Masterton squash player Sam Iasona is alone carrying the hopes of Tokelau - and the best wishes of his Wairarapa family and sponsors - as sole representative of his home territory at the 2015 Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea.
SOLE HOPE: Masterton squash player Sam Iasona is representing Tokelau as the sole representative of his home territory at the 2015 Pacific Games being contested in Port Moresby until July 18. PHOTO/LYNDA FERINGA
The 34-year-old lineman and father-of-four yesterday travelled with his Masterton coach Craig Schofield to Port Moresby, where athletes from 24 nations and territories will, over the next fortnight, join battle at the 15th edition of the games.
Included in the roster of 28 sports at the games, which Prince Andrew declared open on Friday, are disciplines ranging from powerlifting and swimming, to outrigger canoeing, lawn bowls, boxing, shooting and athletics. Representatives from New Zealand and Australia will, for the first time, take part in the games and will contest four sports: sailing, taekwondo, rugby sevens and weightlifting.
Tokelau was also the only territory or nation fielding a single representative, with New Zealand and Australia sending about 40 competitors apiece and PNG boasting a squad of more than 600.
Iasona, a former Porirua-based rugby and touch player, has lived for about a decade in Masterton with wife Rachel, and was selected to represent Tokelau in squash after his introduction to the sport only two years ago.
"I actually took up squash by accident. I was filling in for somebody who didn't turn up. I didn't think it was that cool a game coming from rugby but, as soon as I played, I went home, jumped on TradeMe and bought a racquet. I was hooked."
The old boy of Aotea College and Otago University plays for Red Star Squash Club in Masterton and has lost about 12kg in weight during his heightened training and playing regime, and after taking up work as a lineman about a year ago with one of his major hometown sponsors, Power Related Services Ltd (PRSL).
He had also taken lessons and trained alongside Masterton Squash Club player Mia Smith, he said, and the support had been essential and humbling.
Iasona was offered the chance to represent his home territory about three months ago, he said, after elders in Tokelau held discussions over the past year and decided to send an athlete to the competition for the first time.
"Tokelau have never taken a squash player or a team before and I'm the only one going. I don't know who I'll be playing yet and whether I'll be playing A graders or D graders or what. I don't even know what countries I'll be playing - it's all very top secret. I can't explain the feeling. The pressure of being the only one to go is right up there. But I just have to enjoy it and do the best I can."
Iasona said he was indebted to his wife Rachel and four sons for their enduring support and to his sponsors, including PRSL owner Charles Grant, Matt Spooner of Masterton Foot Clinic, and Red Star Squash Club.
"We worked our butts off fundraising for the trip and myself, Craig, and his son-in-law Steve Martin, who was communications manager, we've got quite tight. People like Steve and Mia were vital to making this all happen, and I couldn't have made it this far without Rachel and our boys either."
Iasona said his family, friends and supporters will be following his fortunes on the squash court through Maori Television, which was broadcasting reports on the games, and through his Facebook page.
By Nathan Crombie - Wairarapa Times-Age