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Mary Estelle Kapalu’s name is synonymous with athletic prowess in Vanuatu and the Pacific region.

Although she may no longer grace the tracks, her 60-second record in the 400m event remains unbroken and is a testament to her exceptional talent and dedication.

With a career that began in the 1970s on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu, Kapalu’s journey into athletics was inspired by her elder sister, Sarah Matai, and the exciting races under the huge Nabanga trees in her hometown of Lamumulu.

As a student at Lenakel school, she set her sights on following in her sister’s footsteps and ultimately surpassing her achievements.

After passing her grade 6 exam and entering Malapoa College, Kapalu’s involvement in athletics deepened.

It was her English sport teacher, Mr. Sweet, who first recognized her talent and encouraged her to maintain regular training sessions.

Later under the guidance of Mr. Paul M’Coy another English Physical Education teacher, she joined the national athletics federation and honed her skills further.

Kapalu’s international debut came in 1981 at the Pacific Mini Games in the Solomon Islands, where she broke the Vanuatu record in the 400m event at just 15 years old.

Her subsequent performances in the Samoa stadiums for the Pacific Games cemented her reputation as a formidable competitor and trailblazer for Vanuatu athletics.

Over the years, Kapalu participated in numerous major international competitions such as the Oceania Championships, World Cup, Olympic Games, and Commonwealth Games, winning an impressive collection of medals and trophies.

Her last appearance before retiring was in the Melanesian Games in Fiji, where she clinched two gold medals, leaving a lasting impact on spectators and officials alike.

Kapalu’s most emotional moment came in 2005, during her time in Papua New Guinea, when she returned to Vanuatu to race in front of thousands of spectators, including her parents, friends, and family.

Her passion for athletics never wavered, even as other competitors hesitated to race against her for fear of being overshadowed.

Today, Mary Estelle Kapalu, now known as Mary Estelle Mahuk, is a proud grandmother and cricket development officer, continuing her involvement in sports.

Her belief in the importance of commitment and effort serves as a guiding principle for the younger generation of athletes. She encourages them to strive for their goals and bring positive change to Vanuatu’s sporting landscape.

As Kapalu reflects on her storied career, she acknowledges the potential of talented runners who may one day break her long-standing record. She hopes to inspire others to pursue their passions and uphold Vanuatu’s legacy of excellence in the world of athletics.

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SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST