Vanuatu’s Miller Pata and Linline Matauatu have made a significant impact in beach volleyball while travelling the world and learning things that have changed their life for the better. They started from the ground up, building a solid foundation that made them the most successful team in their country’s beach volleyball history.
“Travelling with volleyball has been a great learning experience for me,” Pata said. “Vanuatu is a small country with a small population, and everything is so far away when we have to travel to tournaments.
“Travelling has allowed us to learn many things like improve our reading, writing, language and communication skills. When I come home from travelling, the different places we have been to and the people we have met have become great stories to tell my children.
“In 2015, after Cyclone Pam, Lin and I both had our homes heavily damaged, with Lin losing everything she had. With tournaments scheduled in Asia, we decided to leave and still play as planned because if we played well, we could win enough prize money to help repair and rebuild our homes.
“We have learnt that you can be a mother and also an athlete, which in our culture is a big step to take. We believe that we can show young girls that there is no barrier that cannot be overcome with determination, belief in yourself, teamwork and trust in each other.”
Pata and Matauatu first teamed up in 2011 at the Shanghai Open and played together for a year before playing with different partners in the next two years. It was at the end of 2014 that they partnered up again to start their most successful run, capping it with a Commonwealth Games medal in 2018.
“In 2018, the Vanuatu women’s beach volleyball team gained selection at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. I had reconnected with Lin after some time apart due to the birth of my second child Tommy, seven months prior to the Games,” Pata recalled.
“Because of the restrictions on housing children or family members and given that I had to travel with my infant son, as a team we were unable to stay at the Athletes’ Village. Our sponsor provided generous support in securing our accommodation off-site. That was greatly appreciated as our limited resources often lead to difficulties when travelling for competition overseas.
“Winning a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games has easily been my biggest achievement on the court and I have to say the support and dedication from the broader playing group proved to be invaluable to me in allowing me to continue training while pregnant and regaining my fitness after my son’s birth.”
Pata and Matauatu were driven and made the impossible possible. As they faced Agatha Bednarczuk and Barbara Seixas of Brazil at the Long Beach Grand Slam in 2015, they had nothing but belief in themselves and upset the No.1 ranked team in the world.
“Defeating Brazil at the Long Beach Grand Slam in 2016 was a huge highlight. Brazil were a very strong team during that year in the lead-up to the Olympic Games, but for us we knew we could win.
“We were in great condition and playing well, and if things went our way, we knew we could beat them. Lin, our coach and I were probably the only ones in the stadium that day who really believed we were capable of causing an upset. We just felt we could beat any team in the world by trusting each other and playing a strong game.”
That day went down in history as a huge upset for Team Vanuatu, but more importantly, a huge boost to the pride and morale of their people.
Miller shared the following key lessons from her successful journey with Linline in the last decade:
Patience: It has been a long road for me personally, but it was also hard for us to play and win at the beginning. Over time, we improved both physically and mentally until we started winning.
Commitment: Our commitment to training and playing has underlined our dedication over the last 10 years, plus our commitment to each other as players and to the federation, which has become like family to us both.
Communication: It is important at all levels of our national federation, Vanuatu Volleyball Federation (VVF), to have good communication not only with us players on the court, but also with our coaches, trainers and the VVF staff.
Partnerships: As a small nation we had to work hard to get the resources. We needed support from sponsors and donors to chase any sort of success.
Family: Without the support of my family, I could not have done what I have done or achieved what I have achieved. And the same for the other players, we supported each other like family.
Volleyball: I love playing volleyball and it kept me healthy and fit. My passion for the sport created the determination to achieve what I have since I was 17, representing Vanuatu.
Dedication: Over the years, seeing what the success we have achieved has meant to the people of Vanuatu, has inspired me to keep working towards our goals for success.
Respect: It is important to have respect for family, country, and for the other players, as well as respect for your abilities.
Community: I realised that not everyone can play sport at the highest level, but I can still enjoy playing the game within the community. That is what I am encouraging my community to do.
Support: Vanuatu is a small country and at times we are away for a long time. The support of our family, friends, sponsors and VVF have all been important to our success.
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