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Disability no barrier

Rashneel Kumar
Wednesday, July 02, 2014

HALAMEHI Tuilomani is a normal 21-year-old girl with one exception.

She is deaf. But this has not stopped the Kadavu lass from creating history.

Tuilomani is set to become the first athlete with disability to represent Fiji in an able-bodied category of a sport.

She is part of the Vonu Tribe Aussie Rules (AFL) Fiji women's team in this year's triennial International Cup in Melbourne, Australia to be held next month.

But, Tuilomani's participation in the championship, to be held from August 2 to 23, is in limbo.

She needs a sign language interpreter to travel with her to the tournament and for that she needs to raise $1500.

Tuilomani, who teaches at Gospel School for the Deaf, is determined to achieve this. She has overcome numerous hurdles in her life and knows she can surpass this as well.

"I started playing AFL in December last year. A group of AFL development officers came to our school last year to run a clinic and I was helping them out," Tuilomani said through her mum Mere Masi, who interpreted the comments to Times Sport.

"During the clinic, I kicked the ball and one of the boys from the AFL team saw it and said that I should try the sport. I had to wait until December for the AFL Fiji season to start and have been playing the sport since."

Aussie Rules star Alipate Carlile, who plays for Port Adelaide in the Australian Football League, is related to Tuilomani.

She hardly misses Carlile's matches adding she has learnt a lot about the sport from him.

"He is my uncle's namesake. Whenever he comes home for holidays, he gets us together and teaches us the sport," Tuilomani, who plays at rover, said.

Tuilomani said she had mastered the rules of the game and overcame the communication barrier on the field.

"At first it was hard to play with my teammates but they have supported me a lot and they have learnt some sign language that we use to communicate on the field."

AFL Fiji assistant team manager (selection) Doctor Robert Wolfgramm said Tuilomani was a valued member of the team.

"She has mastered the essential skills, fitness and team qualities necessary for competing at this high level," Dr Wolfgramm said.

"We hope Halamehi and the sign language partner who will accompany her will be able to be a part of this historic team and encourage your support of her in her endeavour to play for Fiji."

Tuilomani's message to aspiring athletes is "never look down at yourself. Look at the abilities and not the disabilities".

Tuilomani believes if she can do this, others can too.





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