Arriving at Darwin airport in the Northern Territory at 1am Monday morning 22nd April, our parathletes for Team Vanuatu found they were the first team to arrive for the Arafura Games. This will be the first Arafura Games since 2011 with 15 countries, over 1,500 athletes and a long list of 17 different sports such as swimming, boxing, table tennis, Beach Volleyball and of course parathletics – javelin shot, discus and running.
The Vanuatu team of 5 parathletes and a coach is part of the Oceania delegation including Fiji, Solomons and PNG. Teams from Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australian and New Zealand are also amongst the 15 countries arriving in the next few days to compete in the integrated games. What does “integrated” mean?
Integrated games sees parathletes competing in the same events as able bodied athletes. This approach value-adds to the outcomes of the enormous investment by Australia as the host nation as well as fund raising and hard work of nations such as Vanuatu by giving parathletes the opportunity to participate in an internationally ranked competition. High performance coaches, well qualified technical officials, sports medicine experts and the chance to see Olympic level athletes in action also adds to the valuable experience of the Arafura Games for both the parathletes and their support team.
The training for the competition is not the only “value-adding” aspect for Vanuatu’s parathletes. The AGITOS Foundation (the International Paralympic Committee’s Trust Fund) has sponsored additional time and funds to bring classifiers to the Arafura Games so that new parathletes can be physically assessed as to types of impairment and placed in sporting classes. Every team member for Vanuatu is a new participant in parathletics. After the classification process is complete, each parathlete is entered onto an international data base and that classification as a F42 or a T37 allows them to enter and compete in international competitions.
Even the coach Hellen Aruwetti from Luganville is a new recruit to the world of parathletics. As the parathletes are receiving coaching from high performance coaches Chris Nunn (Australia) and Raylene Bates (New Zealand), Hellen too is receiving specialised training in how to coach and support Vanuatu’s parathletes. Hellen is learning about nutrition, classification, parathletics’ rules and regulations and very importantly, how to plan each parathletes sporting pathway.
Upon return to Vanuatu on 30th April, some athletes will go to the National Games in Tanna in May, then the Pacific Games in Samoa in July and after that the World Athletics Championships in Dubai in November.
It’s hoped that these Games will provide the basis for a merit-based selection process for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo – only 592 days away. It seems like a long time away but the Arafura Experience is making the goal of being on Vanuatu’s team to Tokyo more accessible.