Mourners celebrate life of Lesley Cantwell

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 15:29 18/06/2013
Lesley Cantwell
BARRY HARCOURT/Fairfax NZ
Lesley Cantwell
Shaun Cantwell
BARRY HARCOURT/FAIRFAX NZ
Shaun Cantwell speaks at the funeral service of his daughter Lesley in Te Anau.

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Hundreds of mourners have turned out in Te Anau this afternoon to celebrate the life of New Zealand athletics representative Lesley Cantwell.

The 26-year-old race walker died in Tahiti on June 7 surrounded by members of her family.

She had collapsed four days before, just hours after winning her 5000m track walk event at the Oceania track and field championships in Papeete, after suffering what doctors believe was a brain haemorrhage.

Jude Cantwell, Lesley's mother, spoke of a determined young woman who was also a nurturing and caring mother to 3-year-old daughter Brooke.

Shaun Cantwell, Lesley's father and coach said Lesley had overcome the challenges of epilepsy as a teenager, getting into race walking after a number of other sports were denied her because of her disability.

Lesley had a ''willingness to try new things, even things that weren't popular,'' Shaun Cantwell said.

A gold medal at the Oceania championships marked a highlight of Lesley's race walking career, but she had set her sights on representing New Zealand at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

New Zealand runner Simone Small, who roomed with Lesley in Tahiti, said the Te Anau walker was extremely proud of representing her country, and had shown tremendous composure to adjust her race plan on the way to winning gold.

Members of Fiordland, Southland and New Zealand athletics formed a guard of honour outside the Fiordland Events Centre where the service was held, while pupils from Fiordland College performed a haka.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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