Micronesia Tour 23
And so "Growing the Game Globally" continues as Phil Klevorik begins his Micronesia Tour taking the TRF message and the game of rugby all the way from Guam back home to Las Vegas via Hawaii where he will check in with the guys supporting those who have lost loved ones, communities and homes to see how the TRF fundraising money is being spent to rebuild lives and families.
Beginning in Guam, Phil will be working with the rugby community, helping them with coaching, development and engagement as well as delivering rugby stash of course.
Rugby in Guam is still relatively small with less than 0.5% of the population playing the sport. Although originally played by visiting military and ex-pats (largely from NZ and AUS) it now has a Rugby Development Office delivering sessions and classes to both Middle and High schools since 2003 (middle schools started in 2005)
"The future of Guam rugby certainly lies within its youth" Phil commented after delivering his first session on tackle techniques. "Guam has a little over 500 registered rugby players and around 25% of those are young players. This is what will help keep the game growing here and in this region, their youth and we will do everything that we can to support their rugby programmes."
As well as delivering rugby sessions and of course the stash in Guam, Phil spent time with the incredibly caring and passionate coaches who are working incredibly hard to develop the next generation of rugby players, coaches, officials and leaders whilst striving for their current crop to be the very best that they can be.
There was time for a few "bucket list" items as well on this trip, perhaps the most dramatic being swimming within technically the highest mountain on Earth - although inverted! At almost 7 miles deep (36,201 feet), it is 7,000 feet deeper / higher than Mount Everest.
Before leaving on the remainder of the tour and another bucket list event (sort of), there was time to arrange our follow up visits to Guam Rugby with the team and to support them in creating a rugby tournament there. Perhaps that's one for YOUR bucket list!
The journey East, crossing the International Date Line AGAIN, would turn Phil's day into a 44.5 hour marathon as he travelled through the Federal States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands before landing in Hawaii to check up on our relief efforts there.
Many of the islands in the region have long and significant military history, in particular during the Second World War. Some of the airports on these islands double as Air Force stations meaning that Phil was unable to document his journey on camera.
Understandably some of these islands have such small populations that there is little or no opportunity to actively partake in rugby, but their passion for the sport in the region is palpable. They are proud of their heritage, proud of the archipelago that they inhabit and proud of their achievements.
Pohnpei was another 400 miles East of Chuuk and a world away from the bright blue skies of Chuuk as Phil landed during one of the frequent storms that are common in the region.
For many years rugby in the South Pacific has been centred on Pohnpei with islands such as Guam travelling to play there. The obvious difficulty is of course the widely separated islands and coral atols of the region - we all know that particular journey that you loath eash season but imagine having to fly to every away game.
Sevens has been a popular sport for over 20 years and has featured in the South Pacific Games since the late 1990s. Infrastructure however is difficult to develop, notwithstanding the geographic separation of the islands and adequate construction equipment, most of the islands are beset by constant rising sea levels - in fact the entire future of these islands depends entirely on the rising tides and the height of the Ocean.
Two flights later na dPhil arrived at Yokwe Airport on the Marshall Islands Capital, Majuro. The Marshall Islands' population of 42,000 is spread across 29 coral atols and 5 islands making rugby incredibly difficult and again, infrastructure on which to play, temporary at best with global warming playing its part.
With such a scattered population and a lack of playing resources and infrastructure, there are many more 7s players than 15s in this region with many of them being of Fijian and Tongan origin with a scattering of Americans.
That said rugby is very much a growing sport on the islands including the Marshall Islands High School Rugby Team led by coach Jake three times each week.
Withn the right support and the right resources, rugby across the South Pacific (at least outside of the areas that we traditionally associate with rugby) can become a way to bring communities together, develop passion, determination, loyalty and respect and maybe one day compete in the highest levels of the game.
That will only be achieved however when they know that they are not alone and TRF's outreach projects to places like Micronesia are so important.