For any person, moving to a new country can come with a whole set of surprising obstacles. From spending long spans of time away from close family members to having to make new friends in a foreign environment, these challenges can affect not only the individual in question but also their extended communities.
However, every year hundreds of student-athletes jump on a plane and travel overseas to combine their unique passion for academics and athletics in one setting.
One such athlete, Stanford Kawale, a swimmer from Papua New Guinea exemplifies how to take these challenges in stride. “To leave family and to come to boarding school, it was tough, but then again, I think my parents prepared me really well for that. I came over and I was able to settle in quite well,” Kawale recounts.
Kawale, who moved to Australia at the age of 16 to attend boarding school at Queensland’s Ipswich Grammar, found that with a strong support network adapting to the new environment became far less difficult.
“Greg Fasala, my coach at Ipswich Grammar, he was able to not only be there for me as a coach, but then he was always looking out for me if I had any personal needs and anything outside of the pool that I needed,” Kawale said.
“He was always there to help me out which really made settling into boarding school and into high school here in Australia a lot more ideal.”
After graduating from high school in 2013, Kawale continued his study in Australia at Griffith University where he was able once again to unite his love of sport and his focus on study.
Although a number of universities were available to him, the swimmer decided on Griffith after a meeting with Olympic Gold Medallist Duncan Free who was working as the university’s Sports College director.
“I came down and I had a meeting with him. I knew straight away that if I decided to study at Griffith University, they would be able to help support me, academically and sports wise so that I could go down a pathway of continuing to represent Papua New Guinea and then to also pursue my degree,” Kawale said.
On the academic side, Kawale graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s in commerce, finance and international business and now works for his family company. As for representing his country, there was no slowing the rising star either.
Kawale during his time at Griffith notched an impressive swimming resume with performances at both the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2016 FINA World Swimming Championships, the latter of which served as a final meet before a short-lived retirement. Missing the thrill of competition, Kawale returned to the water late last year with a whole new set of goals in mind.
“After I finished university I felt like it was the right time to step away and focus on work really trying to position myself in my job,” Kawake recounts, “I just missed the competition, I really missed pushing myself. Even in work, there’s no real edge to competition in the sense of trying to not just do the best you can, but also trying to beat the person next to you.”
Although a tough slate faces Kawale in which he will need to balance his new commitments with swimming, he is no stranger to effective time management. He puts much of this down to the mind-set of his parents, and his upbringing in Port Moresby.
“Their mentality was always, ‘we’re going to support you with your swimming, but then we also expect a certain level of academic performance. Even if you’re tired after training, we expect you to put in a certain number of hours into your studies.’” Kawale recounts.
With a small swimming community in Papua New Guinea, one which Kawale describes as having only two clubs when he began in the sport, it is no surprise that success by any individual has sweeping significance for the wider group.
One such example of this occurred in 2006 when Ryan Pini representing Papua New Guinea won gold at the Commonwealth Games. Having just started seriously in the sport at the time Kawale recounts the moment, “I remember his winning the gold medal in the 100 fly in Melbourne, we had just finished training and I went home and put the TV in just to watch him. One of the great things and one think I think that really helped me was, he was like an idol for me.”
“As I started to come up and make it into the international team, I was able to travel and be around him so much and to see how he conducted himself really rubbed off on not only myself, but the rest of our team,” Kawale said.
It’s not difficult to see the direct line between the inspiration which Pini provided for Kawale to the ways in which Kawale looks to mentor the next generation of swimmers. From serving as an athlete representative with the Papua New Guinea Swimming Incorporation, to working as an assistant team manager at the recent FINA World Championships, Kawale’s commitment to help develp future of athletes runs deep.
On giving back Kawale notes, “the sport gave so much to me, if it wasn’t for swimming, I probably wouldn’t have developed along the way I did. So I guess I want to give back and help mentor kids the way Ryan did passing on his knowledge in the sport.”
For that future generation he has a simple yet memorable message, “set yourself attainable goals, and then ask yourself how hard you’re willing to work to achieve those goals and what you’re willing to sacrifice.”
We will no doubt see more of Kawale in the near future as he dives back into the pool wearing the yellow cap of Papua New Guinea again. “I’m a very proud Papua New Guinean and to be able to represent my country will always be a very great honour.”