Hawke's Bay nurse will ride for kids in the 1000 km Mongol Derby
A Hawke's Bay paediatric nurse, who once considered a career as a jockey, will race 1000km across the Mongolian steppe later this year.
Krista Donnelly was inspired to tackle the Mongol Derby in August by deeds of another Kiwi competitor, Chloe Phillips-Harris who rode in the event in 2013.
"She did really well and it was quite well covered [in the media]. I have watched it every year since and I'm now at a point where I can do it," Donnelly said.
Phillips-Harris finished fifth and at the time she completed the course 12 riders had retired from the field while a further 13 were at least a day away from the finish line.
Kiwis have a proud tradition in the race since its inception in 2009, with double Olympian Madonna Harris among those to compete the gruelling event.
Harris, who represented New Zealand at both road cycling and cross-country skiing, had led for several days in the 2010 Derby, before finishing third.
Donnelly, 24, said she understood the final field for the 2016 race would include other New Zealanders among the 30-35 riders.
The event, which follows a trail set by Genghis Khan in the 13th century, involves riders navigating their way between horse stations which are spaced at 40km intervals.
"The horses are vet checked when they come in and we get a new horse every 40km," Donnelly said.
"There's a lot of luck involved as while the horses are quite tough and broken in, they are not used to carrying people with endurance saddles and saddle bags.
"You are not allowed to ride after 8pm, they have a tracker on you for your safety, so wherever you are at 8pm you have to stop. If you get to one of the horse stations at 6 o'clock you might decide to stop there and sacrifice two hours, or you might decide to continue riding and within the next two hours have to stop and sleep in the middle of nowhere."
Donnelly admits she has some qualms about the event.
"I reckon about a couple of days in I'll be like, 'what am I doing?' but I'm really excited about it," she said.
Her preparation includes exercising her own horse and competing in equestrian events. When her nursing roster allows Donnelly heads to Hastings racehorse trainer John Bary's establishment at 5.30am to help ride work.
"When I left school I worked full time for John Bary and I definitely contemplated an apprenticeship," she said. "I would probably struggle weight-wise, though, as I'm not naturally light enough to do it. The racing industry is a tough game and you've got to be 100 per cent committed."
Instead Donnelly continued to ride in the mornings but decided to pursue a career in nursing.
"I missed using my brain and was ready to go and do something. I kind of always thought about it [nursing]; my grandmother was a nurse and my aunty was a nurse. I also wanted to study something that I came out with not just a degree but a career."
She is now working in the children's ward at Hastings Hospital, having just completed her new graduate year.
"I've told my bosses and they think it's [riding in the Derby] pretty cool, but then they might think I am absolutely mad!"
In addition to the costs of entry and getting to the event – Donnelly has worked out it will cost about $30,000 – she also has to commit to raising at least $1000 for both the event charity, Cool Earth, and another charity of her own choice.
Donnelly's charity is CureKids, which is close to her heart.
"As a paediatric nurse I have seen first hand the struggles and heartache felt by families and children with chronic, incurable illnesses," she said.
"This charity strives to push the boundaries so I felt it was a good fit for my undertaking of the derby."
To help fund her trip Donnelly has put together a CV which she plans to send to potential sponsors and also hopes to hold a fundraising event later in the year.
The Derby is from August 1-14.