Kasete Naufahu Skeen’s remarkable story began only a year ago when he quit his prestigious London job, gave up his unhealthy habits and revolutionised his lifestyle in pursuit of his dream of becoming an Olympian.
Born to a Tongan father and English mother, Skeen undertook a successful crowdfunding campaign to leave his home in London, move to the Alps and dedicate himself to achieving his dream.
Skeen is now based in Pampeago, Italy, where he is known as ‘Il Tomba di Tonga’ (referring to Alberto Tomba, the former Italian Alpine ski racer) where he lives and trains with his coach and former Italian national team trainer Hermann Aigner.
His meteoric development has been such that he will compete next week in St Moritz at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships alongside the world’s greats, including Lindsey Vonn, Laurie Taylor and Dave Ryding.
This is just the start of what can only be described as a remarkable story that has seen Skeen quit smoking and drinking, undertake a regimented exercise and nutritional plan, shedding 30kg to transform himself into an athlete.
His journey will take him to New Zealand to compete in the Southern Hemisphere Alpine Ski Races and back to Tonga for an emotional reunion before he hopes to take his nation onto a new international sporting stage in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018.
Here, he describes his incredible journey.
Billionaire: How were you inspired to do this, when you didn’t have a remotely athletic life?
I guess it was a growing obsession with skiing; a desire to change my circumstance; and a long-held yearning for adventure. Changing my lifestyle and following a strict diet and exercise regime is just part of what I have to do to follow my dream.
What is your average day like at the moment?
I get up at 6am each day to make it to the mountain for 8:30am; breakfast usually consists of a protein shake with oats and eggs on corn-and-rye bread, and a Tirolean apple. Training starts with some simple drills and warm-up runs, then technical training or giant slalom gates. Another protein shake for lunch, and a corn-and-rye-bread sandwich. Then in the afternoon I continue with technique and then a couple of free runs to finish off the day. After training I usually go food shopping, then there is video analysis with my coach, and then dinner and bed.
Why did you choose Alpine ski as a discipline?
I enjoy the speed and exhilaration of skiing, the sense of fear when embarking on a daunting piste and overcoming that fear. Also the environment, the mountains and forests, and the feeling of freedom you get from being in these environments, from standing on top of a mountain and the exhilaration you get from speeding down it.
Do you have a fitness coach/nutrition coach or are you self-taught?
Hermann Aigner, former Italian and Chinese national team coach, is now the Alpine skiing coach for Tonga. I’m lucky enough to have a sports nutritionist in the family, Dr Jane Naufahu, who has been an invaluable help and advised me every step of the way. And before I left London I also had the pleasure of working with Lucy Smith at the The Tabernacle in Notting Hill. She’s an amazing personal trainer and coach, who armed me with the knowledge and fitness to tackle my winter training.
Do people ever mention the film Cool Runnings when they meet you, and do you think it’s a good comparison?
It’s not that far from my reality. It definitely captures the scale and unlikelihood of my task, perhaps a bit more comically.
How do you qualify for the Winter Olympics 2018?
I have to compete in FIS-sanctioned races to gain the points required to qualify. I have to compete in a minimum of five races and my score is an average of my two best results.
What will it mean to Tonga that you are taking part, and if you win?
I think winning is very, very, very unlikely. My real gold is qualifying and competing at the games; to make a mark for Tonga on a new world stage; and hopefully inspire others to follow their dreams and ambitions.