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Round-the-world solo sailor steers clear of her fears

A change of plans for round-the-world single-handed sailor Elana Connor means she's helping Kiwi kids in foster care go sailing - and tries to 'demystify' the sport for women.  

Where is she now? Jenny McDonald

One of hockey's most prolific goal scorers, former NZ captain Jenny McDonald remembers the disappointment of the 1980 Olympics boycott, the thrill of playing for the World XI and the battle to move from grass to turf 

Harrison has one last beach dig before netball return

New Zealand triple-code star, Anna Harrison, can't stop returning to the courts - whether it's netball or beach volleyball. She tells Ashley Stanley what keeps drawing her back. 

Ocean swimmer won't let incurable cancer defeat her

Kate Wills is facing stage four cancer with the same fierce approach she takes into her ocean swimming - never say can't. 

Kiwi bodybuilder trades Christmas for Ms Olympia

Former New Zealand gymnast Katya Nosova is now a champion bodybuilder, who was prepared to spend Christmas alone in quarantine to compete in the 'Olympics' of her sport. 

Katya Nosova was willing to do everything she could to pose on the world stage in her third Ms Olympia.

Despite a string of disruptions in 2020 through the Covid-19 pandemic, Nosova managed to touch down in the United States in late December for the pinnacle professional event of the IFBB - the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness. 

The 31-year-old was the solo Australasian athlete to compete in "the Olympics of our sport" in Orlando, Florida, and the first ever from the region to qualify and compete on three separate occasions. 

Ms Olympia is the women’s equivalent of Mr Olympia, the bodybuilding contest made famous by Hollywood actor turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Originally from Russia, Nosova and her family moved to New Zealand when she was 16: “for a better life and better opportunities.”

Growing up, she competed in rhythmic gymnastics in Russia and carried on to represent New Zealand in the sport after the move. She won a gold medal for New Zealand at the 2010 Pacific Alliance  championships in Melbourne in 2010 - the highlight of her gymnastics career. 

After a string of injuries, Nosova decided to finish up in her first-chosen sport at the age of 21, but wanted to remain active and to try something different. She started going to the gym and there met her now husband, Max Arefyev, who was involved in bodybuilding. She became hooked too. While Arefyev no longer competes in the sport, he is Nosova’s number one supporter. 

Nosova made it her goal in the sport she took up six years ago to place in the top 10 of international bodybuilding's bikini division - especially at Ms Olympia. 

Although she finished 16th in the 2020 event, she was eighth in Ms Olympia Bikini in 2017, and has had top 10 placing in events like the Iron Games, the Arnold Classic and won the Sacramento Pro bikini event in 2019.  

Nosova is now waiting for a 2021 international bodybuilding schedule to be determined. In the meantime, she's training twice a day; early mornings before work are dedicated to cardio sessions and in the afternoon, she focuses on weights and sometimes another cardio workout.

“Until then, we'll just train,” she says. “That’s the beauty of our sport: there's always things to work on, there's always things to touch up and change.” 

On top of her bodybuilding commitments, Nosova has a full-time corporate sales role and takes posing classes on the side. Her posing services will ramp up soon with the NZIFBB events starting in May.

“I’ve got a studio at home and I teach girls how to pose on stage,” Nosova says. “That’s quite a big aspect of the judging criteria, your overall stage presence and poses. I absolutely love it.” 

With the backdrop of Covid-19, the 2020 Ms Olympia is one contest Nosova will definitely remember. But her first Ms Olympia in 2017 is another competition she will never forget.

“That’s where I placed eighth, still the best placing I’ve done and especially because it was the first one,” says Nosova. “And we also got married the day after that Olympia, so that was obviously memorable.” 

There’s a bit of a backstory to their wedding. It was planned - despite many people thinking it was spur-of-the-moment Little White Chapel ceremony when she mentions getting hitched in Vegas.

Earlier in 2017, Nosvoa was scheduled to compete in Sacramento and beforehand Arefyev - then her fiancé - said: "If you win this show, why don’t we get married in Las Vegas?" 

“And I won that show,” Nosova laughs. “So we got married at the Grand Canyon the day after the event.”

Katya Nosova marrying the man who introduced her to bodybuilding, Max Arefyev, in the Grand Canyon. Photo: supplied. 

Even though December's result wasn't what she'd hoped for, the fact the event went ahead at all and competitors made it into the US, was an achievement in itself. 

