Stranded Tuvaluan likes his 'weightlifting family'

It is likely you would have walked past Manuila Raobu without knowing that he is 1,176 km away from home and is one of many whose travels were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 20-year-old weightlifter is from Tuvalu and flew into Samoa early last year on a three month visit, only for the coronavirus to force the closure of all international borders and bungle his return to his island home.

“I was only supposed to be here for three months but two to three weeks and Samoa went into lockdown so my federation messaged me and said ‘you can extend your stay there’ and I told them that it's up to them as I am happy to be with them," he told the Samoa Observer in an interview. 

Fourteen months after his arrival in Samoa, he has adjusted to life and feels at home training with the SWA Samoa weightlifting team at Gym 2, Tuanaimato where they are all staying.

He says that he feels at home with the group of people he's surrounded with, but he still misses the person who has encouraged him the most to pursue his dreams in Samoa – his mother.

"I still feel good and sometimes I miss my mum, she is the only person that pushes me to do weightlifting and not to discourage me,” he added.

"I want to go back but I'm working and enjoying this program representing my country, that's why I'm here to represent my country Tuvalu and to prove that this program is worth it like coming here and doing training camping here together with them.

“If I go back to Tuvalu I am going to show them how the training in Samoa is done.”

Thinking of his island home and the facilities that he currently uses in Gym 2, he said it is very different in Tuvalu and they don’t have proper facilities like Samoa does.

“In Tuvalu we don't have enough weight and bars and we have seven lifters and we don't have enough bars, we only have two or four bars.

“Then we take turns in using the equipment and it's really to train comfortably because we switch, switch, switch. 

“It's really different that's why it's like here is really different, as they have already set up all of these platforms for the lifters. 

“In Tuvalu, we don't have these platforms. We use the plywoods and make it look like a platform."

And having the presence of the Samoan weightlifting team including the coach Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork makes him feel closer to home, and he quickly talks about the impact that the coach has had on him.

"The hardest part of training is when we do training and one of our lifters misses one lift and our coach doesn't like it. 

“Only one person messes up, we all suffer the penalty. The penalty is giving us lots of lapses, the snatch type of lift. 

“His coaching skills are really good, and it's working for me. He is giving me this weight because he knows I can lift that weight. 

“That's why he gave me that weight. I have to trust him because he trusts me.”

Raobu’s first competition was the Pacific Games in 2015 in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea and he followed up that performance by coming over to participate in the 2019 Games in Samoa.

The youngest of five children, Raobu said he is loving the culture and the life in Samoa.

"Samoa is a really nice place and my favorite part is that they have a lot of resorts, unlike Tuvalu. 

“Tuvalu is really small compared to Samoa and I really love being a part of their family, we call it ‘300 weightlifting family’. Now I'm part of their family and they are part of mine," he said.

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