On the banks of Lake Pupuke in Takapuna sits North Shore Canoe Club. For this month's 'I Love My Sport' Q & A, Heather Barker Vermeer chatted to one of the club's athletes Maria Millar to find out more about the sport and hear Maria's personal experience of what draws her to the water to compete...
Heather Barker Vermeer: What drew you to canoeing initially?
Maria Millar: My son started kayaking last year and after attending the Blue Lakes 1 regatta in October. It occurred to me that, since we have to take him to practice and competitions, I may as well get involved and give it a go! I also loved the idea of being on the water, especially on a calm day.
HV: How long have you been involved?
MM: I first got in a canoe sprint in late October/early November 2018.
HV: Do you have a role model in sport?
MM: My role models are the women in sport who are tenacious, strong, persistent and constant - I count the masters women, such as Rosemary Gatland and Diana Austin, at our club among those.
HV: What’s the best all-time performance you have ever seen in the world of canoeing?
MM: I would have to say one of the most exciting races I have seen was at this year's Nationals at Lake Karapiro with Lisa Carrington in the lead, but with Caitlin Ryan and Aimee Fisher on very close on her tail, fighting it out for second place.
HV: Have you ever sustained any injuries or had any ‘fail’ moments in the sport?
MM: It's hard to escape getting a few bumps and bruises, especially when you're learning, as you work to find your balance in the boat and might fall out into the water a few times. Mostly it seems like a relatively safe sport injury-wise. I definitely had a 'fail' moment - at Nationals this year, on Lake Karapiro, when, in my first ever K1 race, I fell out of my boat 40m from the start line. Argh! In my defence, the water was choppy and the tail wind was making things tricky!
HV: How do you train?
MM: The development of my training regime has been a gradual process - I train Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings on the water and, in the lead up to Nationals, I added in an extra day in the boat bright and early on a Thursday or Friday morning. I have a busy work and family life so have to juggle things somewhat. I also found it necessary to adopt a stretching and core strengthening routine that I work through first thing most mornings.
HV: Can you describe the feeling you get when you master a new skill or set a new record time?
MM: When you first start out there's a kind of euphoria when you finish a training session and realise you made it to the end without falling out! One of the things I've come to learn about this sport is that the challenges are not just physical but intellectual as well. It's exciting when you're shown a new technique, you start to try it out and experience the difference it makes to your performance in the boat.
HV: If you didn’t compete in this sport, which other sport would you like to excel at?
MM: Way back when I was a bit younger, and arguably fitter, I did Taekwando for two years. Again, it offers both the physical and intellectual components. There was also a great team atmosphere at the club, similar to what we have at North Shore Canoe Club, and that's just as important to me as the sport itself.
HV: Who would your dream canoeing partner be?
MM: For me, there are two ways to answer this question: On the one hand, I'd love to one day be good enough to partner with some of our top women kayakers, although I'd have to get over being starstruck! On the other hand, though eventually I'd love to partner with someone, I can share some of what I have learnt with others to help keep the masters women's team growing.
HV: In five years time I hope to…
MM: ...look at competing in a world masters' competition.