After a year of disruption and sacrifice, Nelson teen James Sandston has the ultimate reward – a Maadi Cup winner's medal.
James, 17, grew up in Nelson and went to St Joseph's School, but has been boarding at Medbury School and then Christ's College in Christchurch since year six.
Earlier this month, he played an integral role in helping his school claim secondary school rowing's ultimate prize, the Maadi Cup for the boys' under-18 eight, the first time the college has won it since 2006.
Christ's held off the challenge of Auckland Grammar and Westlake Boys' High School to win by 0.7 seconds.
The win came after placing second to Westlake in their heat, and Marlborough Boys' College in their repechage.
"We were pretty disappointed with that because it was the same story we'd had with Marlborough all season, we'd get out in front and just sit there and not shut the gate on them and let them row through us," James said.
"We got a bit of yelling from our coaches for that.
"The only positive from that row was that it was the first time that we had broken six minutes, but we weren't really concerned about that.
"We still believed we had the goods to win though, if we could trust our fitness, because with all the time off the water, we'd done a lot more work than the other crews in the gym and on the ergs.
"We were probably the fittest crew out there so we had to trust that and push earlier in the race for the sprint.
"That's what we did in the final, which is the first time we ever followed a race plan."
James, in Nelson for the school holidays, also won a gold in the under-18 lightweight four.
The success is remarkable, given the adversity faced by Christ's College and other Christchurch schools following the earthquakes.
With the Kerrs Reach rowing complex out of action, Christ's turned to Twizel to continue the development of their rowers.
James and his team-mates made the four-hour drive south countless times, spending about 48 nights in the town in order to train on Lake Ruataniwha.
Every second weekend was spent on the lake, as well as three weeks during the summer holidays and a two-week stint during term, with morning training sessions followed by school lessons in the afternoon and evening.
While the constant travel was frustrating, it brought the team together, and given they couldn't train as much as other squads, it meant they could work on their fitness off the water.
They also knew the venue "from back to front", meaning they could put all their focus on their performance.
"When we were down there we'd make sure we got in as much rowing as possible, but it was more quality over quantity, everyone was pretty keen to get it down properly."
James was a late call-up to the premier eight, having spent most of the season with the second crew.
However he took his opportunity when it was presented, which came with the added pressure of sitting in the ever-important stroke seat.
"I was pretty nervous about that, if you're rushing it or doing something wrong the rest of the crew doesn't flow properly," he said of the switch, which was the first time in four years of rowing he had taken the position.
James proved a dab hand however, guiding his team to the final and eventually the winner's podium, the culmination of a four-year dream for a group of rowers inspired by the 2006 victory.
- © Fairfax NZ News