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Not All Roads Lead to Rio

A story of former night security guards to Pacific Sports Partnerships recipients .

No doubt as the world gears up for the largest sporting event on earth, Fiji is not alone with its current focus on Rio. If you happen to be boarding a flight to Brazil whilst wearing your national uniform , then it’s been an amazing achievement for you to have been selected to represent your nation at these Summer Olympic Games. Certainly a life changing event for all the participants, however unfortunately something that very few of us will get to experience.

The great thing about sport though is that it can change your life in many ways and not only for Olympians. The following article reinforces this fact and is a compelling story of two Fijians Max and Lai and their journey from uncertainty to become beneficiaries of the Pacific Sports Partnerships program , through the sport of Tennis, which has now begun to change their lives forever.

Both Max and Lai had worked for the Fiji Sports Council for many years based at the Regional Tennis Centre as night security officers and although the job was not the most exciting they were very grateful to have a job and be able to provide for their family. At the beginning of the year both men were informed that the running of the centre would be taken over by Tennis Fiji and that there were no guarantees that they would continue to be employed at the centre.

Max said “ it was a difficult time in our lives, especially as I had a young family and the uncertainty was hard to deal with, so at the time I wished that everything would remain the same. As I understand it, the Fiji Sports Council bosses made a strong recommendation to Tennis Fiji on our behalf and as a result we were given the opportunity to start with this National Federation in the role of security and groundsmen.

The immediate change that I recognised is that we were allowed to use the courts when free and play tennis, which we did after work to stay fit and have a healthy lifestyle. It was during one of these times that members of the Tennis Fiji Executive asked if we were both interested in the sport and if we would like to help develop the sport in communities around Fiji. It would mean receiving formal training in the future to which we both agreed however I did not give it much thought after. A lot of time people make promises that for whatever reasons never eventuate.

Unbeknownst to Max and Lai, but this is where the Pacific Sports Partnerships has helped to change their lives forever. Tennis Australia took the time to come to Fiji again and run a community coaching course primarily for the Fiji National Sports Commission however both Max and Lai were given paid leave to attend the course in Suva. Lai said “I was very nervous at first but both Bruce and Doctor Mitch made me feel so at home and were very supportive. By the way if Mitch gets to read this , you need to wear sun cream in Fiji………even in the winter!! It was a great course and I learnt so much. The best thing now is that on Mondays , Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays , I run a community program for 20 kids along with my assistant Max. The smiles that these kids have on their faces is just great to see. Max also commented that he wanted to put the record straight and that Lai was his assistant!!

In all seriousness though both men feel so proud to be able to give back to the community and work with kids, some of whom come from poor backgrounds and don’t get that many opportunities in life. Max said, “I’m from Fiji and very proud of that, but in all honesty when I joined the Fiji National Sports Commission outreach program representing Tennis Fiji it was the first time I got to visit the other main Fiji Island called Vanua Levu. I was able to take racquets and nets donated by Tennis Australia to the village where I ran the course and gift that to them before I left so that the kids could continue to enjoy tennis long after I left. It has given some of the village kids in remote places the chance to experience this great sport and it has given me the opportunity to see other parts of my wonderful country Fiji.”

Both Max and Lai continue in their roles with Tennis Fiji but part of the work involves running community programs in the Lautoka area. Max said “ At the moment I have started to learn how to drive a car so as soon as I pass my test, hopefully in the next two weeks, I get to start my two Tennis Fiji Outreach programs one in a settlement called Topline and another in a village on the outskirts of Lautoka.”

Lai also mentioned that although it is coming on only six months, that he looks back and is so greatful for the change and the new opportunities in life. Max said ”Thank you to Tennis Fiji for giving me this job, thank you Tennis Australia for giving me the community training, thank you the Australian Government for the Pacific Sports Partnerships and the Australian Aid which allows me to continue with my community programs every week but most of all thank you, tennis for giving me a new lease of life……oh and please let Fiji win the Olympic Gold in sevens rugby.” Lai added, “Don’t forget ,Tennis Fiji will be there in 2024 and maybe even with someone that I introduced to tennis….oh and Mr John , can we have the day off when Fiji makes the final, VINAKA!!"

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