When Mariel Kalomor moved to Western Australia to participate in the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme, she thought she would have to take a break from her favourite sport, judo. Now she's going to the Commonwealth Games.
The 23-year-old from the island of Efate in Vanuatu is preparing for her biggest competition yet, representing her country in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Mariel’s dream has become possible after finding plenty of support in the community of Bullsbrook, north-east of Perth, where she has been working on a seasonal contract at a strawberry farm for TI Horticultural Supplies since 2021.
Her work supervisors encourage her to finish on time to make training at the nearby Muchea Judo Club on Tuesdays and Thursdays, catching a lift with the club’s instructor.
“Coming here, I didn’t think I was going to do judo again. But I talked to the sensei and he said, ‘Go there, I’ll sort things out for you. You’re going to keep training’, and it’s helped me a lot,” Mariel says.
Mariel received funding to enable her to compete at the Commonwealth Games through the Australian Government’s PacificAusSports program and a partnership between the Federesen blong Judo blong Vanuatu, Western Australian Judo and the Muchea Judo Club.
Mariel also credits the physically demanding work on the strawberry farm for keeping her fit. Her work involves planting strawberry runners and picking fruit at ground level, pushing trolleys carrying the fruit and raising and lowering protective covers over the crops.
"When I’m doing work, I think of it as part of my training and when I’m training, it helps me relax my muscles … so it balances out," she said.
"At the farm, we put covers up and that involves the pulling of ropes and it helps improve my grips and muscles and we do planting. It’s pretty hard stuff, it helps with my muscles and my strength."
She says her colleagues at the farm, many of them also ni-Vanuatu, allow her to practise her techniques on them so she can prepare for competition away from the dojo.
Judo was a natural fit
Mariel only took up judo in Vanuatu 4 years ago, but her interest in martial arts and upbringing in a big family made it a perfect fit.
“If you have older brothers, you’re expecting them to pull you and stuff sometimes. I think they helped me build up my confidence to go into judo because without them, I probably wouldn’t have done it as I’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get hurt’,” she says with a laugh.
Mariel says she is both “nervous” and “excited” about competing against high-level judoka, saying doing her best means more to her than winning or losing.
It’s also a chance to inspire more ni-Vanuatu women to take up the sport and aim for the highest level.
“Judo is not a really big thing in Vanuatu. There are only a few of us [women] who do judo. We want to make it so other girls can see that and do that as well,” she said.
Mariel is grateful to her employer and instructors for helping her to reach the Commonwealth Games, and thanks her parents and family for always supporting her and having her back.
Colleagues cheering her on from afar
Cheering her on along every moment of her journey to the Commonwealth Games will be her colleagues and friends at the farm in Bullsbrook, where she lives in shared accommodation with ni-Vanuatu and Timorese PALM scheme workers.
They threw her a farewell party as she departed the farm and are eager to catch her competition on TV.
"It has given a bit of a buzz around the crew so everyone’s quite excited," Jamie Michael, Director of Ti Produce Marketing, said.
"There’s a big TV in their lunchroom so I’m sure it’ll be tools down so everyone can get behind her."
The judo competition at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games will be held between 1-3 August.