Random Kid on a Beach

Yesterday at triathlon training, we had an aquathon (swim and run). As the squad is doing warmup laps and we’re organising the setup for transition, I notice a young boy come wandering over. Ragged shorts, no shoes. Avidly curious as he watches the squad swim.

He goes up to Darren. Greets him with a confident, “Tama! Tama! O a mai lou aso?” (Father/old man, hows your day going?) He asks, why are you swimming so much for? Darren tells him, for good exercise. The boy is doubtful. Maybe an ‘old man’ isnt supposed to be swimming a lot? Then the boy points at one of our teen girl athletes swimming laps in deeper water and says, in Samoan, concerned, “Hey tell her its deep there. She’s going to drown! Make her come back.”

Darren reassures him that she’s fine. She’s a good swimmer who can swim many laps and even go swim out to the reef. The boy shakes his head, awed. A bit doubtful that it can be true? Because how is it possible that a girl can swim that far?!

We line the juniors up first for their race. The boy comes over to me. “Aunty, aunty o a mai lou aso?”

Me – Fine. (What I really mean though, is GO AWAY. I’m busy, a tad stressed, getting ready to time the race. Totally not in the mood for chit chat with a random kid on the beach. Not even if they call me aunty.)

But the boy persists. “Aunty can I swim with them?”

I say, sure. Whatever. Go ahead.

He says, Please aunty, I dont have any goggles. Please do you have some for me?

So I get him a pair. (And yes I’m fully expecting that I will never see those goggles again. But at this point I just want this kid to stop bugging me so I can focus on the squad.)

The race starts and the boy swims with them. He stays in water he can stand, determinedly moving his arms and kicking as he tries to follow what the other kids are doing. He stops every so often to stand, spit out a mouthful of ocean, run a bit and then dive and “swim” some more. The race is 375m, 3 laps back and forth of the beach. Coach Bernie is standing in the water at the opposite end of the beach, the marker for the turn around and hes confused as to who this random kid is in our race?! but he encourages him and cheers him on anyway.

I’m expecting the boy to quit soon, once he realises just how far the kids have to swim. But he keeps going. He does the entire swim. Exits the water with a huge smile of I DID IT on his face. His joyful triumph is rather lovely to see.


He grins some more, but then he sees that the kids are heading off to run a lap around Taumeasina. The race isnt over. He turns to me, confused, “Oi e kamo’e?!” We run too?!

He asks me if I have any running shoes for him. “Please aunty?”

I dont have any spare shoes for him. I think of the box of running shoes back at the house, donated by Ray J Reupena and tri friends in Australia, shoes we have been giving out to all our triathletes, and wish I brought some extra with me to training. For random kids who wander over, curious about this strange thing called aquathon.

I tell the boy, no shoes sorry. And I mean it.

But he isnt daunted. He shrugs. Asks me, “E fia kamisaga?” How many laps?

I tell him, one. 800m.

He takes off at a sprint. Barefoot. Finishes the race. Does his first aquathon. We cheer for him.

We are packing up all the gear, and the boy comes over to return the goggles. “Faafetai” he says. Big smile.

I say, ‘you’re welcome. See you here again next week.’ And I mean it.

I can get discouraged by the admin/politics/ego battles of this sport in Samoa. Some days I’m tempted to quit. There’s days when I can’t do any training myself because I’m doing the setup and timing and organising the session for others. There’s mornings when I get up at 4.30am to coach a run session and only two out of ten athletes show up. When I trip over bikes in my living room, tri gear cluttering my house, and my car is always full of stuff for triathlon. There’s moments when I ask myself, why are we doing this? Yes I rather enjoy triathlon (and how it makes me feel to swim splutter, bike wobble and run stagger), but why am I, why are WE, putting so much time and effort into helping other people try triathlon and then get better at it?

Then a random kid wanders over to try doing an aquathon. And I’m reminded why it’s all worth it.

I hope he comes back. I’m putting that box of running shoes in the back of my car (next to all the other tri gear!) just in case.