The last time I visited Tonga was in 2009, a year before democracy was introduced in 2010. That means up until this point in my life, I’ve never visited Tonga with a democracy and always a monarchy. So. Much. Has. Changed.
There were 3 highlights that really stood out to me.
Giving my gold medal to the Crown Prince Tupouto’a at the Pacific Games Royal Reception held at Vakaloa Resort. The Pacific Games began as the coronation was ending, so I dedicated my first gold medal to the newly crowned King Tupou VI.
The celebratory parade for all Pacific Games participants. Have you ever led a parade by yourself? It's awkward so I asked Sese to keep me company. Sese is a member of the local Hakulā swim club in Nuku’alofa. While walking through Kolo, Sese showed me all the best places for meals. Sese and I are Tongan, so naturally our priorities align together sensibly; food is of the utmost priority. Shout-out to the Singaporean restaurant selling "kentucky with manioke" for $5 on Fatafehi Road! Best. Fried. Chicken. Ever.
Training with Hakulā swim club at the Naval Base. Tonga still doesn’t have a local pool so coach Rochelle Fineanganofo (Sese's Mum) put lane ropes into the water and train that way. It’s a very humbling experience that makes me appreciate access to a pool. All kids across the world should learn how to swim; especially if those kids live on an island surrounded by water.
I applaud these girls and boys. They're pioneers of swimming in Tonga, trailblazing the way for others to follow. Here's hoping that the Pacific Games 2019 pool not only gets built, but gets built properly. So thankful, grateful, and humbled by this growth!