Lisa Carrington’s documentary series crafted with the help of Under Armour and Southern Cross offers a fascinating insight into the mindset of a champion athlete. Here are a raft of things the four-part mini-series reveal about the two-time Olympic and ten-time world champion paddler.
Strong sense of identity
Raised in the small beach town of Ohope in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, Lisa always had a very clear identity.
“I lived a simple and pure life,” explains Lisa. “I went to a small country school (Waiotahe Valley School) in Opotiki, where my parents (Pat and Glynis) still teach today. It was a very safe and secure place to be yourself.”
She was also instilled with some good principles by both mum and dad and recalls one such phrase by her father which she has tried to live up for much of her life.
“My dad always used to say, ‘be the best that you can be.’ At the time It grated me and I was like, whatever. But he did not mean being competitive, but simply being the best version of yourself.”
From the age of ten she joined Whakatane Surf Life Saving Club, where she was to develop some critical skills for her future sporting development.
Father Pat admits at first Lisa “would cry and didn’t want to go” but over time she started to enjoy life the club which became a positive outlet for Lisa’s competitive nature.
Crucially it also helped build the resilience and problem-solving skills she has taken into her glittering kayaking career.
Lisa’s sports psychologist David Galbraith says: “Her surf lifesaving background gives her an innate resilience and composure in those extreme pressure moments.”
No overnight superstar
Lisa took up kayaking at the age of 16 but although she showed great early potential she was not immediately a world-class star. On her debut for New Zealand at the 2007 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic she placed 16th (in the K1 1000m and 17th in the K1 500m.
“At that point I was good in New Zealand, I didn’t have to be the best in the world. At that stage it was all about wearing the Silver Fern.”
Lisa is a naturally modest person who never chases the limelight. She is down-to-earth and David believes this has been a source of strength in striving to reach a higher level.
“The great champions often have that humility that helps with their progress,” he says. “It helps a lot in terms of performance and how she can reach out to people.
Great training responder
Her long-time coach, Gordon Walker (see below), says from the early days of working with Lisa, it was apparent he was working with a special talent who had the ability to quickly improve.
“I’ve worked with talent before, but the way she started to respond to training, I thought this is quite different and that’s when I realised this is going to be somebody who is going to be pretty good. But no way did I ever think she could be as good as she is now.”
Her long-term partner, Bucky, reveals that in their ten years being together, Lisa has never missed a training session.
“She left me waiting for the first date of 45 minutes because of training, and that kind of set the scene,” he remarks.
Having never missed a training session there is little doubting Lisa’s commitment and dedication. However, she is also 100 percent focused on getting the absolute best out of every session in order to continually improve.
“I don’t just want to do things to make myself look good, there has to be a greater purpose,” she says. “It’s the easy way out if you are not prepared to do the hard work. That is where I put most of the value, in the hard work. If the work doesn’t have any integrity and authenticity, I’m not fulfilled.”
Even today she strives to be the best she can in every session and still regularly sets PBs – incredible for an athlete who has enjoyed ten years at the top.
Lisa’s biomechanics coach Greg Pain believes that not only her physical prowess but the way she applies force in the boat is “incredible.”
“What she can achieve from a stability aspect is unlike any athlete I’ve ever worked with by a mile, she is off the chart
“From a female sprint paddler’s perspective, she is not that big but the numbers she pushes are absolutely mind-blowing.”
This is a point echoed by Gordon. “Her strength and her power for someone of her size is extraordinary.”
Lisa is the reigning K1 world 200m and 500m champion, which in some respects is like blending the skills of an athletics sprinter with that of a middle-distance athlete.
“She is like a hybrid engine in that she has got good endurance but also good speed and power,” explains Gordon. “You are normally either one type of athlete or the other, she is probably the ultimate hybrid.”
As a double Olympic and 10-time world champion, Lisa has racked up year after year of consistent success on the global stage. One key element to being able to sustain such top level performances is her resistance to injury.
“What excites me most is her injury level is really low,” adds Greg, who says her body can consistently take heavy loads without breaking down.
Gordon says that because Lisa is the quickest paddler in the world it demands enormous guts to continually set the pace in races and lead from the front.
“Her style demands courage,” says Gordon. “The evolution of her is a paddler is she has become more courageous.”
Lisa’s sport psychologist David Galbraith believes Lisa has long possessed the mental skills to excel at the highest level.
“My role has been really easy,” he adds. “Her level of thinking, her level of analysis all of those healthy frameworks that are needed for maturity she has had that (for a long time). She is the consummate professional in terms of how she applies herself to her business.”
Comfortable in being uncomfortable
Despite being instinctively wary of stepping into situations that make her feel uncomfortable she has learned that she must do so in order to grow as a person.
“What I’ve learned is when I lean in, I get my most mental growth,” she adds.
The complete athlete
Lisa is very special athlete with the full suite of skills to draw upon to attain success.
“She pulls together the web of high performance together better than anyone,” adds David. “She is a master of her trade. There are only two or three other athletes over the past 15 years that have that framework, they are different beasts, so different to everyone else.”
To check out the four-part mini-doco series on Lisa Carrington go to play.stuff.co.nz/page/withlisacarrington