Anne Cairns is a woman driven by a desire to make her country proud.
As a canoeist, her ultimate goal is to represent Samoa at the Olympics.
“It has been my lifelong dream more than anything,” she told the Sunday Samoan. “More than getting married or buying a house or anything.” At the age of 35, Anne’s dream is now a reality.
Born and raised in New Zealand, the kayaker will fly Samoa’s flag at the Olympics in Rio, which is five months away.
It is the first time a female will be representing Samoa in the Olympics in paddling.
Anne’s mother is Samoan and her father is a New Zealander. She is from the village of Salamumu and Nofoali’i but was raised in Palmerston North in New Zealand.
“I am really happy and excited,” she said about qualifying for the Olympics.
“At the same time, I am very grateful to God and to my family for always pushing me and for believing in me.”
She feels “honoured” to be an ambassador for Samoa at the Olympics.
“I’m really excited to represent my family and Samoa,” she said. “I’ve put a lot of work and time into it so I am proud and humble to represent Samoa.”
Anne started paddling 20 years ago.
“It has taken me all over the world,” she said. “So I just kept racing and training knowing that it will all be worth it at the end. The best part about it is that you get the opportunity to travel and go places.”
Anne represented New Zealand in the K4 women’s team for the Beijing Olympics in 2007. But due to some sports political issues in 2008, she resigned from paddling for New Zealand and started paddling alone.
Being a one-woman band has never stopped her from achieving her goal.
She applied to S.O.C.A [Samoa Outrigger Canoe Association] to see if they would accept her to represent Samoa, and they gave her their approval.
Last year, she participated in the Oceania Champs in New Zealand. And while the New Zealanders were all cheering for Lisa Carrington at the World Canoeing Championships in Italy last year, Anne was also there and she made it to the semi-finals.
She was the sole member of the Samoan team, and it was her first step in her bid to get to the Rio Olympics this year.
Earlier this year, she raced at the Oceania Champs in Attalla and that’s where she earned a spot for the Olympics.
“There were two places and the girl from Australia took the other place and I took the other one.”
Making her family proud is what motivates Anne to do what she does.
“My parents are my inspiration and I always try to be the best person I can while I am able to do it. And when I decided to represent Samoa my mother was so happy and proud.”
She admitted that to get where she is now was a bumpy ride.
“There were a lot of challenges along the way,” she said. “Motivation wise, it was hard because I train on my own.
“So I really had to be motivated to get up at five o’clock in the morning especially with the winter in New Zealand. But I always think of the results and how I know that every competition and every challenge is a one step closer to achieving my dream, I just get up and do it and give it my all.
Financial problems have also been an obstacle for her.
“I was self-funded, I was my own manager, my own coach and the athlete because I couldn’t afford.
“Which was very unusual, but I guess that if you have it in you to do then you just keep fighting and one day you will finally get to the top.”
The incident with New Zealand sports in 2008 almost crushed her dream, and she uttered that she felt like giving up.
However, she kept paddling and it all worked out well for her.
“I guess perseverance and persistence is the way to do it, and plus I am really strong minded.”
Aside from being a paddler, Anne is also a full-time fire-fighter in New Zealand.
And she believes that her job as a fire-fighter helps her do what she does.
“To be a fighter in New Zealand, there is one test for all. To be a policeman, there’s one test for men and one for women, but to be a fire-fighter, there is one test for all.
“You have to have a good upper body which I got from Kayaking. It was hard trying to get in at first. I wouldn’t have the strength to be a fire-fighter if I wasn’t paddling.
“Because I think that’s the big difference between men and women because men are naturally strong and for us women, it if something that we really have to work hard on. Basically I think I wouldn’t have been able to become a fire-fighter if I wasn’t fit from all the paddling. So when I train, I train not only for paddling, but also for my job.”
Anne said her preparations for the Olympics have been great.
“I I have been training really hard ever since I was informed that I was qualified for the Olympics. And I have about five more months to go before the Olympics so I am really excited about it.”
Asked about her chances of getting a medal, she admitted that her chances are low.
“Realistically, it would be an outside chance,” she said. “I am going against professional kayakers and I would say 90% of the girls who will be racing in the Olympics all have coaching support, and I’m sure most of them are full-time paddlers. I am also sure that they’ve got full-funding support.
“Me on the other side... I train alone, I don’t have a coach and I am a full-time worker.
“There is a little difference there in the levels,” she said.
However, she is optimistic.
“But that doesn’t stop me from training as hard as I could until the Olympics and I will be best I could ever be. This is the moment I have been waiting for all of my life.
“And if I could get a medal, which would be great. But I am being realistic about who I am up against.”
In her final remarks, she wants to encourage the youth of Samoa, particularly girls that “if you want to achieve something in your life, you just have to get up and do it.”
She also encourages more girls to become paddlers.
“I live in a small town in New Zealand so I have to drive forty minutes to get to the water. But I come here and see that there’s water everywhere.
“And there is a really good paddling club here at Matautu. So I would say to the young girls of Samoa that if you can get out there and paddle, you should do it.
“It’s good for your fitness, and it’s good for your confidence. And here in Samoa, we are surrounded by water and I think our girls should be able to use that as a great opportunity for them to be paddlers.”
Nevertheless, she also wants to send out a message to our young girls, that “if boys can do it, then women can too.”
On Friday night, the Samoa Outrigger Canoe Association farewell paddler Anne and wished her good luck.
Ulugia Jay Ah Fook said this is a great opportunity to promote paddling.
“This is not a famous sport in our country,” he said. “But we are looking and promoting it and we are now starting from the young kids. With Anne representing Samoa, this is a great opportunity and we are so happy and proud of her.”