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Disability as an ability

Ana Madigibuli
Friday, March 02, 2018

A pillar of hope and strength to people living with disability today, Paralympic and table tennis champion Mere Rodan shares her success as an empowering tool to motivate people who are slowly coping with disability in Fiji.

Mrs Rodan, who is the president and assistance executive officer for Spinal Injury Association in Fiji, is one of the two women in Oceania to be ranked in the world rankings in the women's Class 5 category.

With both paternal and maternal links to Koro Island in Lomaiviti, Mrs Rodan is also the only woman in Oceania to have met the requirement for pre-qualifications for the 2016 Summer Rio Paralympic Games.

"I was born and bred in Suva and it was in 1984 that I first got the chance to visit Sinuvaca Village where my father is originally from. I had spent all of my life in the Capital City when I was growing up," she said.

"My childhood was spent in Raiwaqa and our life then was quite challenging. My dad spent a lot of time in his plantation just behind the twin cinemas in Raiwaqa trying to provide for us financially through what he grew on his little plantation.

"For us back then, weekends were our family time at the plantation with dad having very little earnings from what he produced from the plantation, but we survived those hard times with what he earned.

"My dad was a sole breadwinner for our family and I would be the only one helping him because I was the youngest of eight siblings. I was eight years-old at the time and after school I would come home and see my dad getting ready with the baskets he had woven from the coconut leaves and he would fill it with cabbage and bananas that he had harvested or picked earlier in the day."

She said she would remember going down to Grantham Rd in Raiwaqa, going from one block to another selling from her basket of produce.

"People knew about me selling our produce so they would expect me every day after school. People often looked from their workplace corridors waiting for me to come in with my basket of cabbage or whatever it was my dad had harvested for us to sell," she said.

"I loved the life we lived then and I would say that people today have changed a lot and live more advanced lives but are slowly going away from appreciating little things that matter."

She said her trust and her strong relationship with God had prepared her well when she was diagnosed with paraplegia, a paralysis that changed her life completely.

From there with the help of her family she picked up the pieces of having to live with a disability and used it as an empowering tool through sports.

In 2014, Mrs Rodan was introduced to table tennis and since then she has never looked back, now being one of the well-recognised table tennis players and Paralympic champion in the South Pacific.

Mrs Rodan said she learned a lot of valuable life lessons that had helped shape her sporting career.

"It's important to do things and let your actions speak louder than your words because action has a stronger impact on someone's life compared with just saying something," she said.

Today, Mrs Rodan continues to strongly advocate on issues that people living with disability face daily and hopes to do more in the future through sports.

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