Tuesday, February 5, 2002
Steamboat Springs The group of eight skiers stumbling on Preview Tuesday might have fit in with the rest of the beginners if not for their bright blue coats, Fijian accents and their instructor, who stopped by to help them on her way to compete in the Olympics.
Steamboat's Caroline Lalive was giving her Fijian fan club a ski lesson Tuesday morning before leaving for Utah today.
Many of the Fijians brought to Steamboat by Lalive's sponsor, FIJI Waters were encountering skis and snow for the first time. Despite the falls on Tuesday and the soreness from the previous day's snowboarding lesson, Fijian Lite Nai was enchanted by the snow and Steamboat.
"We like it; it's beautiful. I wish we could do this every day," Nai said. "It's like out of a fairy tale."
Nai, who works at the exclusive resort the Wakaya Club, was one of the six members handpicked by the resort's executive manager to come to the United States to cheer Lalive on at the Olympics. The resort is owned by FIJI Waters. Before heading to Salt Lake Thursday, the Fijians will spend three days in Steamboat. The group performed traditional ceremonies during Lalive's hometown send-off party Tuesday night.
On Tuesday morning, the group gathered at Preview where two Steamboat ski instructors and Lalive showed them the art of perfecting the pie necessary to snowplow down the slope. Beginner skiers also got a taste of Fijian culture as the group sang a Fijian celebration song to Lalive at the top of the slope.
Lalive, one of the country's best hopes for a medal in the Alpine combined event, was surprised when her Fijian fan club greeted her with singing at Yampa Valley Regional Airport Monday night.
"I couldn't believe it. It was just the best surprise you could ask for," Lalive said. "I had the longest day and when I heard them singing it was an incredible feeling."
Lalive's mother, Fran, thought of bringing the Fijians to Steamboat shortly after the family's first visit to the Wakaya Club in September 2000. Warmed by the Fijians' hospitality, Fran worked with the CEO of FIJI Water to help bring the Fijians to Salt Lake.
"I couldn't forget about our time," Fran Lalive said. "There was such a connection."
Since the Lalives' visit to the island, they have kept in touch through e-mails and the occasional singing telegram left on the Lalives' answering machine. The Fijians also hold prayer sessions when Lalive competes.
That support will be an added bonus to Lalive when she competes in the Olympics and most importantly the combined race on Feb. 14.
"It's so incredible," Lalive said. "They bring so much energy and excitement here. It's an awesome support team, knowing these people are excited about being here."
Lalive won't be the only one performing at the Olympics. While in Salt Lake, the Fijians plan to perform music and traditional rituals in their native garb.