Tawa College teen shows huge talent
Jess Kerr thought nerves had got the better of her when she dropped out of the junior girls' 3000m at the North Island secondary schools championships 12 months ago.
The Tawa College pupil vomited during the race and failed to finish. But her problems had little to do with nerves and the real reason became apparent when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in August.
Her blood sugar readings had reached a critical level and there were a variety of side effects as the levels were reduced and stabilised.
She was off school for six weeks and at that stage any suggestion the multi-talented athlete would appear at the 2012 North Island championships appeared fanciful.
Which is why it will be a victory in itself when Kerr, who now has to inject herself with insulin four times a day, heads to Tauranga this weekend, for another crack at the junior girls' 1500m and 3000m.
It will be more than a token appearance. Despite a limited preparation, Kerr, 14, is coming off a record-breaking performance at the Wellington regional championships this month.
The year 10 pupil won the junior 3000m in 10min 50.40sec, taking almost 15 seconds off the meeting record, which had stood since 1995, and also won the junior 1500m.
The 3000m is her preferred event but she is unsure about her prospects at the North Island meeting. "I will aim for a PB [personal best] and see how I go. I would like to get my 3000m time down to around 10:45 to 10:40."
"It would be great to get a medal but it will be tough competition."
In any event, Kerr is just happy to be back competing and feeling good. "I feel a lot healthier and stronger. I was 33kg when I was diagnosed and I'm 45kg now."
She had been struggling to maintain her weight last year, and also drinking large quantities of water, symptoms which she and her family now realise are associated with diabetes.
But with no known history in the family, it had seemed an unlikely scenario for an active and successful teenage athlete.
Since being diagnosed as a diabetic, Kerr, who never considered her sports career was under threat, has had to quickly adapt to monitoring her blood sugar levels and the insulin injections.
"You can't have fizzy and stuff and after training you have to have Powerade and something to eat. But usually any side effects are not too bad, though a few times are worse than others.
"You get used to the injections. Sometimes it's painful and other times you can't even feel it. But I'm due to get a pump soon, which will make it easier and I'm looking forward to that."
Kerr's running coach, Alastair Leslie, has been among those impressed by her resilience.
"She's had to overcome a few challenges and at one stage I thought this might be the end of all her dreams. But the way she's been able to adapt has been fantastic.
"She's not outwardly competitive but she's very intense when she's focused. She has a lot of ability [as an athlete] but I'm more impressed with her psychological and emotional depth. That's something a coach can't train.
"We were very cautious with her when she started to train again. We cut down the load by about 80 per cent and then gradually built up. She's back to full training now and there seem to be no ill-effects.
"I think Jess can go as far Jess wants to go [as an athlete] and has probably got the potential to represent New Zealand."
Kerr has been multi-tasking this week, mixing her athletics training with playing for Tawa College in the Wellington tournament for the national secondary schools girls cricket competition.
She made a quick impression with her bowling on the opening day, taking 5-4, including a hat-trick, against Sacred Heart.
Kerr might also owe some of her sporting prowess to her genes.
Her father, Robbie, the director of cricket for Cricket Wellington, represented New Zealand at table tennis and indoor cricket and played 52 one-day matches for the Firebirds and her mother, Jo Murray, represented Wellington at cricket and netball.
In addition, Jess' maternal grandfather, Bruce Murray, opened the batting for New Zealand.