Champion lifesaver down, but far from out

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 28/12/2012
Samantha Lee
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

SAMANTHA LEE: Will seek part-time work to fund her sporting dreams.

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Wellington's world champion surf lifesaver, Samantha Lee, is $25,000 poorer after a "heartbreaking" decision which slashed the sport's funding.

High Performance Sport New Zealand last week announced surf lifesaving would no longer be eligible for performance enhancement grants - a $15,000 hit for Lee - while she has also lost her $10,000 Prime Minister's scholarship.

It means Lee, also a top swimmer and university student, is having to seriously rethink her 2013 plans.

The surf lifesaving community were stunned by the funding cuts, given they had won this year's world championships in Adelaide.

"We absolutely smashed Aussie and I don't think they could have asked anymore of us," said the 20-year-old.

"We were not expecting it at all, like I think some people were expecting 'oh, maybe we'll get a bonus or something'. So it was pretty heartbreaking to hear that they just took everything away, pretty much. So I've definitely got to reassess now and set up a new plan for next year."

Lee will now seek part-time work next year to fund her sporting dreams.

Despite the setback, she still hopes to compete at an elite level, both in the surf and in the pool.

Swimming New Zealand's national trials are in March and Lee is training hard to give herself the best possible chance of gaining some financial support.

She has the pedigree - in 2009 she became the first Kiwi female to break the one minute mark for the 100-metre butterfly.

"I was carded [funded] in swimming a few years ago but I got injured so I got dropped from that.

"But I'm not taking a break over Christmas, I'm training through, so hopefully come trials I'll be able to get carded again.

"Obviously with the whole situation with surf, it's even more motivating for me to get back up there and try and get some more support and more funding."

The next big event on the surf lifesaving calendar is the world championships defence in France in 2014.

While surf lifesaving's high performance programme is now up in the air, Lee is determined to continue flying the flag for the sport.

"You look at Tash Hind, Steve Kent and Andy McMillan, they all went to the Olympics and did world's so you can do it. It's tough, but I love swimming and I love surf, so I don't want to give either of them up."

Lee is halfway through her university degree and her studies may be put on hold after losing her scholarship.

"It's all right. I figure I can study whenever, but I can only swim and compete in surf for a certain amount of time. So I may as well make the most of it."

HPSNZ chief executive Alex Baumann said he could sympathise with surf lifesaving but believed their $330,000 overall funding for the next two years was sufficient to mount a credible world championships defence.

Lee wasn't so sure.

Her $15,000 grant this year meant she could spend six weeks training in Australia and: "I came back the fittest I've ever been. I was looking at maybe going again next year but I can't do that.

"Trying to get our title back is going to be pretty hard. But hopefully we can figure something out."

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- The Dominion Post

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