I am incredibly lucky to be able to do something I love every day, and to travel the world training and competing in Triathlon! It’s an opportunity that not many people have, and so I need to keep reminding myself to make the most of it, every day!
It is a slightly odd concept though, being a Professional Sportswoman. I mean we aren’t exactly adding value to today’s society, at least not in the same way as Doctors are contributing. A phrase that sticks in my head, is something a good friend said to me (and said in the best intentions)…
“If all the Triathletes in the world disappeared tomorrow, the world would go on and no one would notice. If all the Doctors in the world disappeared tomorrow, then that would be a different story.”
It’s very true. Ultimately I guess sport is a selfish profession. We are focused on improving our own individual performance and driving our limits and boundaries to what the human body and mind can achieve.
I have always been drawn to trying to achieve more through my corporate career and sport. I think most triathletes are looking for this too. During my life, sport has given me so many wonderful opportunities and experiences, I am passionate to see if I can help others, have equally enriching opportunities and learning, through sport, whatever level or ability they are. I want people to see how powerful sport can be in uniting communities, developing skills, opening doors, achieving goals and many more.
I think this is why I was drawn to the organization MORE Than Sport. MTS is an organization that helps to give us, as athletes, this opportunity to inspire and support others and to give back to the amazing communities around the world through actionable change to transform lives.
MORE Than Sport is the brain child of Chris Leito after a pre race bike ride in Mexico. Staying in a beautiful all-inclusive resort, on his ride only a few miles from the hotel, he saw extreme poverty and whole villages built from flimsy cardboard boxes and straps of wood. Chris realized that not only is this kind of poverty apparent in third world countries, it was happening in the very places we were competing. He decided at that moment to find a way to bring support and hope and restoration to those in need. Working to bring together his fellow athletes and use their dedication and talents to change the communities in which we play and compete. That was MORE Than Sport. (Read the full story here https://www.morethansport.org/pages/about-us)
I wanted to work with MORE Than Sport, to try to enable these opportunities as I train and race around the world. I want to be able to give back and try to add value. MORE than sport enables me to do that. As an organization it helps make the connection to the local communities and organisations where we can volunteer and help. So again I guess we can selfishly focus on our training and racing.
I have now been involved with MTS for almost a year, and it just gets better and better. From helping with Kahu Youth* group in Wanaka, New Zealand, to supporting Kona Kids**, to building bikes and giving these to local children in Kona and helping them learn to ride, seeing their smiles growing and confidence soar!
* Kahu Youth provides programs, activities, events and a fun, safe base for young people ages 22 to 24.
** Kona Kids is an after school program founded to help children living in transitional housing, to provide them with learning experiences, and developmental resources through education, exercise and leadership.
However I have to say my latest experience in Malaysia was over and above my expectations, and I am grateful for the incredible opportunity I had whilst in Langkawi as I was able to see island life away from the tourism and away from the race hype, by spending two days in the local community. It was a great way to put into perspective my feelings about my race performance. I spent the first day with The Rotary Club*, escorting a group of children from a local home to Langkawi Wildlife Park.
*Rotary is a worldwide organization providing humanitarian services, with the focus of peace and conflict prevention/resolution; disease prevention and treatment, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, education and literacy, economic and community development.
My contact at The Rotary Club, Marcel Menard was fabulous! I was invited to join him and his friends for brunch the day after the race, and afterwards Marcel drove me round some of the great spots on the Island, and talked a lot about how life operated Malaysia and specifically on Langkawi. I certainly hadn’t expected my own private tour! The following day was the trip to the Wildlife Park. WE were taking a group of children from a local home .Whilst the home, is often called an orphanage, technically it isn’t. Many of the children still have parents but just due to circumstances are unable to be looked after by their families.
Rumah Nur Kasih has about 28 children from ages 5 up to 13. For this trip, The Rotary Club had secured the support of The Four Seasons Hotel, to provide lunches for all the kids, as well as a minibus to help with transport, in addition to the support of the Wildlife Park itself allowing the children to visit for free. On arrival the children were all given bags of animal food, so that they were able to feed the different birds and animals, as they walked round the park. Seeing their confidence grow and their smiling faces as they were able to interact with the birds and animals was brilliant! In fact, seeing the smiles on the faces of the carers, who work at the home was even better! A lot of the children knew some English, at least they knew more English than I did Malai and it was fun trying to learn how to say some phrases in Malai and interact with the kids. Not that I can remember anything now, but it was fun at the time.
