Brushing the tears from her eyes, the lanky defender and her teammates followed Cook Islands netball captain Luciana Nicholas as they were given a raucous welcome home from their golden feat at the Pacific Games in Samoa.
The drummers with their rhythmic pulsating beats added to the emotional reception as the players got swamped with ei from the families, friends and supporters who took turns to greet and congratulate them for their achievement.
Cook Islands last won the Pacific Games gold medal in netball 28 years ago. The majority of the squad, including the 20-year-old Piri, were not even born then.
“It was so overwhelming to see the local supporters turning up to welcome us. It meant a lot and we felt great to receive that kind of love and support from them. This gold medal win is for everyone,” Piri explained.
Team Cook Islands returned from the Games with 18 medals – five gold, five silver and eight bronze medals.
The event in Samoa is one of Team Cook Islands’ best ever Pacific Games.
Competing at regional level against countries with a far superior set-up and budget is no easy feat.
Some countries even sent their athletes overseas on special training in lead up to the Games. The hosts Samoa, for instance, had more than 200 athletes and coaches training in China for four months.
Cook Islands also have a number of athletes, the likes of gold medalists Alex Beddoes and Wesley Roberts, based overseas and their achievements at the Games shows why we need more Cook Islanders on such high performance training programmes.
The onus lies with the National Olympic Committee and the sporting federations to secure scholarships and better training facilities for our promising talents.
Congratulations to all athletes and team officials for representing the country. Thank you to the supporters for showering them with love on their arrival. And our thanks to our journalist Liam Ratana for his untiring work, 24/7, to bring us the stories of their tears, tribulations and triumphs.
Let the success of this Games serve as an inspiration for everyone, from athletes to supporters. Despite the limitations, the Cook Islands has shown that they have the potential to excel, given some proper guidance and preparation and backing.
As Piri said: “Support like this makes us work harder and play well for our families and country at the international stage.” Saturday’s welcome shows that Cook Islands care.
- Rashneel Kumar