OP ED: A SHARED VISION TO INSPIRE
I first came to American Samoa in May of 2011 as part of the inaugural National Marine Sanctuary Oceans Week to share my experiences in oceans around the world as an athlete, coach and advocate, while also attempting a long distance ocean swim from Aunu’u to Utulei. That 10-day trip introduced my wife and I to a community that continues to profoundly impact our lives.
Over these past two years I have been on-island six times, and I have spent a total of almost four months teaching, training and learning with and from the people of American Samoa. Not only have I learned that Aunu’u o se nu’u manaia, but also that there is incredible potential in everyone I have met in American Samoa.
Throughout this time, I have had the pleasure of working with the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa as well as the Department of Commerce, the Department of Education, Department of Public Safety, Samoan Affairs, American Samoa Community College, my new family in Aunu’u and people from schools, churches, villages and companies throughout the Territory.
Beyond working on youth initiatives throughout the Territory I continue to have the opportunity to spend an extensive amount of personal time training members of the Department of Public Safety’s Marine Patrol. These officers have kept me safe in some challenging conditions, and I have never met a more committed and professional team of aquatic professionals. I remain honored to be able to pass along any skills and knowledge that may help them better serve the community.
My visits over the last couple of years were made possible by a federal grant through the Department of Commerce, personal sponsors such as Keen, and support through the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation. During each trip Michelle, I and the ocean professionals joining us have worked with youth and adults of all ages, who continue to show an incredible ability to learn modern open water skills while fearlessly tackling new challenges in the water. I have said to every gathering of American Samoan students that I can hardly wait to see which one of them represents American Samoa on a global stage and accomplishes incredible things as an open water athlete or ocean advocate that are far beyond my ability.
None of what we have done or even attempted in the waters of American Samoa could have been accomplished without working with a number of groups, individuals and agencies.
While many of these groups have different overall goals or missions, we all share a vision for a safe, strong and thriving community, island and ocean.
For me, the solo Aunu’u swim was surpassed a year later by the first ever relay of Samoan swimmers that united members of the Toa o le Tai program with members of Marine Patrol.
The events that continue to positively impact passionate ocean athletes and conservationists around the world are those that still bring all of us together: the Toa o le Tai Ocean Festival races, the National Marine Sanctuary youth clinics at Utulei, the first ever ocean training sessions in Leone, the Department of Education Ocean Swimming class at Samoana and the ongoing Department of Public Safety ocean training sessions for their officers.
I believe that the future watermen and waterwomen that the world needs must come from communities such as American Samoa where the care of the oceans, the community and the family has been part of the culture since the beginning of their existence.
The goal for any individual or group committed to making a sustainable, positive impact on our oceans and our world cannot be to be the first, the fastest or the most famous, or rising up by attacking others.
The only sustainable goal must be to persevere, to lead, to share and to empower others. In facing great challenges we are given incredible opportunities to inspire and change others and ourselves. These inspiring challenges continue to write my story with Fa’a Samoa, and I know that the global story of American Samoa is just beginning.