Māori swimming champ to represent Cooks at Commonwealth Games

By Marena Mane

The Cook Islands won their first Commonwealth Games medal in 2018 for the men's pairs lawn bowlers, picking up a bronze.

This year, they'll have 18 people representing their country at the games, with the youngest selected, Lanihei Connolly, who also has whakapapa to Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau a Apanui.

At only 16 years old, Connolly is heading to the Commonwealth Games in England.

“I found out this year in February that I'd be representing the Cook Islands in the Commonwealth Games in swimming,” she says.

From the island of Ma'uke in the Cook Islands, Lanihei is a student at Baradene College in Tāmaki Makaurau. 

“For my age group I ranked first in New Zealand for 50 breaststroke and 100 breaststroke and for all ages. I'm ranked sixth in New Zealand for the 200 medley. I'm ranked seventh in New Zealand for the 100 breaststroke and eight in New Zealand for the 50 breaststroke.”

Connolly will join fellow Cook Island swimming teammates Bede Aitu and Kirsten Fisher-Marsters who also live in Tāmaki Makaurau and Wesley Roberts who lives in Australia.

“I'm very excited for the Commonwealth Games coming up. I hope to swim personal bests in all my events and hopefully maybe make a semi-final while I'm over there and maybe inspire other Cook Island girls to take up swimming.”

Apart from vigorous training in the pool, there is also something else Connolly needs to learn.

“The national anthem. I don't know that just yet. But I've been practising but I'm not the best at it. So hopefully I learned how to remember it by the Commonwealth Games.”

Connolly has words of encouragement for other aspiring swimmers.

“I just say get into it. You know, anything can happen from anywhere just because you're from a small country doesn't mean you can't achieve big things.”