(Left To Right) Not Walking the Talk but sprinting the talk – practical sprint drills training on the “Holiday Inn” beach for Oceania para coaches: Epeli Baleibau (Fiji), Meleseini Sifa (Tonga), Jackie Tracvertz (PNG) and Deni Kalanga (Vanuatu)

A recent athletics coaches workshop for coaches training athletes living with an impairment saw 10 coaches from around the Pacific attending a skills building workshop funded by the Oceania Paralympics Committee and the Agitos Foundation. Agitos is the global funding agency for para-sport. The concept for the workshop was “integration.”

What’s “Integrated Sport? The recent Commonwealth Games in Australia in April and the Melanesian Athletics Championships held in Vila in May highlighted how an integrated approach is not only a cost effective, sensible use of planning and facilities but allows cross- strengthening of coaches and athletes. Why? Because an integrated approach sees parathletes with a physical impairment training and competing on the same track and gym. Para events interspersed with able bodied events allows the spectators, coaches and athletes see parasports athletes for the first time. As they talk, participate, train and watch, they also advise and support.

“It’s the first time I ever saw para-swimmers! They are just absolutely amazing! How does a person with no arms do backstroke – and faster than I can swim with all my limbs? Awesome! It made me realize that anything is possible, if you have ambition and coaching support. This whole integrated approach is just so watchable … and inspiring,” remarked one Commonwealth Games spectator.

It’s not just the spectating that becomes a richer experience – it’s the experience and cross transfer of skills for coaches and athletes alike that become side benefits of integration.

“At the Commonwealth Games, I was out throwing the javelin in a warm-up and able bodied athletes came up and gave me some great advice on the length of my run up and throwing technique,” reminisced Friana Kwevira, Vanuatu’s commonwealth Games Bronze medallist. “Then by integrating the recent Melanesian Athletics Championships, we were able to have more events here for both female and male parathletes at Korman – much better. It gave our own home crowd here in Vanuatu the chance to see parathletes in action and to appreciate how people living with a physical impairment are exceptional athletes in their own right.”

With the ten coaches from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu attending, Chris Nunn, an Australian high performance coach working at Olympic level for both able bodied and para coaches, also took an integrated approach.

“The skills are quite similar in training para coaches and able bodied coaches. If you are having regular training 2-3 times a week, there is no need to have separate training times or sports equipment. A bit of imagination and support means you can train everyone together on the field or in the gym. You quickly see the encouragement, support and example of the able bodied athletes lifting the performance of our parathletes,” remarked Chris Nunn. “The coaches here will now go home and look for potential parathletes to train alongside their training squads in an integrated approach.”

With the Provincial Games being planned, discussions are already being held to make the Games to be held in Tanna Vanuatu’s first integrated Games. Yumi go!

Raymond Nasse

Sports Editor

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