Tragedy before trip to Samoa for young athletes
Personal tragedy rocked a team of young Wellington throwers two weeks before a major competition.
After months of training at a converted horse paddock in Woburn, three athletes from Sola Power Throwing Academy headed to the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa on September 3.
St Patrick's College Kilbirnie students Nathaniel Sulupo, 17, and Gerard Ahnau, 16, represented Samoa at the games and Rongotai College student Denny To'o, 17, represented the Cook Islands.
Academy coach Shaka Sola, who represented Samoa at the 2004 Olympics, said the team had been dealt two blows in the fortnight before leaving for Samoa.
Ahnau's grandfather died two weeks before the competition and a few days later Sulupo's uncle died.
"It's been emotionally draining, but you've got to try to draw from those emotions when you're heading to such a big event," he said.
Sulupo succeeded in his wish to place within the top eight, securing seventh place in the discus with a throw of 51.67 metres.
To'o was 10th with a 44.19m throw and Ahnau placed 11th with 41.40m.
Sulupo took up shot put in year 9, but did not really take it seriously until he started discus when he was 15 and started at the academy.
A talented rugby player, he gave the game up this year to ensure he had the time and energy to focus on throwing.
He is the top-ranked discus thrower in the country for his age.
"Unlike rugby you feel a sense of individuality [with throwing]," he said. "If you make a mistake, it's all on you."
"The thing with the discus is that if you throw a good throw, you know it straight away. You get a massive rush of adrenaline."
Sulupo's grandparents and father were born in Samoa, but his mother was New Zealand-born and he had never been to Samoa before the games.
He has a long-term goal of becoming an Olympian.
Sola said he hoped the boys' success in Samoa would help throwing in New Zealand.
"The fact that we had three boys going to the games shows that an academy like this is needed," he said.
The Commonwealth Youth Games drew entries from 66 countries, with athletes aged between 14 and 18. The games finish in Apia on September 11.
- The Wellingtonian