Vanuatu’s Para-rowing is moving ahead with leaps and bounds thanks to relations with Rowing Australia, and the opportunity for them to compete at events such as the 2017 Aon Sydney International Rowing Regatta (SIRR).
Tara Huntly, Rowing Australia’s Para-rowing Talent Development Coordinator,, has been influential in progressing Vanuatu’s Para-rowing program, and ensuring that the Vanuatu athletes are given every chance to improve.
Huntly explained how a casual chance meeting with Vanuatu team officials turned into a strong relationship between two dedicated Para-rowing Nations.
“Two years ago, almost to the day, I met with the Vanuatu Rowing Team competing in the 2015 Sydney International Rowing Regatta. I floated the idea of including Para-rowing in their program, and they were very open to it,” said Huntly.
So the seeds had been planted for a Vanuatu Para-rowing program, and soon after a Port Villa local by the name of George Langa was recruited to be Vanuatu’s first ever official Para-rowing athlete.
He came to the sport after being stopped on the street by Margaret MacFarlane, Vanuatu Para-rowing Program Coordinator, who convinced him that he would be the perfect fit for Vanuatu’s new program.
Huntly was eager to keep liaising with the upcoming program in order to ensure the new program flourished, so she linked up with MacFarlane and a number of others.
“In February 2016 I was awarded a Layne Beachley ‘Aim for the Stars’ Foundation Scholarship, which provided financial assistance for me to travel to Vanuatu to meet key people and gain a good understanding of the club set up,” stated Huntly.
“Without this scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to make the key visits that I did,” continued Huntly.
As with any new club or program, funding is a key issue that can make or break performance and results. Langa has an impediment to his left leg, resulting in it being shorter than the other. He had to walk to and from training each day, which was quite a big distance.
In order to combat this, Huntly collaborated with Australian Para-rower Steve Knott, and also set up a GoFundMe account, admitting this has been an incredible success.
“Steve Knott took a bike over for him (Langa) to use instead of walking, and the GoFundMe raised enough money to purchase some multifunction gym equipment and covered all of Langa’s travel costs to compete at SIRR,” explained Huntly.
Langa has relished the opportunity to compete against world class competitors on such a huge occasion at the 2017 Aon Sydney International Rowing Regatta.
“This is my first official regatta on a course with lanes. The thing I’ve enjoyed most is having people in lanes next to me. This made it very competitive and made me race all the way down the course,” clarified Langa.
Langa also explained that the Sydney International Regatta Centre course is a polar opposite to what he usually rows on.
“My training lagoon has crystal clear water, I can see all the fish and sand at the bottom. When I first got on the water I was a little frightened because I couldn’t see what was in the water, and I heard there were crocodiles in Australia,” said Langa.
After Langa made the A-final at his first ever regatta, Huntly knows that the future of Para-rowing in Vanuatu is looking bright.
“The end goal is for Vanuatu to be represented at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. We also want to find more LTA para-athletes to join their program. I’ll be travelling to Vanuatu in April to conduct a ‘come and try’ rowing session for people with a disability,” added Huntly.
The upcoming years look bright for Vanuatu Para-rowing, ad for the sport internationally, and Huntly loves the way the community embraces the sport.
“The support from the para-rowing community has been amazing and we are very thankful. It’s like a big family,” she concluded.