Turkey awaits silver-tongued teen
Losing your voice would be annoying for most people but it could have spelled disaster for Ashley Varney.
The star debater was struck by sickness and almost rendered mute before the New Zealand Schools Debating Championships.
Luckily, she recovered in time to compete - and to secure a place on the national team.
The 17-year-old will travel to Antalya, Turkey, in February to compete against students from more than 40 nations at the World Schools Debating Championships.
"I'm looking forward to debating against different countries - I've been told that different countries debate in different ways, so it'll be interesting to understand them and their cultures," she says.
Ashley is the only Aucklander on the five-person squad, joining James Penn of Wanganui, Thomas Simpson of Hamilton and Wellington's Edward Foley and Jemima Lomax-Sawyers.
The King's College student has always enjoyed public speaking but it wasn't until year 9 that she began debating through school.
The lead-up to nationals this year was intense, she says.
"We had two training sessions a week for about the last two months, so that was about eight to 10 hours of training a week. We'd do a lot of practice debates and we'd also go home and research different topics that might come up."
This research is highly important because the students only find out which topics they'll be debating an hour before they compete.
"They get the topics in the prep room, so they haven't pre-researched them and they don't have laptops or anything," mum Rona says.
Ashley says it's this pressure that makes debating so enjoyable.
"It's being put on the spot and being challenged to think of points and rebuttal in such a limited time period," she says.
"It extends your knowledge in so many ways as well. I've debated on such a range of different motions and topics that it encourages me to keep up with current events.
"And I learn something new each time I debate - whether it's how to take a point of information or how to structure specific points."
Lawyer Desley Horton coached Ashley's team in the lead-up to nationals and says the Karaka resident is a rare talent.
"She's really analytical and she's a really stylistic speaker. She's very persuasive and she generates a lot of good examples and material," she says.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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