Promising future for Hutt schooled rowers
Two 15-year-old Sacred Heart College rowers made a big impression competing against older girls at last weeks' Maadi Cup.
Racing in the under-18 pair, two grades above their level, Izzy Ahearn and Maddy Devery had the fourth best time overall at Lake Karapiro.
The Maadi regatta was stepping stone for the young pair, who are expected to make big progress in the coming years.
The girls were part of the star-studded Petone women's eight that won the national title on February 14 with an inspiring 6.59.93 row.
Axel Dickinson, who was in the New Zealand squad at the Rio Olympics, has coached the girls for the last two years.
"It's unheard of for 15-year-olds to do so well. This is the youngest, least-experienced crew from one of smallest clubs. It's remarkable," he said.
Ahearn was also astonished by the performance.
"We hadn't been doing well in the eight all season, but when it came to the final everyone got so into it and somehow we won," she said.
The other members of that crew were Saint Oran's Abbie Pritchard, 18, Georgia Coyne, 17, Laura Fienson, 17; Sacred Heart's Tia McDougall, 15; Hutt Valley High's Poppy Newell, 16, former Saint Oran's schoolgirl Alice Wright, 23, and promising Coxswain Lucy Bird, 18, who is the daughter Andrew Bird, New Zealand's last coxswain Olympic medallist.
Dickinson has no doubt that many of the nine will flourish in coming years.
"Hopefully they'll stick with it and go on to row for New Zealand.
"Most of the girls have had interest from ivy league schools in the United States and will be looking at scholarships in the coming years."
Petone's young rowers are often pushed to train with their older, more experienced counterparts.
But that doesn't bother Devery, who feels quite at home with her older teammates.
"We train with people older than us, it's the norm. So when it comes to racing I don't feel like I'm up against people that much older than me," she said.
Dickinson said the unconventional method rewards junior rowers, but hard work was key to their success.
"We don't get on the water much in Wellington so they have to put in a lot of hard yards on land and in the gym, and it's paid off."
In December last year, Ahearn smashed the 42.2km ergo record for her age by fifteen minutes, completing her marathon row in 3 hours 24 minutes.
Ahearn also rowed a pair with the very promising Ruby Willis, 20, sister of 1500m runner Nick Willis.
The pair took out the silver in the senior 2 at the North Island rowing championships.
Willis went to the world rowing junior championships and has won two national club titles.
Dickinson said the club atmosphere encouraged those in their late teens to stick with the sport.
"Most high schoolers quit the sport after their last Maadi regatta, but some people don't shine until after Maadi. Those rowers who keep at the sport through the club environment can sometimes make the New Zealand squad," he said.
Devery said she had no plans to quit the sport after high school, and wanted to see how far it will take her.
"I love the crew environment and the fact that you are always surrounded by people who are trying their hardest. In which other sport can you wake up and go out on the water at Petone beach every morning?"
Ahearn has a clear long-term goal in mind.
"After I finish school I would like to row for New Zealand," she said.
Ahearn has secured a North Island under-18 trial on April 14.
Other Wellington Maadi Cup results:
The Wellington College boys over-15 lightweight coxed four of Zach Hough, Zane Goggin, Hugo Hibbert, Josiah Duffield and James Dunne (cox) claimed a silver medal in their event, five seconds back from the Sacred Heart College crew.
Their schoolmates Ricky Kiddle and Adam Smith won bronze in the boys under-17 double sculls.
Samuel Marsden's Ruby Leverington won bronze in the under-18 single sculls.