What did surprise me at from the whole experience, and something I just hadn’t really thought of, was the separation of the girls and the boys during the day. When I arrived at the home, the girls and boys were eating their lunch in separate groups. The travelled on different buses to the Wildlife Park, and were kept in two separate groups during the visit. There was very little interaction between the genders. I guess I just thought that in 2016, and at the age the children were it would be a lot more mixed. However I understand that this is part of the culture and so respect this, but very much hope that even with the separation, both genders have equal opportunities as they learn and grow.
The following day I spent with The Charity Club of Langkawi. The Charity club is a voluntary organization committed to improving the day to day lives of underprivileged families in Langkawi. 100% of funds received are allocated to specific purposes. For example, they deliver basic food parcels, fund medical expenses and travel costs to mainland hospitals, even accompanying patients to appointments. They fund sanitation and repairs to homes and assist families applying for welfare or help them find work, as well as work to find sponsors who will support a child through school.
Timing worked out well, as due to some heavy rain in previous weeks, they had rescheduled their school sports day, which now coincided with my visit. In fact it was the last day of three days of sport that they had had. A three day sports day! Brilliant! It was great fun. Sport is so powerful and levels the playing field and I was able to interact and engage so much more with the children in this environment, than if it had perhaps been just a Q&A session in their class rooms, as initially planned. They had netball posts up for shooting, hula hoops for throwing over cones, hockey dribbling games and handball on the go, during the day. I think one of my favourite parts though was learning (badly) how to play some of their traditional Malai playground games!
So much fun. The sports day finished off with 4x60m relays, and there was incredible atmosphere as all the kids got behind their team to cheer them on. I then presented the trophies to the teams, as well as present the Ironkid medals to the three school children that had taken part in the Ironkid race a few days earlier! Even better was that the one girl (out of the three) was actually the fastest! Go the girls! #sisu. Interestingly enough out of the 300 children at the school, over half are girls.
Again at the school, there was separation of the boys and girls. To some extent I understand this at a Sports Day and in the competitions. The girls would compete against the girls and boys against the boys. Although it would have been great to see some mixed events. But there was a lot more interaction generally between the girls and boys.
In the afternoon, I helped Sheila and Evelyn (the two stalwarts of The Charity Club) collect the food parcels from the local supermarket, who provide basic home supplies and fresh vegitables, and were then able to deliver these to three families who struggle to survive with day to day life. This was the other side to the island life, and hearing the stories about the families and how they live and survive was eye opening. The families live in small, often one room houses. Often single parents and children, several generations all living together. The government apparently refuses to accept that poverty exists in Langkawi.
Minimum wage is 900RM (~300USD / month) and yet for a one room basic house the rent can be 500RM or more! One family was considering pulling their 13year old daughter out of school, in order to go to work to help support them, meaning that she would then lose the opportunity and learning through her education, and the bigger benefit she’d have at supporting the family in the future. In another family, the Naantina, who is 11years old, comes home from school and does all the washing and house hold chores, as well as looking after her 5year old brother, Hemanathan, whilst their mother is out at work and not back often till 9pm. Their youngest brother, Kugaan who’s 3, stays with their neighbour too, to try to help.
I found it hard to see how these families have to pay so much rent for very simple and basic houses, if you can even call them that, and how this is quite ok, given the minimum wage, and almost swept under the carpet or just not acknowledged. The Charity Club, like The Rotary Club, are therefore doing some fantastic work to try to help.
As many of you know, over the past few weeks leading up to Malaysia and afterwards, I have also been trying to raise funds through MORE Than Sport to donate to The Rotary Club and The Charity Club. IT was therefore a great joy to be able to inform the two organisations of what I’d been doing, and was a complete and unexpected surprise to them. I am pleased that I was able to deliver this news to them whilst I was there and even more stoked to say that we’ve raised over $2000USD, so that’s over $1000 to both charities. This is brilliant! THANK YOU to everyone who has donated. Your support means a lot to the organisations and the children in Langkawi, who will benefit from these funds.
If you want to support MORE Than Sport or get involved, check out all the awesome kit you can purchase and select the cause you want to support as you buy. Alternatively, click on the link below and donate to my page. I will aim to keep raising funds for ongoing projects that I can be involved in as I train and race around the world. Thank you!
I can’t wait to get going with the next project through MORE Than Sport. DO MORE!