Owen fired up for big test in France

01:02, Jul 08 2014

The recent withdrawal of lightweight rower Lucy Strack from the New Zealand elite team, and the callup of Sophie MacKenzie, highlights the opportunities that arise when you least expect them and how being ready for them when they do is key to impromptu elevation.

One who is listening carefully is a former crewmate of MacKenzie's, southern rower Lisa Owen.

After winning a bronze medal with MacKenzie at the under-23 World Championships last year in the double, the duo has been split by the age bracket that separates them.

Owen said that last year's bronze medal was something the duo worked hard for and that missing out on summer squad and a place in the next level of elite rowing had not been unexpected.

"I knew that my erg [rowing ergometer 2km test score] wasn't low enough to get me a [New Zealand] trial so I just planned to continue with uni studies and still row at a high level this year."

Owen credited her time within the Academy Southland programme for such learnings and the continued informal support provided.


"I had an injury that set back my initial rowing pathway, so I had to re-evaluate things then. I was in the Academy at the time and it helped me to understand while you want everything to go to plan, sometimes it doesn't and you have to adjust."

The new pathway has seen Owen return to her home stretch of water, the Oreti River, for the past three weeks while she and fellow NZ Universities team-mates Bryce Abernathy and James Moody train under John O'Connor for the World Universities Rowing Championships, which are in France in early September.

"We got off to a very cold and windy start and I can now report that I can row forwards as well as the standard rowing backwards, but it has been good to be home and settled. John's billeted the two guys and we've been joined by the [ILT Foundation] winter training athletes for some sessions."

Morning sessions were the trio's own responsibility while in the afternoon, O'Connor would return from work to take the two crews - Owen in a single and Abernathy and Moody in the double - on the water before dark.

Often, the crews were evenly matched for pace, helped along by some cunningly calculated handicapping by O'Connor.

"We do two 5km races, one upstream and then one back down. I've been getting smashed by the boys on the way up, but usually hold them downstream so John's been making the handicaps tighter to get us to work harder and pressure each other."

Owen and Abernathy return to Otago University this week and join back up with their respective Otago University Rowing Club eights, with Owen's set to travel to China for three regattas in two weeks' time.

"It is time out of the single but it's still time training and good race experience. It's good to get into a crew situation too; plus it's an opportunity for more international racing and acclimatisation."

Owen's international experience comes at a cost, but one which the 23-year-old has taken a novel approach to covering.

Owen recently set up a PledgeMe account online, seeking monetary pledges for unique rewards to those who donate.

"I wasn't sure how it would go but I set a reasonable target and used Facebook and my regular email updates to spread the word."

A modest target of $1500 was reached many days before the four week cutoff and Owen has been able to credit $1630 towards her World Universities campaign, which costs around $7000.

"It was surprising how many people gave me something, even people I didn't know. I'm going to be sending a heap of postcards from France. Along with fundraising I have gained personal business sponsors and a special mention goes to Hansen for their support."

Former New Zealand rower and Olympic gold medallist Nathan Cohen was the first athlete to win a World University Games gold medal in rowing at Lithuania in 2006 where he competed in the men's single scull.

Owen knows a good performance at the championships is necessary to have any chance of future selections and is a challenge she isn't shirking from.

"I want to see where I fit internationally at the next level and know I've got to just keep working away at it."

The Southland Times