Iliesa Delana's life story which currently has captured the nation's imagination and its penchant for sports was started by an Englishman and fittingly enough, ended in London too.
Delana's gold medal win in the F42 high jump at the London Paralympics brings to an end the journey he first started 12 years ago. This brilliant chapter began while he was just a student of Cuvu College in Sigatoka where he met this Englishman who was in Fiji as a volunteer.
This anonymous volunteer from England had studied sports development and disabled athletes and it was he that encouraged Delana to take up sports. Delana was naturally a sports fanatic as attested to by former primary school mate Ronal from Sigatoka, who says that at Saint Joan Of Arc Primary School, he watched and played soccer with Delana who usually played with crutches and a wooden leg. He now belongs to a group of men who at one time held the nation in total awe with their exploits. The others before Delana were Victoria Cross winner Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, Windsurfing champion Tony Philps, golfer Vijay Singh and sevens rugby legend Waisale Serevi to name a few.
These gentlemen took on the world and became the best in their own right making sacrifices that far outweigh any accolades that may be heaped upon them. After witnessing the national outpour of pride that we rolled out to Delana, it can only be fittingly said that the same was done to Serevi, and so too, to the late Sukanaivalu, whose parade was more a solemn tribute to his greatness.
As noted by the late Philip Snow in his book, The Years of Hope, he witnessed the presentation of the Victoria Cross to Corporal Sukanaivalu's parents at Albert Park. As Snow noted, "His two aged parents had never left their island of Yacata for the capital before; they squatted meekly on the floor of the dias in the middle of the vast park while the Governor Alexander Grantham, bent over almost double in his tight white colonial governor's uniform to hand down the reward. Ratu Sukuna had previously read the citation on the microphone.
The troops marched past in the longest display to be seen in Fiji until very recent times, when the army is reported to have built up to proportions that are questioned."
And as for Serevi, he was widely celebrated every time Fiji won the Hong Kong Sevens and later when as a player and captain, won the Melrose Cup in 1997 and in 2005. There were many victory ceremonies, public marches and public holidays.
The grandeur of what these men were accorded was also given to Delana earlier this week and it was only made more memorable with the new found aspiration and strength he has given to the people of Fiji, especially the group that he represents - the people living with disabilities.
As mentioned by the President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Delana's achievement is hoped to be a paradigm shift in opinions and perceptions of the capabilities of people living with disabilities in Fiji.
The whole world too has admitted that this year's Paralympic Games is its biggest and most high profile ever, and with it, brought about shift in attitudes towards disability in general.
It is hoped that Delana's feat of bringing in the first ever gold medal from any Olympic event, will only serve as inspiration to other athletes, be it able-bodied or disabled athletes, that the insurmountable is not insurmountable anymore.
Just like when Delana received the news on the eve of the 2008 Beijing Paralympics that his high jump event was scrapped.
He continued to persevere despite this major setback, especially after he had worked hard in qualifying for Beijing.
On top of this, his search for financial backing and sponsor was equally heartbreaking as losing the chance to compete in Beijing.
The challenge of finding money to pay for his transport to and from training is well documented and also the sacrifice of leaving his family behind in Sigatoka to pursue his dreams in athletics. He put all that disappointment behind and with his mentor Freddy Fatiaki they kept their focus and looked forward to London 2012.
He put in the extra yards by pitting himself against able bodied athletes, especially the Coca Cola Games athletes competing against them.
On the regional level he quietly qualified for London through regional meets and when he got to London and against all expectations, he achieved the implausible.
For every generation of men there comes a time when one rises above the rest, and Delana is one of those men.