20 when she was in a very serious car accident at Teouma. Although she did not lose her life, the loss of her left leg from above her knee was a devastating blow for a young woman.
However, Ellie has not let deter her. Ellie has become very involved with several sports – shot put and javelin on the track and field category and more recently, para rowing.
“I train in shot put and javelin with Jean Noel Anis, Wan Smol Bag’s Sports Development Officer. One of my coaches is Denny Kalenga who volunteers his coaching time to help us and Australian Volunteers for International Development Jessica Richardson who works with VASANOC for Equity and Inclusion in Sports,” explains Ellie. “But my big new sport is rowing! It’s great!”
A Talent Identification Program funded by Oceania/Agitos in mid April 2017 gave Ellie the opportunity to row for the first time. Since then Ellie has been going to a special para rowing session every Thursday morning under the watchful eyes of Rio Rii and Tom Pata, two of the Club’s qualified coaches who did their certification through the Australian Institute of Sport and follow up coach training with New Zealand’s High Performance Rowing Centre.
Ellie has added gym work in the Rowing Club’s gym as cross training to underpin her regime to benefit both her javelin and shot put strength and endurance but also her rowing stamina.
For Ellie and the other young women in the Para Rowing and Women’s Program safe travel by bus early in the morning or late at night to and from the Rowing Club emerged as a significant issue.
Reading of the issue, The Port Vila Carbine Club not only donate 300,000 towards the purchase of a new coxed four but also180,000 vatu to be used specifically for bus-fares for the para program.
“I love being out on the water. I look at the other women in the para rowing and see how fit and slim they have become.
“I know I need to lose weight and eat better. The Rowing Club has Sally Gerrard, a nutritionist, coming over specially in the next month to advise the women in the Rowing Club on sports nutrition for high performance and good diets to battle NCDs. I’m really looking forward to that,” added Ellie.
“Unfortunately rowing is not a South Pacific Mini Games or Commonwealth Games sport but I’m determined to represent Vanuatu in track and field at both competitions”
Of course the 2020 Paralympic Games is only 3 years away in Tokyo and the Vanuatu Rowing Club is planning on sending a coxed four.
It seems a very ambitious goal for such a small group of rowing enthusiasts but the Port Vila Rowing Club did succeed in sending Luigi Teilemb to the Rio Olympic Games after a long campaign of training in New Zealand, Australia, Asia and Europe. A Para Rowing team in Tokyo wearing Vanuatu colours? Why not?
“I intend to be part of that team!” concludes Ellie with a cheeky grin.