Church callings prepared team manager for Olympics

For Tufuga Samuelu Atoa the mark of Olympic success is not determined by the number of medals that athletes from his country take home, but rather by how many friends they leave behind.

In fact, the team manager from Western Samoa – who says he learned how to do his job well from his Church callings – will not watch any of the five athletes representing his country in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games boast awards. They did not even come close.But, Brother Atoa of the Pesega 5th Ward, Pesega Samoa Stake, explained, they are still champions in their sports – javelin, discus, boxing and weight lifting. Instead of medals the athletes, who are not members of the Church, will take the spirit of participation back to Western Samoa.

"The most important thing is to be able to make friends and understand other people from other parts of the world," he said. "For small countries like ours, the most important thing is to participate."

It is quite a feat, he said, for athletes from countries with limited resources to even qualify for international events. Two of the athletes from Western Samoa – which became the first independent nation in the Pacific in 1962 – left their country in order to train for the Olympics.

Brother Atoa explained he learned many of the skills it takes to manage an Olympic team – administration, finance and working with young people – from his service in the Church. Since joining the Church at age 11, he has served as a bishop, high councilor, stake president, regional representative and temple president. Currently he is a temple sealer and the Church's national director of public affairs for Western Samoa.

"You have to get to know them (the Olympic athletes) and be a father to them while they are away from home," he said. "All my Church callings have prepared me for this job."

During the last 40 years, Brother Atoa has not only been devoted to the Church, but also to serving his country and to sports. Last year he was given the Western Samoa Order of Merit in recognition of a lifetime of service. In 1994 he received Distinguished Service Award by the Western Samoa Sports Federation and the National Olympic Committee. He represented the country at the planning meeting for the 1996 Summer Games and has escorted athletic teams to the Common Wealth Games and South Pacific Games.

Currently the manager of a travel agency in Western Samoa, Brother Atoa once served as chairman of the Western Samoa's Public Service Commission.

While in Atlanta, he has met Church members living in the area. Some, he said, gave him a grand welcome. In one ward the bishop asked Brother Atoa to share his testimony. He was happy to do it. "Once you are among your own people, the Church people, you feel that you are home," he explained.

Brother Atoa said attending Church in Atlanta was just another way to meet new people and share the Olympic spirit.

"It has been a wonderful thing for us to mingle with all these people from all over the world," he said. "Some are asking us where Samoa is. I tell them a little about my country. I tell them that it is a small country, but that it is beautiful."

He also can't wait to share his Olympic experience with his friends in Samoa. "The first thing the people will ask is what happened with the bomb (that exploded in Olympic Park)," he said, adding that the act of terrorism did not spoil his or any athletes' Olympics. "I will just explain to them that it was a wonderful Olympic games, that the organization was first class."

Brother Atoa said his experience with the Olympics was even richer than he imagined, because he got to share it with his son, James, who also served as an administrator for Western Samoa's Olympic team.

The Olympics, he concluded, is learning about people, their nations and their cultures. He said even though members of the Western Samoan Olympic contingency won't take home a medal, they will go home having fulfilled a dream. "When you go back to your own country, at least you have friends in other parts of the world," he said.