Alex Beddoes vividly remembers his Cook Islands debut. It was at the 2013 Pacific Mini Games in Wallis and Futuna.
He recalls that event not because it was his first outing for the country but because he “performed very badly”.
Beddoes, the reigning 800 metres and 1500 metres Pacific Games champion, was then based in New Zealand and the regional event fell in the middle of the winter season there.
“In the winter we kind of do cross country more because the conditions were not suitable for running track at that time of the year," he says.
“When I came in at Wallis and Futuna, I ran 2.04 minutes I think and my personal best in 800m at the time was 1.54 minutes so I was quite far off.”
Instead of complaining about his poor performance, Beddoes decided to focus on whatever positives he managed to take out from the games.
“I think I just kind of knew what my mistakes were. It was probably just more of a matter of preparation. Looking back now I think I always wanted to do well and win so that was kind of the main driver and I knew I had to run faster before that so I knew I could get back there. I just had to judge things right with my preparations.”
Those lessons learnt from a very disappointing start to his athletics career, paved the way for Beddoes.
Four years later, he tasted his first major win in an international event – a gold medal in the 800 metres event at the Pacific Mini Games in Vanuatu.
Last year, Beddoes topped that up with double gold in the 800m and 1500m at the Pacific Games in Samoa.
“I just focused on trying to control what I can control in training. I was probably a little bit more confident at the Pacific Games in Samoa because I had won the gold medal at the Mini Games. It was kind of like paying my due diligence ‘ok you won the Mini Games, now you got to try to win the big one’.
“I felt a bit of pressure especially in 800m but I kind of like it. I think the pressure makes me rise up to the occasion and lift my performance.”
Beddoes entered the 1500m event as an underdog. It was the first time he ran that distance at an international event.
He stunned everyone by winning.
“I put most of it down to my training.”
Alex Beddoes got into athletics by chance.
When he was 15 and boarding at the Auckland-based Sacred Heart College, he picked up running as a way to keep himself fit.
He was then into rugby and tennis.
“When I was in secondary school, I wanted to get fitter for rugby so I started to run. I was in a boarding school and my roommate was a distance runner and he used to go for runs in the morning and I wanted to get fit for tennis and rugby so I would go run with him," he says.
“That was kind of my first real introduction to running. The coach who would take us for a run in the mornings asked me to take part in the 800m at the school's athletics event.”
The time Beddoes clocked was good and the coach suggested he should focus on making it his career.
He then took part in the New Zealand Secondary Schools competition and managed to finish in the top eight.
Former Athletics Cook Islands administrator Ina Marsters, who was at that event, spotted him and recruited him in the national programme.
After his debut in 2013, Beddoes represented the country at the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea.
However his biggest break was the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Olympic Games is something every athlete dreams about going to. In your whole career as an athlete, you really only get to the Olympics once or twice if you are lucky.”
Beddoes also had the opportunity to compete against one of his idols in the 800m heats – David Rudisha, two time Olympic champion and current record holder in the event.
“It felt pretty cool to be racing in the same heat as him. After 200m I was running directly behind him and I can remember he made it look very effortless when a lot of us were struggling. He was so relaxed running at that pace," he says.
“I did my best to at least stay with him and try and beat some of them but I finished basically very near the back. Afterwards I just wished him well because he had qualified and he said ‘thank you’.”
Beddoes also had a brief encounter with tennis great Rafael Nadal during breakfast at the athletes village dining hall.
“One night we were all sitting at the dining hall having dinner together as a team. These two American ladies came over to us asking for our pin, I think they were looking for smaller countries to exchange pins with," Beddoes says.
“It was the Williams sisters Serena and Venus. I think the whole table was in shock. They kind of had their caps on so you couldn’t really recognise their face properly unless they were really close and they came over and were like ‘hey do you guys want to swap pins’. I think I was the first one to say ‘yes please’. I got Serena’s Tennis USA pin.”
Beddoes was training with an elite group, which includes the champion and record holders from Australia and New Zealand, in Melbourne when the Covid-19 crisis began.
Since most competitions were cancelled, he decided to come to Rarotonga to spend some time with his family.
While on the island, Beddoes has decided to start a training programme for youths aged 14 to 18 years. He runs the sessions which includes basic athletics drills on Mondays. Wednesdays and Fridays.
“I know I’m not going to be around forever, athletes get a short career span so the idea was to give something back to the community by inspiring and training the next generation of athletes.
“My goal is for the Cook Islands to be known as a strong nation for running which I reckon we can because I have seen the talents in the younger kids here. I think they just need someone to take them through the ranks and they should be able to do what I have done.
“From junior to senior athlete no matter what code, there is a lot of distractions along the way. Once you finish school, you have to do a lot of sacrifices, you have to give up social opportunities with your friends’ even financial opportunities.”
But Beddoes says those sacrifices are worth it as athletics can open doors to opportunities and experiences beyond their reach.
It has for him and he knows it will for others if they give it their best shot.
“You can be with the best in the world. This world is a big place and athletics can be a way to see it.”