River Babies

The Nawaka District School Swimming Team. Photo: ANA SOVA.

By ANA SOVA

If you’re from around Nadi you would know that villages here like any other village in Fiji have a mad love for rugby.

After all it is our national sport.

But there is another sport that has stolen the interest and support of the people of Nawaka Village, which is competitive swimming.

This was after 29 boys and girls from the village represented the Nawaka District School at the National Schools Swimming Championship 2017 in Suva.

Despite participating in the tournament for the first time, the swim team broke records and came home with eight medals: one gold, four silver and three bronze.

An interesting tale about this team is that while other schools had prepared themselves training in a swimming pool, they trained in a river beside their village.

These young swimmers have now been dubbed the River Babies.

Team Manager, Napolioni Vatunitu said they simply couldn’t afford taking the team to the pool.

“Our swimming instructor had asked if we could train the students three times a week. The fee is $3.50 to use the swimming pool plus paying the instructor and transport in a day per child but a lot of these children’s parents are unemployed,” Mr. Vatunitu said.

He said as an alternative, they then decided to take the students to the river to train during every lunch break.

Mr. Vatunitu said he is no professional but believes training in the river might have added positively to the student’s performance.

The swimming programme was recently introduced into the school after a research done by the school found that many Year 6 and Year 7 students did not know how to swim.

“So we held swimming classes to help the students, taking into consideration that Nawaka is a flood prone area,” Mr. Vatunitu said.

He said while the classes were underway, the school’s swimming instructor posed a challenge on them for the students to take part in the championship.

“So we thought, why not make use of the opportunity and introduce the students to competitive swimming,” Mr. Vatunitu said.

He said 40 students had initially attended the training but only some were committed to the training and had grabbed the techniques well.

“Thanks to Radisson Blu Resort, the hotel sponsored our qualifying test during the school holidays in which 29 students were selected to take part in the championship,” Mr. Vatunitu said.

While the team left Nadi for Suva, he said they did not anticipate winning any medal.

“We were amateurs, new to the game so we thought this would only be  a learning opportunity for us, then we would come back and work on our techniques and really compete come the next championship,”

“It turned out we won our first gold medal on the first day and it was a huge boost for us,” Mr. Vatunitu said.

He said there were a lot of places in which they were disqualified during the games.

“It is in those areas we will try our best to improve and get the students to really know the techniques in different swimming styles,” Mr. Vatunitu said.

He said the students have brought so much joy to their parents, the school and also the Vanua o Nawaka and also to villagers of Nawaka that are living in other parts of Fiji.

“During the tournament we had a lot of support from the people of Nawaka living in Suva and we had a lot of people who also travelled down to Suva to cheer for the team,” Mr. Vatunitu said.

He said after the team’s participation they’ve gained a lot of support from the community, which they were very grateful for.

“It is now realised that competitive swimming is also a sport that our students can venture into professionally apart from rugby or netball,” Mr. Vatunitu said.

In celebration of the team’s achievement, a vakacirisalusalu ceremony is planned to be held this Friday in Nawaka Village.

Meanwhile, Nadi schools had dominated the championship again this year.

In the Primary Boys Division, Mount Saint Mary’s Primary won with 18 gold, 13 silver and 5 bronze while Marist Brothers Primary School finished second with 9 gold, 5 silver and 13 bronze.

Nadi Airport School won the Primary Girls Division with 16 gold, 21 silver and 13 bronze while Yat Sen Primary School finished second with 14 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze.

In the Girls Secondary tally, SVC won with 27 gold, 9 silver and 11 bronze, Yat Sen Secondary finished second with 9 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze while Saint Joseph Secondary School came in third with 6 gold, 12 silver and 10 bronze.

In the Secondary School Boys Division, Marist won 23 gold, 25 silver and 17 bronze, SVC came second with 22 gold, 17 silver and 8 bronze while Natabua High School finished third with 12 gold, 2 silver and 6 bronze.