Introducing – Olivia Brett

Author -  Karen Simpson

We find out more about the rising 17-year-old Cantabrian paddler, who last year made an impact at the ICF Canoe Sprint Junior World Championships.

Introducing – Olivia Brett

We find out more about the rising 17-year-old Cantabrian paddler, who last year made an impact at the ICF Canoe Sprint Junior World Championships.

OLIVIA 3.jpg

We find out more about the rising 17-year-old Cantabrian paddler, who last year made an impact at the ICF Canoe Sprint Junior World Championships.

Gymnastics background

Starting out as a talented gymnast, Olivia was good enough to represent New Zealand internationally event in Hawaii, However, her promising career was cut short at the age of 12 with a hip injury.

Now a Year 13 student at St Andrews College in Christchurch, Olivia looks back fondly on her time in the sport.

“My mum said gymnastics is the base of all sports and it has certainly helped my kayaking in terms of balance in the boat and also mental resilience,” adds Olivia. “Gymnastics is a tough sport which demands many hours of training.”

Kayak introduction

Keen to transfer to another sport, Olivia, who had tried kayaking on several previous occasions, joined Arawa Canoe Club as a 12-year-old and instantly loved reconnecting with the sport.
“It was something quite different,” explains Olivia. “I’d gone from training 24 hours a week as a gymnast to initially six hours a week as a kayaker. It was quite refreshing. I enjoyed being outside and having a paddle.”  


After just four weeks of training, the then 12-year Olivia entered the 2013 National Championships with no expectations but across the course of the three-day programme landed no less than three gold medals - in the three U13 (tyro) K1 events - as well as a K4 500m bronze medal.

“I just competed there for fun, but winning three golds at nationals was definitely the moment I realised I had the potential to go somewhere in the sport,” she explains.


Coaching connection

Her lifelong coach is Paul Fidow and the pair – who train at Kerrs Reach on the Avon River - share a special bond.

“I’d describe him as a big teddy bear! He’s very knowledgeable with an ability to always offers sound technical advice,” she adds. “He’s always very supportive of all his athletes – he’s just a great coach.”

Training regimen

Olivia has continued to enjoy national success throughout the age groups but there has been no shortcuts. Training up to six times a week on the water and with three gym sessions is a big commitment but in 2017 she started to earn her rewards by winning selection for the New Zealand team to compete at the Grand Prix 2 event in Australia.

Shouldering the pain

Making her Junior World Championship debut in 2017 was a huge privilege for Olivia. However, while in pre-event camp in Slovenia she sustained a subluxation (also known as a partial dislocation) of her right shoulder. Enduring a troubled build up to the global event in Pitesti, Romania she once again revealed her mental toughness by racing in the K4 500m (where the Kiwi team finished 4th in the B Final) despite Olivia experiencing “incredible pain.”

“We had three other girls in the boat so I couldn’t really not race,” she says. “It was not an option.

“Competing at World Juniors was so different compared to representing New Zealand at gymnastics. To be around top-class paddlers such as Aimee (Fisher) was amazing. It was such a fun learning experience.”

Global breakthrough

The shoulder injury continued to hamper her build up to the 2018 National Championships but despite being uncertain as to her fitness levels, Olivia still managed to secure U18 K1 200m gold and K1 500m silver on Lake Karapiro.

Later that year competing at the 2018 Junior World Championships in Bulgaria and benefiting from her 2017 experiences, Olivia was “ecstatic” to make the K1 200m A Final, where she placed ninth, and secured victory in the K2 500m B Final alongside Alicia Hoskin.

“It definitely gave me a lot of confidence and made me believe that even though I compete for a small country we can be up there and compete with the best,” she says.

National setback

Olivia’s next big competition is next week’s 2019 NZCT New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships at Lake Karapiro, however, her preparations were given a jolt three weeks ago after she tore her medical cruciate ligament in her left knee during a training camp at Lake Brunner.

“I was walking up a bank when my knee gave way,” she explains. “I then lost balance and slipped down the bank. The injury normally takes between six weeks and three months to fully heal but because kayaking is a linear sport and I don’t need to move my knee inwards, I can still paddle. It is painful but I can still train and the good news is I can’t make the injury any worse than it is. At nationals my main aim is to focus on how best to manage the pain. That would be a start and from there I’ll just see how it goes.”

Olympic ambition

Her main priority for 2019 is an appearance at the World Junior Championships in Pitesti, Romania but the New World St Martins sponsored athlete has also set some longer term goals.

“I would like to race internationally in the open team and one day compete at the Olympics,” says Olivia, who has a preference for the 200m distance and also enjoys team boat racing. “I also want to complete a degree to become a primary school teacher.

“I love being able to travel and represent New Zealand. I’ve met some of my best friends kayaking. It is a great community and I feel so lucky to have met them.”

Introducing – Olivia Brett

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