Today’s relay saw us travel the length and breadth of Tarawa Island in Kiribati. It was also a day of firsts. As the day progressed, we discovered more and more about the amazing athletes that were accompanying us on the relay.
First up was Kakianako Nariki, the first ever Kiribati Olympian, who competed in the 100 metres at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. When we asked him about this experience, he told us “It was the most amazing experience of my life. I was 22 when I went to Athens. I was very proud of myself because I was our first Olympian. Even though I came last, I knew I had done the best for my country”. Although Kakianako no longer competes, he has spent the last four years working as a seaman, and has travelled the world in this career. The job means he spends large periods of time away and only a few months every year at home. He felt very fortunate that he was back home during the time the Queen’s Baton Relay was there and so had the opportunity to take part.
Then we met 18 year-old Taoriba Biniati, who is Kiribati’s first ever female boxer. Taoriba is not only the first female boxer to compete in the sport but when we spoke to Kiribati boxing coach Tarieta, he told us that up until July 2013, no girl had ever stepped foot through the doors of his gym. He now coaches 700 primary school children and has 12 boxers competing internationally. When asked about being the first female boxer on the island, Taoriba said "I knew some of the Kiribati boxers and wanted to try it. I decided to go to Coach Tarieta's gym in July this year. It was only when I joined that I realised that I was the only female there. Now I practise every day and I want to qualify for the Youth Games in 2014.” When asked how she felt about having no other girls to have matches with here in Kiribati. “I practice with the boys and I quite enjoy the fact that I am the only female”.
Having been amazed by the athletes that we had already met, we were astounded when we found out that the next athlete to run with the Queen’s Baton, Taubwena, is a strong contender to be the first Commonwealth Games medallist for Kiribati at Glasgow 2014. Being only 22, Taubwena is tipped to be one of the weightlifting stars of the future and he told us that he was looking forward to Glasgow. We found out later that Taubwena is also a late-night security guard at the hotel we are staying at here in Kiribati – a great coincidence!