para-athletes-vanuatuThe Australian public has taken to heart the story of the Vanuatu Parathletic team training recently on the Gold Coast in pre-selection trials for the Commonwealth Games to be held in April 2017 on the Gold Coast in Queensland. After TV Station Channel 7 ran a story, the generous Australian public appeared at the stadium day after day leaving track shoes, lycra running shorts, sports support clothes, t-shirts, sneakers, track suits and spikes. Why? Well its bit of a long story starting back in April in Luganville!

Earlier this year the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee (VPC), the organization responsible in Vanuatu for sports opportunities for people living with disability, was trying to identify potential parathletes for future regional and international competitions.

The Paralympic Games is less than 4 years away and the Vanuatu Paralympic Committee, under a new Board led by Margaret Macfarlane as President, had plans to field a strong team. But where to find new, young undiscovered talent?

It is estimated that around 10% of people in Vanuatu live with a significant disability and up to 20% with a minor impairment such as hearing or sight loss.

The growing problem of Sik Suka saw 312 amputations in 2016, adding to the potential pool of parathletes seeking sporting opportunities.

“Previously the focus had been on athletes living with an impairment in Port Vila. The issue was how to identify possible parathletic potential in the provinces.

So, we thought we’d try Santo first. The AGITOS Foundation and Oceania Paralympic Committee provided funding support coaches and Talent Scouts – coaches with previous experience in parathletics. A huge number of people living with an impairment attended the Talent Identification Day in April in Luganville and from them 11 were identified as having considerable potential, “ Margaret explains. “But we had no equipment, no coaches – nothing.

The next big competition was the Pacific Mini Games so we put in a funding submission through VASANOC – the Vanuatu Association of Sport & National Olympic Committee and Van 17”

Paul Nalau, Director of Ministry of Youth Development and Sports comments, “We all talk about inclusion and equitable access to sporting opportunities for people living with an impairment but here was a good chance to actually do something. The Ministry was glad to approve the request.”

The VPC was not only able to buy shot put and javelins through local company Vanuatu Sports Supply but also a special Stability Frame for throwing events such as javelin and shot put made by Vate Industries, supporting local businesses.

Coaches such as Denni Kalenga were sent twice to Santo to conduct training sessions not only for the athletes but also for potential coaches such as Dorian Naliupis.

The results continued to look very, very promising. Finally, in October, a team of 5 athletes were sent to the Commonwealth Games trials to participate in the Gaps Training and Commonwealth Game pre-selection program.

The team of four — Dephnny Naliupis, Friana Kweivera, Peter Dick, Marcelline Moli and Marcel Houssimoli, with Dorian Naliupis as Chef d’Equip arrived at the Griffith University Stadium and readied themselves for their events.

For Dephnny, Peter, Marcelline and Friana it was their first time to fly overseas (they had never even been to Vila), first time to compete internationally and first time on a synthetic track.

As Friana strode out for her event, officials hurried over to her to tell her she could not compete bare foot. Could she go back and put on her track shoes?

“I don’t have any,” was the reply.

Officials conferred, then disappeared to return with an assortment of shoes borrowed from other teams. So wearing borrowed shoes, Friana threw. The officials looked at each other, checked the length, and looked again. And well they might!

Friana’s javelin performance of 18.02m, equates to a top 4 ranking with Commonwealth athletes whilst her shot put of 6.65m a little later would placed her at 5th on the 2017 World Rankings.

The rest of the team also acquitted themselves well with three — Dephny Naliupis (Qual T35 100metres), Friana Kweivera (Qual F46 Javelin) and Marceline Moli (Qual F46Javelin), have now recently received an official notification of invitation to compete in April 2017 at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Within hours, the story of the Vanuatu team, their lack of equipment such as shoes, lycra sports clothes and sports support wear — and their amazing results — had spread.

Channel 7 returned to do a story on the group. The Australian public – always supporters of the underdogs in any sport — took the Vanuatu team to their hearts.

People started arriving with second hand shoes and new sports clothes.

“We came home with not only new skills, coaching regimes but also a couple of cases of extra shoes and clothes to share with other parathletes,” explained a smiling Dorian Naliupis.

The Vanuatu Parathletics team is now in Vila getting ready for the start of the Mini Games next week.

When you see them at Korman Stadium – give them an extra cheer! Show them with your applause and encouragement that Vanuatu spectators enjoy and appreciate their courage in succeeding despite their difficulties– just like the Australian public!