Thames High Hillary Challenge team takes top title

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Thames High School Hillary Team compete in the Hilary outdoor Challenge from May 18 to 22. They finally won after 14 years of competing.

Thames High School Hillary Team compete in the Hilary outdoor Challenge from May 18 to 22. They finally won after 14 years of competing.

Thames High School Hillary Team compete in the Hilary outdoor Challenge from May 18 to 22. They finally won after 14 years of competing.

Thames High School Hillary Team compete in the Hilary outdoor Challenge from May 18 to 22. They finally won after 14 years of competing.

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After fourteen years of competition Thames High has finally won the Hillary Challenge national final and the team members are buzzing.

After the week long challenge in Tongariro National Park last week, the eight students still can't quite believe they're the New Zealand champions.

Once the 12 teams from around the country had finished the last event on Friday, team member Tayla Cox said the waiting around was the worst.

The Thames High School Hillary Challenge team are absolutely buzzing after winning the final last week. From left, ...
Cameron Massey

The Thames High School Hillary Challenge team are absolutely buzzing after winning the final last week. From left, Honour Israel, Cole Edwards, Hannah Chambers, Luke Horton, Tayla Cox, Mitchell Herbert, Georgia Hinds-Haye and Mitchell Murphy.

"We ate and then it was prize giving and that's when the nerves start to set in," she said.

"They would tell us the places in groups and then have a break to say a few words and then tell the next few places and then they got up to the top three."

Navigator Mitchell Herbert describes the moment the team realised they were the winners.

"They said second was New Plymouth, everyone just screamed we were like [speechless]."

"That's the one thing that got us, because everyone else was rooting for us too and I just think it was [because] we were grateful," Tayla said.

"We wanted it so much."

Thames High School finished the week on 3629 points with New Plymouth Girls/Boys very close behind on 3585 points while Whangarei Girls/Boys High took third with 3199 points.

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Luke Horton said it has been a long time coming for the school.

"After 14 years of Thames High going and finally actually winning it for us, it's too surreal," he said.

"Before this year no one would have thought that we could have actually won it."

The team knew they were in the lead after Monday and Tuesday's events, but the organisers kept the points tally to themselves over the rest of the week.

"After the first two days we kind of realised that we do have a chance, everyone was like 'oh Thames' and then we started, the pressure is on 'we can do this'," Tayla said.

"Then the next two days, which I reckon is definitely the hardest, because that is where you get the big points and that's the game changer. Mitch and Luke's navigating was just spot on, the organisers said it was spot on except for just one, that's what scored us the big points."

Dedication and gritty determination, especially in the two day ROGAIN event, along with the months of training and planning paid off for the tough team.

"At the end there was this last loop and we were all tired but Mitch made the decision that we were going push it and do it and I reckon if we didn't do that loop we wouldn't have got it," Tayla said.

The team have been together for many months, they know and trust one another and work as a unit.

"Our team worked well, when Mitch got tired, Taylor and Cole helped me navigating and we worked as a team making sure that everything was spot on," Luke said.

"The last day we didn't come first, but we just kept going as a team."

Cole Edwards said winning was a moment to saviour.

"I'll never forget it man, I was like 'oh whoa' and everyone was going berserk," he said.

"It was a late night on Friday after we won."

Team member Georgia Hinds-Haye said it would be difficult for those that haven't done the Hillary Challenge to fully comprehend what it is like.

"Even showing the photos in assembly, no one will know how much work has gone into it and even when the photos show us looking knackered," she said.

A sentiment Honour Israel agreed with.

"I reckon the only people that can actually appreciate are the other past competitors, like nobody else will get it," she said.

Their coach Jenni Bloom is proud of her team and on Monday said the teenagers haven't stopped eating since the challenge finished on Friday.

As for the team, those that are eligible to compete next year will be back to defend the title.

 - Stuff

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