Introducing – Danielle Watson

Author -  Karen Simpson

In the latest of our Introducing series we find out more about the kayaking journey of the teenage Kiwi who is all set for a big international campaign in the coming months.

Introducing – Danielle Watson

In the latest of our Introducing series we find out more about the kayaking journey of the teenage Kiwi who is all set for a big international campaign in the coming months.

In the latest of our Introducing series we find out more about the kayaking journey of the teenage Kiwi who is all set for a big international campaign in the coming months.

Kayaking roots

Born and raised in Wellington and exposed to the sport through her father, Mark Watson, a coach at the Mana Kayak Racing Club – Danielle recalls first competing at the national championships aged ten.

“My dad never forced the sport upon me but because my dad was involved with canoe racing, the option to compete was always there,” adds Danielle.

Sporting diversity

Danielle also excelled in cricket and hockey during her school days at Tawa College. A member of their national championship-winning cricket XI and also an U18 Wellington hockey player, she believes her broad sporting background has served her well during her kayaking career.

“It gave me a good sporting literacy and good co-ordination and I also gained many positive experiences competing in team sports,” she adds.

Family Fortunes

Up until last year Danielle had only ever been coached by her father. While this presented certain challenges she fully acknowledges the debt of gratitude she owes him.

“Dad is very passionate about what he does,” she adds. “if I ever needed any technical or training advice he was always available for a conversation. He also gave me the belief that I could perform at the highest level.”

Minsk memories

Describing herself as a “late developer,” Danielle produced her breakthrough performance winning a quintet of U16 gold medals at the 2015 New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships.

Twelve months later - and now fully committed to kayaking - she repeated her haul of five gold medals at the national championships – this time in the U18 division – and earned selection for the New Zealand team for the 2016 World Junior Championships in Belarus.

“It was something I’d dreamt about as I’d looked up to so many paddlers who had competed at past World Juniors,” she explains. “I really loved that experience of living life on tour as an athlete and spending time with the team – it was really cool.”

Paddling alongside her Mana team-mate Tess Allen she placed eighth in the K2 500m B Final in Minsk and fifth in the K4 500m B Final.

“It was so different racing at a world level and it took time to adjust to the speed of the racing,” she adds. “Although, we were happy with how it went and we put together some good races.”

Final heartache

Returning for a second crack at the World Juniors in 2017 a stronger athlete, the Mana paddler could not have come much closer to booking a spot in the K1 500m final.

Recording an identical time to Chinese paddler Shimeng Yu for third equal in the semi-final – the pair were forced into a one-off elimination race to determine the ninth athlete for the A Final.

“I went through a rollercoaster of emotions that day,” she recalls. “At first I was disappointed because (initially after the semi-final) I thought I had missed out on the final because I didn’t get called up to boat control. Then my emotions were lifted after I was told I had a chance to qualify (through the re-run).

“I received heaps of support from the team and Aimee Fisher cycled the whole course but it was a strange feeling with just two on the course and I didn’t quite make it on the day,” she adds of finishing second to Shimeng.

Badly fatigued from her exertions in the re-run, Danielle placed seventh in the B Final but chose to take the positives out of the experience.

“I remember thinking that one day I want to be Olympic champion so now is the time to learn,” recalls Danielle, who was awarded the 2017 New Zealand Junior Paddler of the Year. “This (experience) will make me stronger.”

Auckland calling

After placing a respectable seventh in the K1 500m A Final and second in the K1 200m B Final at the 2018 nationals the exciting young talent clinched selection to be part of the New Zealand elite women’s squad based on Lake Pupuke.

Since the switch a little over 12 months ago, she has developed nicely under the watchful eye of coaches Gordon Walker, Nathan Luce and Jasper Bats and made some significant strides in her career development.

“I’ve learned how to train,” she explains. “I’ve adapted to the training and my strength in the gym has also slowly improved.”

“My technique has always been my strength and the 500m distance is my favourite. I feel I can hold my speed for a long time.”

Expert advice

Placing ninth in the K4 500m A Final at the 2018 World U23 Championships and reaching the semi-finals of the K2 500m alongside Rebecca Cole provided more crucial experience for the articulate Wellingtonian.

However, another advantage of life at Lake Pupuke is training alongside the very best including double Olympic champion Lisa Carrington.

“It is great to watch how Lisa and the other girls train, how they act and how they talk,” she explains. “Only the other day I spoke to Lisa to say I was struggling with something in training and she offered a fresh perspective. I have some great support and mentors.”

Global desire

Placing fifth in the B Final of both the K1 500m and K1 200m at the 2019 Nationals, Danielle has been rewarded by earning selection for New Zealand for the ICF World Cup series in Duisburg and Poznan and for the World U23 Championships in Pitesti, Romania in August.

Having competed for New Zealand at the 2018 World Cup, she has crucial experience to draw upon and is looking forward to her forthcoming international assignments.

“Having had a number of races at international level, I know what it feels like to compete and I feel comfortable,” adds Danielle who celebrates her 20th birthday on May 23. “I’ve got better in every race and I am not afraid of what people around me are doing.

“The K4 is definitely the priority for both the World Cups and U23s and we definitely want to be in the A Final.”

Future goals

In the long-term, Danielle’s dream is to become a World and Olympic champion but it needs to be remembered that her passion for kayaking acts as her primary motivation.

“I love to race and that feeling in the K4 of going fast, makes me feel alive,” she says. “I love how I’m living the sport every day and dedicating myself to a big dream. Taking on a big challenge is an important part of who I am; it makes me feel good.”

Musical Youth

Outside of kayaking the Bachelor of Science Psychology student has a passion for music. A pianist and violinist in her school days she was also part of a national title winning barbershop choir as a student and today is learning to play guitar.

Also a voracious reader, Danielle is inspired by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and would one day love to write a novel herself.
Introducing – Danielle Watson

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