The Arawa Influence

Author -  Karen Simpson

The Arawa Canoe Club boasts all five of the junior women's team representing NZ next week in Romania.

The Arawa Influence

The Arawa Canoe Club boasts all five of the junior women's team representing NZ next week in Romania.

Arawa 5 girls.jpeg

When the New Zealand junior women’s team hit the water at the ICF Junior and U23 Canoe Sprint World Championships in Pitesti, Romania next Thursday (Aug 1) the Christchurch-based Arawa Club will be glowing with pride as they proudly boast all five athletes in the squad.

The most experienced member of the team, Olivia Brett, will contest the K1 200m and she will team up with long-time partner Pieta Luthi in the K2 500m boat. Tilly Pritchard will be in K1 500m action and the K4 500m boat will comprise Tilly and Pieta with Jess Nisbet and Cass Hetherington.
Various factors have led to the development of the all Arawa quintet but at the heart of their progression has been the benefit of a strong club culture coupled with quality coaching.

All five paddlers had their reasons for starting out in the sport. Jess was inspired to join the Arawa Club at the age of 12 to follow in the footsteps of her father, who had completed the iconic multisport Coast to Coast event, and as good pals with Pieta, it was Jess who inspired her friend to first pick up a paddle.

Tilly was drawn to the sport through her brother as he prepared for surf ski and Olivia transferred to canoe racing after her promising gymnastics career was cut short following a hip injury.
For 16-year-old Cass, the youngest of the quintet, she experienced a slightly different journey into the sport after first joining the Arawa Club aged 12 as a tyro.

“The reason I started kayaking was because I had started playing tennis on Fridays and had Saturdays to try something new,” she explains. “I knew some people who were involved at Arawa so I decided to go down and give it a go.”

The five teenagers all slotted in quickly to life at the club, which offers an ideal foundation for paddler development.
Tilly points to the club providing a rich and varied racing calendar which includes; South Island Championships, Monday night knockout sprint races and South Eyre Sprints to fine-tune their competitive skills. Athlete-led group and team trips have allowed athletes and new members to bond while she also praises the extensive facilities on offer.

“As the club has grown we have the funding and support to buy new boats and equipment including access to good quality team boats, a great gym facility, funding for trips away and plenty of storage space for boats,” adds Tilly, 17.

All five World Junior Championship-bound athletes are also wedded by the fact they all share the same coach – Paul Fidow – and unquestionably he has played a key role in their evolution onto the international stage.

Coaching all the paddlers throughout their time at Arawa, Cass believes Paul’s great strength is his ability to develop them not only as paddlers but also people; a point echoed by Pieta and Jess.

Meanwhile, Tilly, who has been coached by many coaches through her sporting career, insists Paul has been “by far the most influential”
“He likes to establish close interpersonal relationships with all his athletes getting to know everyone and their individual needs,” she adds. “Paul has a big heart and has worked hard to establish a good club culture that has grown with the size of the club too. The values he contributes and shares are included in our club values that we practise; trust, passion, adaptability, respect, commitment, integrity and support.”

Olivia, 18, who is making her third successive World Junior Championship appearance for New Zealand, describes Paul as “a big teddy bear” before she adds of him: “He’s very knowledgeable with an ability to always offer sound technical advice. He’s always very supportive of all his athletes; he’s just a great coach.”

Besides the inspirational coaching there is little doubt the development of the group has also acted as a huge motivation.  Pieta, 17, who featured as part of the 2018 World Junior Championship campaign, says the group have helped push each other to fulfil their potential. While Jess – also aged 17 - adds: “Arawa has been a really supportive environment to train in with a good bunch of athletes.  This makes it very easy to be motivated to do every session to the best of our ability, as we know each other’s limits.”

The success of Olivia and Pieta making past World Junior Championship squads has unquestionably acted as motivation for the other paddlers but also made competing on such a stage an attainable target. And it was naturally a hugely proud moment when five Arawa girls secured selection for the New Zealand team to compete at the Junior Worlds.
Tilly believes as the quintet all work to the same technical model, which means they are a step ahead of the game when preparation began – a point echoed by Cass.

“We were able to train our team boats at the club before we came away, so that we could get more time making the boat even better,” she adds. “We have also all been coached by Paul (who is also the head coach for the New Zealand Junior Women’s team) so we have similar technique which helps the boat gel better than perhaps it would have. Additionally we all know each other well and know what we need to do to help our team-mates perform to the best of their ability.” 

Olivia and Pieta are optimistic their knowledge from previous campaigns can help them in their quest to execute the best performances they possibly can.

Tilly, meanwhile, hopes that featuring in the developmental K4 boat will be a “great opportunity to learn, improve and grow as athletes in a highly competitive race environment.”

“In the lead up to this campaign we have all learnt a lot about technique and each other and to deal with interactions between ourselves both good and bad in order to get the best performance we can,” she says.

Article by Steve Landells
The Arawa Influence

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