Every year, 40 year-old Olympian and Ni Vanuatu national table tennis player Anolyn Lulu is asked by her peers, when does she plan to retire from her 25 year sporting career?
And every year the 2019 Inaugural Vanuatu Sports Awards’ Sportswoman of the Year gives the same answer.
“I will retire when I cannot move anymore,” Lulu says.
“I feel so strong, I still have that energy and I still have a few more years to play table tennis competitively.”
Wearing the post-gold medal winning glow after her team won the women’s table tennis final against Fiji at the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games, Lulu was in high spirits revealing she felt she had just finished performing her personal best in her 25-year career.
Having represented Vanuatu in the 2012 Olympics, to competing in four Commonwealth Games as well as every Mini Games and Pacific Games since 2007, Lulu has no plans of retiring.
She has every intention of continuing to be a pioneer for high performance sports in the hope that her life becomes a ‘call to action’ for women and youth to pursue the many opportunities available through sport.
“I have a story to tell,” says a determined Lulu, explaining that “sport changes lives and gives opportunity to people and women.”
“Sport has been an opportunity that has come my way and it just opened up everything for me,” she said, referring to the international competitions and opportunities sport has provided her, along with lifestyle and work options including her popular Zumba Health and Wellness business.
“I encourage girls that there are a lot of opportunities in sport,” Lulu says, radiating an infectious energy that renders anyone in close proximity a believer in her relentless determination to be an international champion – and a champion for the development of women in sport in Vanuatu.
As one of the most experienced athletes in Team Vanuatu at the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games, the road to victory has not been easy since she started playing in 1995 for a sport that received little to no funding.
She was also up against alarming statistics showing women and girls dropping out before reaching their full potential in any sport, reflecting common social norms in her community that portray a woman’s primary role as being family caregiver moreso than as a sportsperson.
Facing those challenges has helped her to develop mental toughness and empowered her to persevere and succeed while still loving the game.
Lulu says she will continue to play table tennis, and to showcase how sport can change mindsets by personally demonstrating to women that if she can persevere – so can they.
“Sport is one vehicle that will change things in life and it does change our attitude and behaviours.”
“People back home, and people I know, tend to say ‘women are to be at home, to take care of the family, to cook, to wash’ but for me personally, I don’t believe in that because we can do much more than that – we can excel.”
“I believe that women can do anything – they are equipped with everything.”
As a role model for Team Vanuatu Table Tennis at the Samoa 2019 Pacific Games, her unwavering belief in herself and in others has helped shape the international standard table tennis players and coaches.
“These players in the mixed team, they started with me when they were eleven and twelve. I started training Yoshua Shing when he was 10 years old and we played mixed doubles, and qualified together in the 2012 Olympic Games.
“I’m so proud leading these young players until today.”
For now, she is particularly proud of the gold won at this year at the Pacific Games by the Vanuatu Table Tennis team in the first week of the Pacific Games, despite having no coach.
“One of the main things for us, we just have this positivity, passion and the love for our sport and most of us are experienced players.
“Not having a coach doesn’t change our mindset. It is a stepping-stone to say we can do whatever and give back to each other.”
This story has been prepared by freelance journalist, Liz Ah-Hi, participant at the ‘Equal Playing Field – Fair Reporting for Women and Sport’ workshop held in Samoa prior to the 2019 Pacific Games, to encourage a fair and equal media approach for women in sport. The workshop was supported by UN Women in partnership with the National University of Samoa and the Pacific Games Office, and organised through the Journalists Association of (Western) Samoa (JAWS).