SEPTEMBER 3 was a day like no other.
Miles away from home, let alone the duration it took for the team to adapt to the cold London weather, that very day was different.
“That morning was just beautiful, it was like a tropical day here in Fiji, warm and beautiful,” Team Fiji chef de mission to the London 2012 Paralympic event Sainiana Tukana said.
Seated at Holiday Inn in Suva minutes after their arrival, she reminisced the day they prepared for gold medallist Iliesa Delana’s event — the F42 high jump category.
“It had been raining and it was cold. We had been wearing warm clothing since we got there because the weather was new to us but that particular day, I did not wear any warm clothing, the weather was beautiful,” Ms Tukana said.
She said they had breakfast and parted as the two boys — Freddy Fatiaki and Delana left for the grounds and she would follow later.
“Before we parted, we joined hands and we prayed, we gave everything to God because He was our source, we were not worried about other countries but we relied on Him to perform miracles for us that day.
“When we parted, I called out to him and wished him well and told him that day was his.”
A short while later, it was Delana’s jump. She said jumpers started at 1.4 metres which Delana passed before beginning his jump at 1.65 metres.
Ms Tukana said Delana cleared the bar at first attempts in all his jumps — 1.70 metres, 1.71 metres until the winning jump at 1.74 metres.
“In fact, he jumped the 1.77 metres as well and he cleared it but the tip of his leg hit the bar.”
She said Delana cleared the bar at 1.81 metres at a pre-test competition organised in Cardiff by the Australian Paralympic Committee for regional countries, and Fiji was a part of it.
“When the last jump also dropped the bar at 1.77 metres, I cried and I thanked God. I started jumping around with the Fiji flag minutes before I asked a person on the ground to take the flag to Delana.
“I was so proud of him when I saw him hold the flag and looked up to the skies and thanked God. I am so, so proud,” she said, adding the exposure would now boost Delana’s athletic career having participated in a crowd of more than 80,000.
“That alone was incredible for him to cope with but he was told to concentrate and remain focused.
“For this achievement, it is indeed a good time for people living with disabilities in Fiji. It is not only an achievement but a challenge as well for able-bodied persons — the will to try hard and look beyond those expectations because God has already planned good things for us,” Ms Tukana said.
She also acknowledged Delana’s humility, going out to meet the general public in London, greeted them, shook hands, accepted congratulatory exchanges, and signed autographs — a process that took two hours compared to the 20 minutes it took to get to the hotel from the games village.
Ms Tukana said Delana would now shift his focus on upcoming international tournaments and keeping up with his standards.