Swimmer’s new home

Champion Solomon Island swimmer Wendy Charles, 24, is looking to become the first swimmer from her country to make a Pacific Games final - with a little help from the people of Stanthorpe. (submitted).

By Tania Phillips

Following in the footsteps of Paris Olympian Ben Armbruster, international swimmer Wendy Charles, 24, is set to base herself in Stanthorpe for nine months as she begins her campaign for the next Pacific Games in three year’s time.

Charles, who swam at both the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and Oceania Championship in China for the Solomon Island, will arrive Stanthorpe in September to train with Gail Smail – Armbruster’s long-time mentor.

Hailing from Rakeo Village in the Lau-Mbaelelea Constituency in the Solomon Island, Charles is coming to the region to work with I Comply.

She will follow in the footsteps of members of the women’s and men’s Vanuatu cricket teams who were able to work and train in the region.

From late 2023, eight members of the Vanuatu Women’s cricket team were based in Stanthorpe, helping to fill labour shortages at a local nursery as part of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.

The team, who were preparing to play in the World Cup qualifying tournament in UAE, had access to training facilities and the flexibility to take leave for inter-national tournaments as part of a partnership between the Vanuatu Cricket Association, the Vanuatu Department of Labour and PALM scheme approved employer, ‘IComply’. Team members were also been invited to play in the Stanthorpe cricket competition on the week-ends to make up numbers for any team short on players -several playing in the winning side.

The swimmer is IComply’s first Solomon Island’s athlete to take advantage of “sporting dreams and seasonal work program”.

“I have seen what IComply did for the Vanuatu women’s cricket team and the support the company gave them,” she said.

“I’m now going to get the same support like that and it’s a dream come true for met to come to Australia, support my family by working and still be able to train for my swimming career.”

I Comply CEO and managing partner Rodney Prestia said he was excited to be able to sign up “our first Solomon Islands athlete to join our sporting dreams and seasonal work project.”

He said ICompy, which has outlets in several Queensland locations, probably draws about fifty per cent of their work force from the Soloman Islands and 50 per cent Vanuatu.

“I’m over in the Soloman Island’s at the moment and I had a swimmer approach me who had been inspired by what we’d done for the Vanuatu women’s cricket team,” Prestia said.

“She approached me and said I really need to the season work to support my family and I’ve seen what you’ve done with the Vanuatu girls I was wondering if you would consider swimming.

“Despite me being 120kgs I actually grew up as a swimmer and I have an affiliation with the sport.

“I guess the hard thing for me was if we do swimming where are we going to place her. So I contacted Gail (swimming coach Gail Smail) who has had a lot of success down there in Stanthorpe particularly with the young fellow who has gone to the Olympics. I thought Gail would be a great fit and the swimming club is only just around the corner from our accommodation in Stanthorpe so it would be easy for Wendy to get there for training.

“She’s going to arrive in September and she’ll join the swimming club under Gail’s guidance and hopefully continue her quest to do better in the next lot of Pacific Games. She did swim her PB in the 50 metre breast stroke and 50 metre backstroke but just missed out on the finals at the recent Pacific Games.

“He goal is to get into that final, no Solomon Islander has ever got into the finals at the Pacific Games in swimming before. It’s a relatively new sport in the Solomon Islands. So, by having that support in training with Gail and the Stanthorpe Swimming Club and IComply with working to support her family, it’s going to be exciting.

“Seeing the Stanthorpe community’s support of Ben and his journey to the Olympics and knowing Gail personally made the decision for me to place her in Stanthorpe an easy one,” he said.

“I know the community will make Wendy feel welcome and embrace her into the Stanthorpe Swimming Club and community.”

He said they were now working on getting her visa in place so she can arrive in September in time for both the growing and swimming seasons and start her nine months stint.