A Manawatu town with a population of only 15,000 has this year produced more than its fair share of world-class sporting talent.
It has been a stellar month for Feilding – and it's not only newly minted All Black Aaron Smith putting the town on the map. Feilding seems to be a revolving door for international sportspeople, with cyclists, horse riders, triathletes, and netballers among the sporting talent who will this year bear the Feilding banner as far afield as the London Olympics. Talia Shadwell reports.
It is a cold, drab afternoon, yet despite sheets of rain spattering the window behind her, Aimee Perrett happily chatters away about her plans for an evening run.
"I've always been motivated by sport. I love sport and the challenge of pushing myself."
The human resources manager has three months of gruelling training, a strict nutritional regime and some intense mental preparation ahead of her in her bid to tick one very important item off her bucket list.
For Perrett, the World IronMan championships in Kona, Hawaii, this October seem a world away from chilly New Zealand. But while many would choose a nice deck chair on Hawaii's sun-kissed beaches over a 3.8-kilometre swim, 180km bike-ride and a 42.2km marathon at the height of the northern summer, there's no place this Feilding triathlete would rather be.
Perrett is one of several Feilding sportspeople who this week received grants worth up to $500 from the Manawatu District Council.
The former horse rider is a self-described late starter on the triathlon scene and finished her first race when she was 35, despite having never swum competitively before.
She qualified for the 45 to 49 age-group section of the IronMan world championships in her first race, and will head to Hawaii alongside veteran Palmerston North triathlete and 50+ age-group competitor Sue McMaster, whom Perrett calls an inspiration.
"She's just so driven; I've never met anyone like that." She says she was floored by the veteran triathlete's focus, which encouraged her to attempt her first IronMan aged in her 40s. "It doesn't matter if you're 80 or 18; you all have to do the distance."
The pair qualified for Kona in March at the Taupo IronMan international event. Much to competitors' disappointment, poor weather caused the race to be shortened to "Olympic" distance.
"People were in tears," Perrett says. The IronMan became a sprint of half the distance she had trained for.
Clocking in at about 5.5 hours, Perrett took out third place and one of two slots for the world championships from a pool of 300 international women in all age groups. She sees her Kona spot as "lucky", because if a fellow competitor had not bowed out of one of the top slots, she would have missed her chance to qualify.
"I crossed the finish line and heard, 'Aimee Perrett, third in her age group' and I thought 'no'." She later learned she had missed out on second place by 12 seconds. Early in the race she had dropped her watch, and agonised over clocking up just a few minutes to her time. Exhausted, she went to the "roll down" where hopeful IronMan world competitors wait to take over qualifying spots rejected by placeholders and, much to her surprise, there was a spot with her name on it. "It was my first Iron Man, so I thought: 'how am I going to finish? How is that possible?'."
Now, months from Kona, the Kiwi is realistic about her chances of achieving a winning time. "I`ve still not done a full distance Iron Man. I'll just aim to finish."
In the meantime, a harrowing training regime takes first priority for the Totally Vets employee. Perrett trains about 16 hours a week. Her weekly prescription demands three swims, three bike rides, and two gym visits comprising endurance and interval training, while sticking to a high-protein diet. She says it's the overwhelming support from her friends and workmates and the sporting community in Feilding which will keep her sane as she faces the full day IronMan. "We all support each other. It's really, really great."
Serena Rata and Catherine Scoon
Feilding's Serena Rata and Rongotea's Catherine Scoon will next week return from the World Indoor Netball Association Cup in Brisbane where they represented New Zealand, along with indoor netball ambassador and Palmerston North man Nic Lush, the longtime men's team captain.
Scoon, 32, centre and attack, is vice-captain and four-time New Zealand indoor netball team player.
Fourteen years' netball experience left her confident that the Kiwis stood a chance last weekend after last year's hard-fought runner-up placing following a draw with 10-time world title winner Australia.
She said the six-a-side tournament could be in the bag for the Kiwis, but they would have to focus extra energy at the seven-a-sides with their biggest rivals "definitely the Aussies".
She was adamant spectators would not see the controversial "chair lift" rugby lineout-style manouevre that has polarised netball enthusiasts recently. "We don't really shoot one pointers anyway, so there wouldn't be much opportunity to pull it out in a game of indoor netball."
Sport Manawatu recreation adviser Serena Rata, 28, who plays defence for the New Zealand team, was looking forward to her first time competing at international level.
"It's all a new experience and really exciting at the same time."
She had played netball since primary school but had found her feet playing indoor only recently. "I really started getting into it about four or five years ago."
She found out she was on the team after the New Zealand indoor netball nationals in early March and was looking forward to facing off their Aussies rivals.
"I've heard they are the best," she said before the tournament. We have to go in with the attitude we will win."
Manawatu District Council community wellbeing committee chair Alison Short has been thrilled with the consistency of the sporting talent coming out of Feilding.
"It's great to see Manawatu representatives on the world stage bringing recognition to our district and our country and for some of them we hope that it opens doors for their futures."
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