Just picture this: you qualify for the world championship swimming in Japan, but at the last minute you’re prevented from participating because there is no money. 21-year-old Tatiana Illis from Saint Martin is dismayed, but she still is convinced that she will reach the Olympic Games.

Tatiana Illis is the first female swimmer of Saint Martin to represent her island at the world championship. She managed to qualify not one but five times. This is the first time that she cannot participate due to money issues.

8000 dollars
Together with her sister Abbi she qualified for the top tournament held last week in Fukuoka, Japan. It was a race against the clock to try and get the funding for the trip. “We did everything we could to raise the money”, Tatiana says. “We needed about 8000 dollars for the plane tickets. But we didn’t manage to get that amount.”

“Maybe there are funds available by the government, but I have no idea how to apply for them or whether I even qualify. I get no help from the government or other organizations collecting the travel sum.”

There was tension up to the last minute, whether she and her sister would be able to go. “We had already packed our bags just in case we could pay for the tickets. We could have left for the airport in under ten minutes.” Tatiana tells: “But at the last minute ticket prices went through the roof.”

2024 Olympic Games in Paris
The world championship happened this time without the Saint Martin girls. “I am disappointed”, says Tatiana. “My goal is to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. I would have been able to do that during these world championship games in Japan.”

Did she lose her motivation? “If anything I am even more motivated now! Because I didn’t manage qualification in Japan I will now try to participate in the Pan American games so I can still go to the Olympic Games.”

Future athletes
There is a fund for sports available to athletes, but if this is available to individual athletes or if it must go through the Sports association, she doesn’t know. “I know there is something. But you have to apply six months before the event. In our sport that isn’t possible, because the qualifications are always just before the tournament. So I won’t know six months in advance whether I have qualified or not.”

It has not happened often that people from Saint Martin participate at such a high level, she says. That, according to her,  explains why athletes have to manage everything themselves. Demotivating? To her, this type of setback is just one more reason to try and reach the world top. “I would like to contribute so this kind of  assistance will be made possible; so that it will be available for future athletes.”