Woodlands shows the Olympic spirit
Wiegersma overwhelmed by supportALEX FENSOME
Woodlands residents descended on their tavern yesterday to show support for the township's Olympic swimmer Natalie Wiegersma.
In two weeks, she will represent New Zealand in the 200 metres and 400m individual medley races as part of a seven-strong Southland contingent in London.
More than 80 people, including other Woodlands sports stars, attended the dinner and auction event.
Wiegersma, who is at a training camp in Belgium warming up for the Olympic Games, sent a thank you message for everyone.
"I have been overwhelmed with the amount of support I have received from this community," she said.
"I know for a fact a lot of the other swimmers receive nothing like this as they are from Auckland or Wellington."
Tavern owner Gus Dermody and organiser Peter Chamberlain said they hoped to raise more than $5000 from the auction and dinner, which included signed Highlanders and Barbarians rugby jerseys as well as many other donations from businesses.
"She does get funding (from Swimming New Zealand) but it's only for travel and accommodation expenses. (Otherwise) it's hand-to-mouth, relying on her parents," Mr Chamberlain said.
"We've had great support. People who haven't been able to turn up have dropped in donations . . . the community has got right behind her."
Wiegersma's parents, Joka and Arnold, are also overseas waiting for the Games, but plenty of people who know the family were ready to cheer her on from home.
Anne Chamberlain has lived next door to the Wiegersma family for 15 years.
She said Natalie's interest in swimming started when she was nine or 10 - but she always looked like a star.
"She definitely always had that drive," Mrs Chamberlain said.
"She had sheer determination, she wasn't going to let anyone beat her."
Wiegersma's first race is scheduled for 8.55pm (NZ time) on July 28, the first day of the Games.
"I'll try to show the world what we're made of down here!" she wrote.
Woodlands has produced several top rugby players but it has never before had an Olympian.
Southland Stags trio Clarke Dermody, Jamie Mackintosh and Jason Rutledge, who all played rugby for the Woodlands club, turned up to show their support for Wiegersma.
"It's awesome," Rutledge said. "The other day in the paper I saw all the ones going from Southland . . . it's pretty impressive to see the amount of people and it's a special thing to get there."
Southland Spirit of a Nation brand manager Gerry Forde yesterday said having seven Olympic athletes competing showed that a region's spirit and attitude mattered more than size.
"From Southland you can do anything. You can take on the world and it's because of the community spirit and support that backs you . . . it's behind you all the way," Mr Forde said.
Southland's Olympic athletes are Wiegersma, brothers Storm and Jade Uru (rowing), Nathan Cohen (rowing), Eddie Dawkins (cycling), Natasha Hansen (cycling) and Louise Ayling (rowing).
- © Fairfax NZ News
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