In a packed Carrara Stadium, watched by 25,000 spectators, 19 year old Friana Kwevira from Nduindui Village on West Ambae won a bronze medal in the F46 Javelin, throwing 24.54 metres to win Vanuatu’s first ever Commonwealth Games medal.
Friana had only been identified as a potential parathlete in April 2017 as part of a Vanuatu Paralympic Committee (VPC) Provincial Outreach & Awareness initiative held in Luganville.
The Talent Identification Program, supported by AGITOS and the Oceania Paralympic Committee, aims to try to encourage people living with a disability to engage in sport to improve healthy lifestyles, community attitudes and self-respect.
Thirty four potential athletes turned up and one of these was Friana. Eleven were chosen for further training, then 5 were sent to a Commonwealth Games pre-selection trial at Griffith University.
It was at this camp that Friana’s potential was identified. Her first javelin throw (using borrowed equipment) caught the attention of coaches and spectators alike.
Friana’s javelin performance of 18.02m, equated to a then top 4 ranking with Commonwealth athletes whilst her shot put of 6.65m a little later placed her at 5th on the 2017 World Rankings. However it was only after the Mini Games of December 2017, that Friana began seriously training in javelin.
To ensure Friana had access to coaching and gym facilities, the VPC was able to offer Friana an Athletes Scholarship and for the past few months, she has been training in Vila under the guidance of Denni Kalenga (sports Teacher at Ecole Centrale) and Jessica Richardson, an Australian Volunteer for International Development (AVID) working at the Vanuatu Association of Sport and National Olympic Committee (VASANOC).
In February, in order to be officially assessed and classifed in Paralympic divisions, Friana travelled to Melbourne.
The opportunity was taken to give her further coaching and the chance for competition.
In Friana’s first International Paralympic Committee (IPC) sanctioned event.
With two experienced paralympian medallists taking first and second, Friana was third with a Personal Best of 26.49 metres This result ranked her 3rd in the Commonwealth – an augury of things to come.
With her team mate Marcelline Moli, 15 year old from Luganville who also threw a Personal Best, it was an amazing experience to walk around the stadium with athletes, officials, dignitaries and spectators from all over the world.
The cheers were loud as her third placing was announced but loudest of all from the Athletes Seating where other Vanuatu team members had come along to provide support.
“For people living with an impairment in Vanuatu Friana’s story shows what can be achieved,” commented Margaret Macfarlane, President of the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee who was there cheering for the two girls.
“And to think we identified Friana’s talent in our first Talent Identification session! There must be so many more fine para-athletes out in the provinces.
“We intend to conduct other programs this year with the first in Tanna in late May and another in Malekula in September.
“If you have big dreams – come along and make your dreams a reality.”
Friana’s message to young people living with an impairment? “Don’t think about your disability – only focus on your ability!”