The annual Cook Island Sports Awards night was held on the main islands of Rarotonga this month and it was the sport of sailing that stole the show by winning seven awards including the most prestigious titles.
The Sailing Cook Islands Olympic Laser Squad sailors, Helema Williams and Taua Elise won the Sportswomen and Sportsman of the Year Awards respectively. This is the first time in Cook Island history that both titles have been won by the same sport.
'I was completely shocked, I didn’t even prepare a speech!' explained Helema. 'It is a great honour and an exciting time for sailing in the Cook Islands. We have a really big following and support network that I hope will enable me to realise my dream of representing my Country at the Olympic Games'
Known as the, ‘real Black Pearls of the Pacific’, 19 year old Helema, 20 year old Taua and team mate, Junior Charlie, also aged 20, originate from the island of Manihiki where black pearl farming is the trade.
'My grandfather, Tekake Williams established the black pearl industry and is also famous for his world record free dive which still remains unbeaten today.
'I believe my competitive spirit comes from him and his daughter, my mother, Catherine Williams who has been a massive driving force behind my sailing campaign' confessed Helema.
Taua explained, 'There are no roads in Manihiki, everyone travels by boat so we grow up being very familiar with the rhythm of the ocean. Sailing started there over a decade ago when two wooden Optimist dinghies arrived. The first time I travelled from Manihiki was in 2001 to the Optimist Championship in Rarotonga. To me, going to Raro was like going to New York, with cars and all the lights.
'I am living my dream. I’m serious about the opportunity opened up to me by achieving an IOC Scholarship. The benefits of working with my new coach, Laura Baldwin are really obvious to me. I have a long way to go and much to learn but I am thoroughly dedicated to give absolute attention to taking up every new skill extended to me including; what I eat, fitness programs, technical improvements, tactical skills and more. My aim is to be the first Cook Islander to represent my Nation in the Laser Class at the Olympics in London 2012.'
Sports awards Hon.Henry Puna, Prime minister, Helema Williams Sportswoman of the Year, Peter taua henry Sportsman of the Year, Junior Chalie sports Coach of the Year and Mrs Akaiti Puna. - Anne Tierney Click Here to view large photo
When you think that this team originate from an isolated Atoll in the middle of the pacific, you can imagine just how exciting this next chapter of their lives will be. In a couple of weeks, Helema, Taua and Junior will be travelling with their coach, former British Olympian Laura Baldwin, to compete in the ISAF World Cup Events in Holland and the UK.
As well as racing and training they will get to visit some major Cities such as Amsterdam and London.
Having just returned home to Australia from the Cook Islands, Laura’s conclusion of the place is, 'it’s a sailor’s paradise. The waters are a magnificent azure blue colour, the islands are surrounded by unspoilt white sand beaches lined with tropical palm trees and the skies illuminate with the brightest stars imaginable at night.
'The wind blew every day for the four weeks I was there. I spent time on both the capital island of Rarotonga and a 40 minute flight away in Aitutaki.
'In Rarotonga, the team sail straight out onto the Ocean from a harbour in the centre of town. This is an exceptional training and regatta venue as is the mesmerising idyllic waters of Aitutaki’s lagoon where locals are gearing up for it to become a hot spot for international water sports events.'