Teenagers will test Clarke's ironwoman bid
She may seem like a comparative old hand amidst a rising tide of female surf lifesavers in New Zealand, but 22-year-old Rachel Clarke is keen to remind people she's not a spent force yet.
Clarke will line up in this weekend's Eastern Regional championships in Whangamata, not only boasting some decent recent form, but also some handy pedigree. Four years ago, she won the under-19 and open ironwoman double at the national championships, and the only thing that's stopped her kicking on has been a burgeoning career in the police force.
Now Constable Clarke and based on Auckland's North Shore, she's keen to test herself against talented teenagers like Papamoa's Natalie Peat, Mairangi Bay's Danielle McKenzie and Mount Maunganui's Katie Wilson.
"I'm sure the open field will be pretty hot if those girls step up into the opens," Clarke said. "Being at Police College last year, it was pretty hard to keep up the training, but I'm fitter now than I have been in a few years. I've also been doing a lot more running and a bit of cross-fit twice a week, which has also helped."
Though work has restricted her appearances this season, she managed an impressive second in the ironwoman at the Owen Chapman Cup in early January, beaten only by New South Wales visitor Kirsty Higginson. She also won the surf race and finished second in the ski.
It's been a big summer for other reasons too - in November, she pulled off a classy rescue, saving the life of a swimmer caught in a rip at Northland's Te Arai Beach.
More than 840 fellow lifeguards will take a break from patrolling beaches and waterways this weekend to compete in the ERCs, traditionally the second biggest carnival of the summer behind nationals.
Big names competing include Olympic gold medal-winning kayaker Lisa Carrington - the 23-year-old expected to feature in the ski races for her Mount Maunganui club, while world champion New Zealand team members Laura Quilter (Wainui) and Steven Ferguson (Piha) are also likely starters. This weekend's event is also the last chance for surf boat crews to impress selectors, ahead of next month's trans-Tasman test at Waihi Beach.
National champions Piha and the young Titahi Bay crew lead the men's charge, having shared a round each, while Mairangi Bay, Orewa and Red Beach are locked together in the chase for the women's spot.