champions-profile-lorraine-banimataku

In the heart of the Pacific, where the sun kisses the turquoise waters, a remarkable story unfolds. Born in 1996 to Allanrow Banimatuku, a committed police officer, and Karen Banimataku, Lorraine discovered her passion for tennis at just 10 years old while attending Central Primary School.

Little did she know this passion would not only carry her across oceans but also position her as a pioneer for women in Vanuatu.

Her journey commenced when a former Development Officer for the Vanuatu Tennis Federation (VTF), Jerome Rovo, invited her to participate in training sessions at the Stade Tennis Courts.

This moment marked the beginning of a lifelong dedication to tennis tennis for Lorraine.

Her introduction to competitive tennis came when she joined the national team, competing in the junior squad at the yearly West Pacific Regional Championships.

In 2010, she took a significant leap forward by joining the U16 team and securing the chance to study at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Academy in Fiji alongside fellow Pacific athletes.

“I was in year 10, and while school days were filled with academics, afternoons were packed with intense training sessions,” Lorraine reminisces with a smile, recalling the vibrant streets of Suva.

Spending three transformative years in Fiji, Lorraine not only sharpened her tennis skills but also built lasting connections.

The ITF Academy, which had been the training ground for Vanuatu’s tennis greats like Marie, Jerome, Cindy Tomas, and Lorenzo, became a crucial chapter in her journey.

Following her time in Fiji, Lorraine’s educational and tennis pathway led her to the United States.

At the New Mexico Military Institute, she found her first destination. Despite being the only Ni-Vanuatu there, she discovered solace among fellow Melanesian athletes engaged in various sports disciplines.

After two years of Junior College, Lorraine graduated with an associate in science. She then earned another scholarship, this time at Henderson State University in Arkansas City.

Here, she pursued her passion for tennis while obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services.

Her journey took an unexpected turn due to the global Covid-19 outbreak and visa expiration, compelling her return to Vanuatu in 2020.

Back home, Lorraine deepened her involvement in tennis, offering training programs to beginners at the Korman Stadium in Port Vila.

“I wanted to give back to the community because it’s through this sport that I got to travel overseas, meet lifelong friends, and have incredible experiences,” she affirms.

Despite facing challenges in finding employment, Lorraine remained dedicated to her passion for tennis.

She continued to contribute to the Vanuatu Tennis Federation (VTT) as one of the three Development Officers.

In 2022, Lorraine represented Vanuatu in the Pacific Mini Games in Saipan, where the men’s tennis squad achieved silver in both the team event and doubles category.

The return to Vanuatu saw Lorraine working with Technical Director and Coach Yanni Honila, who played a pivotal role in boosting her confidence and providing guidance.

Now 28, Lorraine faced a significant career opportunity when VTF President Cyrille Mainguy approached her to fill the position left by  Honila.

“At first, I wanted to turn down the offer, but realizing that Vanuatu is a male-dominated society, it is a privilege and great honor to be given such prominent positions. So I accepted,” Lorraine confirmed.

Her commitment to making Vanuatu proud is not limited to the tennis court.

Lorraine emerged as a trailblazer for women in society by advocating for women’s inclusion in tennis.

Earlier this year in Sydney, she presented a project for women’s participation in the Australian Open, emphasizing the importance of an inclusive gender-based sport.

“The VTT, like all other significant members of society, has the priority for inclusive gender-based sport for all across Vanuatu,” she stated.

As a female athlete in a society long dominated by males, Lorraine encourages young girls to pursue their dreams and passions in sports.

“Girls who have a passion in sport should pursue their dreams. Despite all the negative criticisms, you can make a living through sport,” Lorraine explained, challenging traditional gender norms.

Lorraine firmly believes that Vanuatu has the potential to create positive change, especially regarding women’s inclusion in sports.

As she takes on the role left by Honila, she envisions a future where tennis becomes a platform for empowerment, breaking barriers, and inspiring the next generation of female athletes in Vanuatu.

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SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST