HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 578: 24 August 2011

Oe Vaka community farewells SPG squad

Sunday morning saw the Cook Islands South Pacific Games canoeing squad join the entire team Cook Islands South Pacific Games contingent to attend a special church service hosted by the Avarua Assembly of God church. The service was held to bless the team before they embark on their journey to Noumea, New Caledonia, for the 2011 South Pacific Games.
This year, the Cook Islands canoeing squad for both the men and women includes members aged from just 17 years right through to 48 years, and this translates to a squad with a wide range of experience in terms of actually competing in the South Pacific Games. The coach for the Cook Island women’s canoeing squad, Fletcher Melvin, described the service as “inspirational” and told of the diverse emotions each competitor in the Cook Islands Canoeing squad felt during the church service. “For the new ones… I remember the first time I went to [the church service] - it was pretty special. Like, this is it, you know, we’re going to be part of something. So I’m sure that for those who are participating in their first games, it’s a special moment… the ones who have been doing it for a few years realise that this is ‘day 1’, and that [the games] are upon us.”
Melvin commented that the service was also a vital step of the preparation process in the lead-up to competing. “The service is always a good way of preparing, for making the squad realise that they are part of a bigger Cook Islands representation. It’s the first time that they see the other codes all dressed in their uniforms and it’s the first time that they start realizing that they are actually part of a bigger picture.” Sunday’s service saw the canoeing team sporting their new uniforms, and on Monday’s training session the women’s squad trained in their team racing uniforms not only for practical purposes, but more importantly, to mentally prepare the squad for competition. “They’ve been training for so long and switching from training to competition is quite a big mental step.”
Following the church service, the Cook Islands Canoeing Association held a kaikai at Muri beach to provide an opportunity for the wider Oe Vaka community on Rarotonga to show their support for the squad and wish them well before they depart on Tuesday night. The squad is made up of representatives from all three of the canoeing clubs on Rarotonga – Ngakau Toa, Te Tupu O Te Manava and Livefree. Melvin said the gathering highlighted the fact that the Rarotonga paddling community is “really just a lot of good, close friends”. Among those who turned up to show their support for the squad were veteran paddlers Reuben Dearlove, Serena Hunter, Sonny Sosene and Tina Vogel, who have all had previous experience competing in elite-level paddling, including the South Pacific Games.
Melvin commented on the incredible progress the women’s squad has made since training began, in terms of not only their skill level and fitness, but also of their confidence in themselves. “My expectations for the team have gone from going for a podium finish, to feeling confident that they have the ability to win gold… I’m really happy that they are as fit as they can possibly be - now it’s just a mental thing.” The final part of the training over the last fortnight has had a particular focus on mental preparation. Melvin also spoke of what the squad members will contribute to the development of the sport within the Cook Islands. “Their paddling ability has really grown and I think that’s going to be good for the sport in general.” The future of Oe Vaka in the Cook Islands looks promising with such young representatives competing at elite level competition.
The canoeing squad, who depart the Cook Islands for Noumea on Tuesday evening, consists of 15 women (including three reserves for the women’s squad), 12 men, the two coaches and the team manager, Janet Maki, who is also the president of the Cook Islands Canoeing Association. At the games the team will compete in the V6 500m and 1500m sprints, as well as the V12 500m sprint. The team will also compete in the V6 marathon over a distance of 20km for the women and 30km for the men. Emilene Taulu and Vaea Melvin will represent the Cook Islands in the V1 races for the 500m sprint and the 10km race respectively. Melvin paid particular respect to Mena Tautu, coach for the Cook Island canoeing men’s squad, and Ron Rolleston, fitness coach for the women’s squad, for their dedication and hard work in the lead-up to the South Pacific Games.
“Whatever the results are… If I go back to when we first paddled in the South Pacific Games [in 2003], we were ranked about 8th or 9th and now we’re ranked 2nd for the women and 3rd for the men.” Melvin emphasized the fact that the rankings from the South Pacific Games reflect how the sport is developing in the Cook Islands. “When we get a good ranking it shows that we’re developing well.”
The training over the last four months for the entire squad has been intense and strenuous - the women’s team alone has paddled approximately 100km a week for training and accumulated a distance of about 3000km over the last four months. Melvin firmly believes, however, that the hard work, dedication and sacrifice made by each member of the squad will yield results for the Cook Islands. “The training – they’ve done it for four months. They’re training 6 days a week. That’s a sacrifice of their families, their jobs, time at work and time with their friends – there are a lot of sacrifices… but I think it’s going to be worth it.”
- Ngariki Ngatae

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

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