A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to join two amazing individuals for one of their training sessions.
These two are none other than our Olympic-bound sailors and sibling duo, Rose-Lee Numa and Teariki Numa.
Let me make one thing very clear, I joined them during one of their water trainings but I was in the comfort of a boat out there at Fairfax Harbour. It was a beautiful day the water calm and lustrous but I must say, I was anxious for the first ten minutes.
This was in fact our first opportunity to capture them in action since they qualified, but when we actually got up close with the sport, I realized, this is a tough one.
While there are a few taking on the sport, it is still fairly unpopular locally, and I for one got my baptism into the sport of sailing that day, well maybe just a sneak peek of what’s ahead for these two.
It started with the duo bringing their sailing crafts out onto water down at the Royal Papua Yacht Club and mounting it.
It took a massive balancing act to make their boats stay afloat before catching and riding the wind.
I was so worried that sails will take a dive, but to my relief Rose-Lee and Teariki manoeuvred their crafts smoothly like the elite sailors they are as we made it out to open water.
Out on water, with the rest of the Capital’s downtown in the backdrop and Manubada Island sitting up ahead, we offloaded two buoys about a hundred metres apart, which marked the race course.
Remember I told you I was anxious before? Well, I was not anymore at this point. Who would be if you have beautiful view for distraction and a race that’s about to begin?
I took note that in the absence of a coach, the brother and sister coached themselves along during the race, which was admirable. What I was looking at were two athletes from a sport that allows them to compete individually working as a Team.
Teariki can be seen in the distance calling out to the older sister with instructions. A few stops were made here and there as the siblings huddled for a chit chat.
“We’re just doing a bit of upwind and downwind boat handling. What you were seeing was us trying to perfect that as much as we could and coming downwind with our jibes and our boat speed”, explained Teariki later.
I had to steal time during one of their breaks to ask them, what sort of other high performance training do they undergo, because from the looks of things, they were literally using their whole body, and more so their core to stay afloat and maintain balance.
“Earlier on we were spending much of the time at the gym to work on our legs and our core but at the moment our gym is closed so we’re pretty much doing light body weight stuff at home but obviously not helpful”, added Teariki.
To make things a bit more difficult, they continued to train in the middle of a nationwide COVID 19 Isolation period, so you could only imagine how they had to improvise, to stay focused and prepare for the Olympics.
On a lighter note, Rose-Lee who seemed to have enjoyed the day’s session told me afterwards, the conditions were surprisingly decent that day. On some days, they deal with a whole lot more than just the strong winds.
While, training is on-going they both shared their concerns about how challenging it is to get into Australia, which is the closest and the best place to get further training and more competition time.
Nonetheless, these two are bound to reach new heights because it is not every day you get to see siblings get into the Olympics and for this country, this marks a milestone.
Teariki will compete at the Olympics in the Laser Radial Class and Rose-Lee will compete in the women’s event.
Let me just point out, they may be the first two to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, but what’s even more significant is that their father Graham Numa, who is the current PNG Sailing President, in fact was the last sailor to represent PNG in this water sport. He made his Olympic Debut in 1988 Seoul (South Korea) Olympics and followed through with a consecutive appearance at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
The family’s journey in the sport started with their father who started out his sailing career with traditional canoe racing.
“It was in the mid 60’s when my father (Teariki and Rose-Lee’s Grandfather) was a policeman at the Kila Barracks. I would go over to the neighbouring village, Taikone, and crew on my uncle’s racing canoe. I was just 11 or 12 years old then and still in community school,” recalls the first Olympian in the Numa family.
The father’s love for the modern day sailing developed later in the 70’s while he was in Adelaide, South Australia on a 6 months training scholarship at the Australian Development Assistant Bureau.
“I saw my first Windsurfer and immediately fell in love with the craft,” he fondly recalls.
Upon returning to PNG, he bought a new windsurfer and the rest is history.
At the time of retirement, he had inked his name at several Pacific Games, 4 world championships and a dozen regattas. One of the regattas was hosted by PNG in the 80’S which attracted Olympic Gold medallists, world champions and many more, and Graham Numa was right there in the mix.
It was only natural that, 3 decades on, his children would follow in their father’s footstep and I am sure, when they hit the water in their crafts in Tokyo, they will carry their father’s heart with them, on those sails.
In a separate interview, Teariki expressed how special it is that they are following right behind their father.
One could already picture them out there, in the walk-out of the opening ceremony where they will uphold the pride of the Numa family, their tribe, the people of Hula, the Central Province and the country.
I can’t wait to see them sail the Red Black and Gold at the Tokyo Olympics come July.