Academy Southland will celebrate one of its most successful years yet at a celebration tomorrow that will highlight achievements of both past and present programme athletes.
For Jason McKenzie, who has been involved with the Talent Xcelerator programme since 2007, a year after its inception, tomorrow's function is not only a chance to celebrate the current Year 1 and 2 programme athletes, but an opportunity to acknowledge three past athletes who competed at this year's Olympic Games.
"The programme was set up to have more Southlanders competing and achieving on the world stage and that has always been the vision," he said.
"It has taken seven years, but we are now seeing those dreams turning into reality and to have three athletes who have been involved with Academy Southland competing at the Olympic Games this year is just an outstanding result."
Cyclists Eddie Dawkins and Natasha Hansen and swimmer Natalie Wiegersma have all come through the programme and will be recognised in a special presentation.
McKenzie said it was important to acknowledge the trio's success.
"We had seven athletes compete in the Commonwealth Games two years ago and now Eddie, Natasha and Natalie in the Olympic Games this year - they are really setting the standard," he said.
"We've had Youth Olympic champions, world junior champions and this is now about some of our athletes competing on the highest stage. It takes time - this is the second Olympic cycle since the programme has been running - but the good thing about the programme is that it helps lay a really solid foundation for the athletes in terms of mental skills and athlete life, strength and conditioning, nutrition and what it takes to be a high performance athlete.
"The other thing to acknowledge is that the pathways these athletes take to reach their goals are all so different. There are so many ways to get there, but every one of them requires hard work and choices. Some people call these sacrifices, but at the end of the day talent only gets you so far - making the choice, for example, to train over socialising, makes the difference."
Next year's new intake of 11 athletes into the Year 1 programme will also attend tomorrow's celebration and McKenzie is excited about the talent coming through.
"There are some very talented athletes from a range of sports coming through the ranks, so we're looking forward to having them in the Academy Southland programme," he says.
The Talent Xcelerator programme is a joint venture between Excellence in Sport South Island, the Community Trust of Southland, the ILT Foundation and Sport Southland.
The two-year programme is designed to fast-track athletes on a performance pathway and to increase their understanding and readiness for the high performance environment.
- The Southland Times