Amaka goes for gold

JOSH REICH
Last updated 09:34 12/04/2012
Amaka Gessler
COLIN SMITH
OLYMPIC BOUND: Ngatimoti's Amaka Gessler has been picked to swim at the London Olympics.

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Amaka Gessler did not let a pesky thing like a broken elbow derail her dream of representing New Zealand at this year's London Olympics.

Amaka, 21, was named last week in a 12-strong swim team for the London Olympics after the national championships in Auckland.

She will race in the 4 x 200m freestyle, and could also line up in the 4 x 100m freestyle if the New Zealand team gains final confirmation from Fina (International Swimming Federation) closer to the games.

The double Commonwealth Games medallist was born in Nigeria but calls Ngatimoti home after attending St Joseph's School and Nelson College for Girls.

She moved to Christchurch and the AquaGym Swim Club at 16, and then to Auckland in 2009 to take up a Swimming New Zealand scholarship at the International Training Centre on the North Shore.

Last year, she switched her club allegiance from AquaGym to the Motueka Swim Club, for whom she won a national medal at the age of 15.

Back home briefly for Easter before heading back to Auckland to resume training, Amaka told The Motueka-Golden Bay News that swimming at the Olympics had been her dream since she was 8 years old.

"I jumped out of the pool and had to hug the first person I saw [when she qualified], I was jumping up and down. I hugged my coach, it was like a dream you have for so long and when it finally turns into reality ... "

Her dream nearly came to a shuddering halt before Christmas, however, when she came off her bike on the way to training in Auckland, breaking her elbow, damaging ligaments in her wrist and losing skin on her face.

She missed a Swimming New Zealand altitude training camp in Arizona, and with a break for Christmas already planned, it meant a sustained period out of the water.

"My whole team was over there and I was left alone to recover and get back into it as fast as possible.

"It was a pretty bad injury and I was out for quite a while.

"I was out of training for three to four weeks, and that's when the other team came back and that's when we had our Christmas break, so in total it probably impacted five weeks of my training programme.

"When I came back I had to be careful in the gym. I was only using my legs for quite a while.

"My coach was actually quite surprised how quickly I recovered  I gave it absolutely everything."

Though her seat on the plane to London is assured, her spot in the pool is not.

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Five swimmers have been named in the 4 x 200m team  Amaka, Lauren Boyle, Natasha Hind, Penelope Marshall and Samantha Lucie-Smith, and a sixth, Melissa Ingram, is the sixth-fastest 200m freestyle swimmer and could add the relay to the 200m backstroke for which she has already qualified.

Lauren has a heavy workload at the games and may be rested from the relay.

Time trials could be held at the games to determine the final selection, meaning there is one more test for Amaka to pass before she is assured of a swim  not that she is too worried about that.

"It pushes us. It is a strong event in New Zealand and to have that competition pushes us to be better.

"That's what we need. Usually there are only a few top swimmers in each event, so we're lucky in a way we have so many good swimmers in the event.

"We just try to push each other as fast as we can go.

"In the end we want the fastest team at the Olympics, and if I'm not up to scratch on the day, I'm happy to let someone who can step up and do it for New Zealand and I'm willing to take that chance.

"I know that I'm going to work the hardest that I can and do the best that I can to get on that squad and do my best for New Zealand."

Amaka said she was proud to represent the Top of the South at the Olympics, and hoped to be back home before she left.

She said it was important that the region's young swimmers had a familiar face to aspire to, something she lacked when she was younger, and why she insisted on being registered first to AquaGym, and then Motueka.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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