‘Family is not an important thing, it’s everything.’
How many of us can say that we truly live by this maxim?
18 year old Brandon Schuster of Samoa can be confident in the knowledge that he does his best by not only one family but two. The 200m freestyle swimmer has his own family as well as the strict regime of his swimming family. Now, to his delight, he has been welcomed to a third. ‘The Olympic family.’
The enormity of it all is evident as Brandon gasps and tries to put it into a few brief words;
“It’s just amazing. How did I get to the blocks? By stepping on other blocks. Junior competitions, having to fly to Fiji to compete (because we don’t have many swimmers) and then getting international experience in the last couple of years. It’s been amazing.”
Samoa is a Pacific island. Steeped in passion, family and faith. However, not steeped in world class swimming facilities and routines that the swimming greats of the World accept as the norm. The region is developing the sport well, but Brandon’s journey to Rio is a little different as indicated by having to fly to Fiji for just two competitions per year.
Whisper it quietly, but originally he wasn’t ‘that into the Olympics.’ This began to change when he got the competitive ‘bug.’ His first appearance at world level was in late 2012 aged just 14 in Istanbul. The first indication that he’d caught that bug was enjoying ‘seeing his face on the big screen’ at the end of the race.
Brandon’s Pacific roots are important to him. The island nations love to share their heritage and culture. Never more is this evident than when they come together as a group at major Games. Brandon is proud to be an Olympian but also states his experiences at the South Pacific Games as a memory that is second to none. Modestly, he doesn’t mention his achievements at these Games, but he does mention that word again – family.
His roots may set him aside from most Olympians, but the sacrifices made are just the same.
“ Finding time has been the hardest part. To balance school, my social life and the swimming. My only day off is when the pool is closed.” He adds wryly, “that day happens to be a Monday. Not exactly a party day!”
“ Sometimes it’s difficult socially being one of the few swimmers on Samoa, but generally it’s not been too challenging, I’ve had lots of people with me along the way.”
Again, a smile comes across his face. The teenager, knows which question is coming next. It’s almost a traditional routine. It’s about his coach. The reason? His coach happens to also be his mum.
Mum, Suzie Schuster has gone on this same journey.
“Both the family group and the swimming group have been important to me along the way. My mum is in both groups. She and Kerrie Punivalu (Samoa Swimming Federation) have both been beside me and helping along the way. In Samoa, family is culture, family is always there for you and both my mum and dad have always been there for me. There are so many people who have helped.”
It was a positive Olympic experience for Brandon. He clocked 1 minute 57.72 for the four length discipline. He narrowly missed out on his personal best by a tenth of a second. Speaking after his race, he was upbeat about his Olympic experience,
“I got a 58 (1 minute 58 seconds) in the last competition, so it’s pretty good compared to that one.”
Speaking to Brandon afterwards, it was clear to the see that he was excited. He explained that despite having experienced a fair number of major competitions, the nerves and adrenaline that he faced in the ‘call room’ reminded him of a time when he was taking part in competition for the first time.
“I’ve been through tons of call rooms, but that one right there, my heart was like – oh my goodness!”
Despite the overriding emotions when it came to the crunch, Brandon explained that he was able to focus on the task in hand.
“When I see the blocks I just focus on the pool and the race.”
His appearance after the race, was calm and collected, a testament to the Samoan teenager, who, at such a young age is already competing at the top of his game, with plenty of time to go even further, paving the way for other Pacific island youngsters. He’s already got his sights on Tokyo 2020.
Importantly, his demeanor is also testament to his family upbringing…all three of them.
By Simon of The Reporters' Academy