Olympics | SPORTS

One Day At A Time Sweet Jesus

Oi from Rio Olympic Games Village. I just thought we took a different mode and do a couple of in-depth features beginning with Fiji’s Chef de Mission Cathy Wong. She’s
01 Aug 2016 14:52
One Day At A Time Sweet Jesus
Team Fiji’s chef de mission Cathy Wong in Rio de Janeiro yesterday. Photo: ONOC.

Oi from Rio Olympic Games Village. I just thought we took a different mode and do a couple of in-depth features beginning with Fiji’s Chef de Mission Cathy Wong.

She’s managing a team of 88 athletes at the Rio Olympics and her Fijian men’s team are favourite for Gold.

‘One Day at a Time Sweet Jesus’

It was at the end of our one hour interview that Fiji’s Chef de Mission to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games,  Cathy Wong started humming the gospel song “one day at a time, sweet Jesus. That’s all I’m asking of You. Give me the strength to do every day, what I have to do.”

“That’s my favourite song, my source of strength when I’m trying to figure something… or have these questions, what if?,” said the mother of three at her room 1601 Team Fiji headquarters on Block 24, Condominium 7, Olympic Village.

Cathy had just completed briefing her team and sent them to dinner while she manned the office when I called for this interview.

I’ve been wanting to do this interview for sometime but maybe the time was right, she was relaxed, the team in good spirit and the administrative matters mostly sorted.

“Tell me about yourself, the early years,” I asked to kick start our interview.

“Background in sports it really started from primary school, I’ve always had an interest in being active. Primary school played netball at St Agnes and at class 8, I was made the sports captain of the school.”

She went to St John’s College in Cawaci, Levuka, Ovalau where she was introduced to hockey.

“I took up hockey and never looked back. I played for St John’s for four years (1977-1980) and when I was in form 6 I made to the national team in 1980 against a visiting Australian club side.”

However, it was only a short stint, “only ten minutes because I was on the reserve and that was it.

“That time it was the grass turf at Veiuto and heavy wooden stick.”

She gave up serious sports when she entered Fiji School of Medicine to study as a physiotherapist in 1981.

“That’s when I decided to focus on my study, that’s when I first met Robin Mitchell (Oceania National Olympic Committees president).

“He was the one who mentored me to not giving up completely on my sporting sporting dreams. He brought up the idea rather then being an athlete  to be come a support staff in my chosen field of physiotheraphy.”

Cathy was approached by rugby in 1984 after her graduation but turned it down because she was just starting her young family. In 1987 she was involved with the Rugby World Cup but didn’t travel with the team for the same reason.

“From there the rest is history.” Her last tour with rugby was 2009.

Apart from rugby she was also heavily involved with athletics, swimming, hockey and other sports and thereon became a member of the FASANOC Medical Commission.

Grand-daughter of an American missionary

“Okay, lets back track again, tell me about your family?,” I asked as I was interested to know what part of Fiji she was from.

She giggled not expecting a question about her origins.

“My mum is from Savusavu (Smith) and my dad from Oneata Lau. So he’s Williams, my maiden name is Williams. My grandmother is from Oneata Lau and my grandfather is a Williams from America. A black American missionary.

“It was three brothers that came down, two came to Fiji and one went to Samoa.

“So born in Suva, brought up in Vanua Levu.”  The 53-year-old grew up at Tamani Lane, Raiwaqa.

Cathy met husband Kevin Wong in her last year at FSM, they got married and started their family.

“We started our family very young, my oldest son is Max now 32, my daughter Gabriella is 25 and my youngest is Cordell, he is 19.

Cathy herself comes from a big family of ten sibblings, six brothers and three sisters. She’s the third youngest of the four girls.

Her dad Joseph Williams worked for government then Carpenters and her mum, a Smith worked for BPs.

“That’s where my hockey interest comes from, from my mother’s side.”

Proper training

It was the 2013 Mini Pacific Games that saw her come to the forefront of sports administration.

She was chosen as deputy Chef de Mission to Alini Sovu and took over the job when Alini felt sick and had to be evacuated from Wallis and Futuna.

Last year at the Pacific Games in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea she managed a team size of over 400 people.

“As the Chef it is good to start from the Mini Games because it’s a learning curve, it’s what I call work in evolution.

“When you come in as a chef you have to be mentored, be guided into the role and there’s a lot of learnings involved.

“One thing I’m privileged about is that former Chef de Missions are still involved behind the scene, people like Atma Maharaj, Chris Yee and Patrick Bower.

“The job requires a lot of commitment.”

She said her job as a physiotherapist really helped her knowing the technicalities from the outset was very useful.

“I could see things from an athlete’s perspective and truning things around to show that it was all about the athletes, its not about who the Chef is or who the deputy is.

“Everything is athletes focus.”

Family support

“How do you balance work, sport and family?,” was my next question.

“I must say the biggest support is my family. If it wasn’t for my family I wouldn’t have done this.

“My husband, he really is the man of the house. He’s the one that stays back, he is the one that attends all the parents interviews, so if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Cathy’s husband, Kevin, a former Marist Suva Street class of mine, is a very private person a qualified electronics person by trade. He’s been the backbone of the family and the family business.

“Probably I must say my biggest driving force is my passion and my love for what I do. I find that if I’m passionate, if I love it I will make it. That’s why I say my work as a physio overflowed into sports, so do I separate the two, no, sports and physio its all in one basket.”

Banks did not support setting up of first physiotherapist clinic in Fiji.

After several years as a physiotherapist at the CWM Hospital she decided to venture outside of government and set up her own private practice.

Women in business was not heard of in the mid- 1990s.

“No bank would give me a loan. I was a woman and it was an unknown profession in 1996/97.

“When I went to the bank to get my loan, no bank would touch me, I was high risk, one I’m a woman, two they haven’t heard of what physiotherapy was, it was a new commodity and they were not willing to invest in it, but when I went to the bank they were willing to give my husband the loan.”

A New Zealand Women In Business scheme that helped her apply for the loan to be paid in five years, she cleared it within two years.

Husband Kevin has been running the business since its establishment.

Olympics pinnacle of one’s career.

“We are here in Rio, all the planning, prepartions, sleepless nights, how do we bring it home on this world stage?” I posed to Fiji’s Chef de Mission.

Her Road to Rio, began two and half years ago first becoming deputy chef to Wallis and Futuna and being elevated to Chef for the Pacific Games in PNG.

She is confident that Team Fiji will do well in Rio and on the medal side of whether Fiji can take home the Gold in men’s 7s.

Cathy took me back to 2007 Rugby World Cup when Fiji almost upset eventaul winners South Africa.

“When we played South Africa in the quarterfinals and when I saw what Fiji did that’s when I realised Fiji had the potential to raise the flag at a major international event. At that time I had no idea it was gonna be the Olympics. For me it was rugby at that time, I was not even thinking Olympics.

“When the opportunity came to be Chef de Mission to Rio I realised then that we had a really really good chance of fulfilling the dream I had seeing that flag fly on a major international event.

“That’s one of the key things, yes I want to do it. I want to see that flag fly on that podium.

“It is frightening. How do I handle that, our mission is to medal. Whatever colour we get, is bonus.

She’s trying her best to be positive,  optimistic, calm and collected that Ben Ryan and the boys will deliver the goods.

Fiji’s Chef de Mission is taking one day at a time…

So until tomorrow, ‘boa noite’ (good night).

Edited by Osea Bola

Feedback: oseab@fijisun.com.fj

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