Guam’s Pacific Games paddling team is going against world’s best

Photo: Samoa 2019 Pacific Games

Next month’s Pacific Games in the Solomon Islands hosts a variety of sporting events – tennis, archery, athletics, boxing, rugby, weightlifting, and much more. And while all noble pursuits, the outrigger canoe races, one of eight events in which Team Guam will compete, is uniquely different.

Paddler Miara Ruiz told KUAM Sports, “We’re going up against some pretty high-caliber teams. Once we get out there. Tahiti, Samoa, Australia – they obviously have a lot of experience on their teams and they’ve been together a little bit longer than we have, but we’re going to give them the best we have.”

It’s a formidable challenge, because other crews paddle for much more than medals and the glory of representing their homeland – they’re honoring tradition, and riding the waves with the strength of their ancestors. And in this sport, we’re facing athletes that are the best in the world at what they do.

“For the Pacific Games, we were paddling with va’a which is a much heavier, knife-shaped canoe,” Ruiz explained. “So the experience has taught me a lot – dealing with different conditions, different boats, different paddles. It’s been quite the experience.”

And the greater victory is the community that’s paddling has created, extending our shared heritage as Pacific islanders.  This year’s typhoon may have created a setback in training, but not at all in our crew’s fighting spirit. “There’s nothing else you can do but push on,” she added. “Just keep training and the results will show from there.”

So how does Guam looks to keep pace with this caliber and battle for a place on the podium? Ruiz’s proven method is one the entire Guam contingent has committed to: putting in work. Simply stated, she broke it down, saying, “Time and practice. A lot of us have been together from the Mini-Games in Saipan. A lot of us have been together in our paddling clubs, but the majority have been together for more than a year.”

And the tactical side of paddling is something Guam’s va’a crew is bringing to the Games – situational awareness, teamwork, timing, confidence, and trusting the process.

“I feel that for sprints or distance races, you really have to change it up mentally,” she continued. “No two races are the same – every race is unique.”

The va’a squad stands by a solemn promise they’ve made to each other, to the rest of the Team Guam contingent representing the island community. “We’re going to give it all we’ve got. We’re going to make sure we’re pulling those long and strong strokes. We’ve got some good people on our boat, so that’s the way we’re going to apply our power and keep pulling on. “That’s the way we paddle, and the way we do it.”