2017 has been another huge year for weightlifting in Samoa.
When we talk about success in sports, it’s hard to go past the Samoa Weightlifting Federation (S.W.F.) and the joy their athletes bring to the nation. One memorable moment came this year when the nation’s first and only Olympic medal was finally presented to weightlifter Ele Opeloge.
Behind the success of weightlifting is a man whose name has become synonymous with the sport in Samoa. He is none other than the hard working and committed, Tuaopepe Asiata Jerry Wallwork. He wears many hats in the sport. Once a former athlete, these days he is not only the President, he is also the Coach. Sometimes he is the only sponsor as he singlehandedly forks out for his athletes.
But the love of the sport comes naturally to Tuaopepe.
“You can say it’s in the blood,” he told the Samoa Observer. “I grew up in the sport as my father was a former lifter and champion himself and it must be in the blood to strive for the best and to win.”
That man is Seiuli Paul Wallwork. He rarely needs introduction in Samoa’s sports circles.
For Tuaopepe, they are tough shoes to fill.
“I think it’s something that you rarely find but we believe in hard work and striving to win. We are never satisfied unless we achieve what we aim for and that is to win for Samoa.”
Unlike other sports who often look overseas for talent, Tuaopepe is a strong believer in nurturing Samoa’s own in Samoa.
“I believe that if we train our own local children, we can win medals if we go overseas. Weightlifting has shown that we can do it; we’ve done it at the Olympic Games.”
“So what drives me? It’s the love of the sport, that’s why I do it. I love being able to help the young people, take them through and giving them a future in the sport. I enjoy giving them something to aim for and something to apply to life.”
And like everything else in life, there are always challenges.
“We have had some hard challenges and we have stuck through it,” he said. “I’m not sure how much longer I can stand through it and stay within the sport but I do want to take it to that level that I have mentioned before.”
So when did it all start?
“Weightlifting started probably in the 1960’s I can’t really confirm the exact date,” he said.
“There’s quite a few of them who started weightlifting, one of them was Peter Paul, there’s Seiuli Paul Wallwork and then Segi Bee Leung Wai, they were among the founders of the sport.”
“And since the 1970s, weightlifting Samoa has been competing internationally especially in the South Pacific Games, Commonwealth Games and other competitions. The first ever medal for Samoa was in the 1974 at the Commonwealth Games where we won a silver medal.”
“And at that time for weightlifting to win a silver medal it was an outstanding performance.”
Seiuli won that medal.
“Then in 2002 we won three medals, one silver and two bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. I can say that within the last 20 years we’ve taken the sport to another level.”
“Then in 2010 was history for Samoa where we won three gold medals all by weightlifting in New Delhi, India during the Commonwealth Games.”
“And then the highlight of it all was when we won a Silver medal at the Olympic Games by Ele Opeloge.”
“To win a medal in the Olympics is the biggest ever achievement and it was the highest of the highest and within the last 20 years Samoa has slowly dominated weightlifting within the Pacific and Oceania region.”
“With the way the sport is moving we will probably dominate the sport in the Commonwealth Games come next year. The statistics speak for themselves as we already have seven lifters ranked in the top two of the Commonwealth. This is the first time we have had this many lifters.”
It’s something Tuaopepe is quietly proud of.
“It’s an exciting time for the sport,” he said. “We’ve come a long way in 40 years.”
But there is a lot more to do.
“The next thing we want to conquer the World championships, Olympic Games as Ele has already set the pathway. We want to repeat it, better it. We are looking at performing and winning medals if not a gold medal so it has come a long way.”
“We still have targets and goals and dreams to achieve. As a small country like us to come this far with very limited resources, facilities, funds and everything we don’t have the medical support, the proper physio and everything. We just do it the hard way and to achieve what we have done now and what we are aiming for, I think it’s a great achievement for the Samoa Weightlifting Federation.”
Looking back, Tuaopepe as a coach knows they can always do better. But he is a contented soul.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, some hard times but I think the hard as well as the good times has made us stronger and brought us through into finding the path in becoming successful and winning gold medals for Samoa,” he said.
“It hasn’t been easy, but in the last 18 years we have worked very hard and there have been a lot of sacrifices as well to achieve what we have achieved today. Sacrifices that cannot be repaid but in saying that we do all of this for our country and we are very proud to represent Samoa.”
“It is our pride and to win for Samoa that is the honor we carry in weightlifting, starting from the sport itself to the coaches, athletes and the management.”
“We don’t want to lose, we want to win for Samoa and that is the attitude that we have had for the last 40 years.”
Asked what inspires him, Tuaopepe said he doesn’t have to look far.
“My father was the best role model for me when I was growing up,” he said. “He guided me through sports. When I was young, he took me to everything when he was coaching rugby, competing. I saw his work ethics and how dedicated he was; he was a great role model and an example.”
“He supported me when I was an athlete and even up until now. He is the inspiration. He was even better and he was harder (as a coach) than I was.”
Tuaopepe though is not just a sports administrator. He runs a growing family business, Island Rock.
“It’s hard to balance time with a business and being a coach. I think I’m just lucky to have my whole family’s support,” he said.
“They fully support me and it is tough because the way the business has grown in the last couple of years I’m finding it even harder. My routine is that I am up by 4 o’clock in the morning and I get home at 8:30 at night and that is seven days.”
“I’m at work all day and at training all morning and in the evening and the only time I get to spend with my family is the weekend and I try to make the most of that.”
“It’s not easy but like I said it is with the help and support of my family that I am able to do this because I won’t be able to do it if it wasn’t for my family.”
Tuaopepe hails from the villages of Vaoala, Gagaifolevao Lefaga, Satupa’itea, Lano and Faleula. Aside from the Tuaopepe and Asiata titles he also holds the Papalii and Vui titles.
He is the eldest of Seiuli Paul and Su’a Julia Wallwork’s children. He has two sisters, Su’a Hellene Wallwork-Lamb and Hanna Wallwork Tuala. He is married to Losa Wallwork and they have four children.