“I think everybody deserves a gold medal,” says Nosova. “Because just to qualify for Ms or Mr Olympia is a big challenge and a big achievement. But to go through the pandemic - that was something really different. But we all did it.” 

Nosova says her decision to fly to the US, for just nine days was “worth it.”

“I'm really fortunate that I had the opportunity to go, that I had the funds to do that,” she says. “Because it's a self-funded sport and this trip was the most expensive I've ever done.

“So there were lots of sleepless nights and a lot of additional stress than there normally is. Athletes from Europe and Brazil couldn’t fly direct to the USA, they had to stay 14 days in a different country before coming to America.” 

To make the 2020 Ms Olympia, Nosova continued her training routine with her coach, Kim Oddo, who's based in California, through two New Zealand lockdowns. She kept training despite a postponement from September to December, purchased return flights to the US that came with the risk of being cancelled, had to change internal flights four weeks out from the event as Las Vegas went into lockdown and organisers shifted it to Orlando.

And then when she returned to New Zealand on Christmas Eve, Nosova flew to Christchurch and bunkered down on her own in managed isolation for the next two weeks. 

Onlookers may have thought it easier to pull out at the first hurdle, as there were many more hurdles in a year that will be etched in history. And Nosova admits she when the NZ quarantine requirements were introduced she began to question whether she still wanted to go.

“But that’s the kind of sacrifices you make for doing something you really love and are passionate about," she says.

Where is she now? Penny Kinsella

 

An international player, selector and self-confessed cricket stats nerd, Penny Kinsella has now played a hand in recording the rich history of the women's game in New Zealand.

Penny Kinsella’s cricketing career was perched on the cusp of change for the White Ferns.

“My first tour to Australia, we each needed to pay $300 to go,” says Kinsella, who debuted for New Zealand in 1987. She would do a huge amount of training for “not many matches” a year.

“But before my time, players actually had to purchase their own material and get their tour blazers made themselves, so I didn’t think it was too bad.”

It’s a far cry from where the current White Ferns find themselves, with professionalism, central contracts and maternity leave clauses now in place.

Kinsella has been well-positioned to track the progress of the women’s game, first as a player – for Wellington, Central Districts and the White Ferns - then as a national selector, and most recently, as part of a project team compiling the history of women’s cricket in New Zealand.

Playing 20 one-day games and six test matches through until the 1994-95 season, Kinsella was involved in some of that history herself. She was active during the transition from the Women’s Cricket Council to New Zealand Cricket, bringing with it changes to tour life.

“Following the amalgamation, we went to Aussie and played a series against them in coloured clothing, with a white ball under lights. We went from making sure we got the most out of every dollar, to staying in apartments in Brisbane, playing in colours at the Gabba. It was really quite outstanding,” she recalls.

Kinsella, now deputy principal at Onslow College in Wellington, was also part of the first New Zealand cricket team to make a World Cup final in 1993. While unsuccessful, playing on the hallowed turf of Lord’s – every cricketer’s dream – still ranks highly in her mind.

Test cricket was another highlight. Financial viability has robbed today’s White Ferns of the opportunity to play tests.

“I was lucky enough to play six tests. It’s so tactical, such a competitive experience without it being high pace,” Kinsella says. “That aspect of cricket can’t be replicated in any other way, and it’s a shame the current players don’t have that to look forward to.”

White Fern No. 97, Penny Kinsella, receives her cap from NZ Cricket chair, Greg Barclay, in 2019. Photo: supplied. 

A full domestic schedule of 50 and 20-over cricket, plus the emergence of international Twenty20 competitions, like the WBBL in Australia, keeps players busy - and remunerated. It’s just another sign of how the game has progressed since Kinsella was padding up.

“The idea of professionalism didn’t even creep into my mind,” she says with a chuckle. “The most matches I ever played in a calendar year was about 10, so you never really felt you could make a career out of it. We did a huge amount of training and physical preparation for not many matches.”

That’s how she ended up in teaching. Searching for a career that would enable her to continue playing, she headed into education, knowing the summer holidays would give her that opportunity.

With a science degree and teacher training under her belt, she began teaching in 1988 and hasn’t looked back. “I love the idea that you’re supporting people. You help grow kids into adults, and you can open their eyes to so many different pathways.”

Her tenure and experience led her to take on the leadership role of deputy principal, where she enjoys mentoring other educators.

Selecting is ideal for a self-confessed cricket stats nerd. In 2005, Kinsella began the first of two three-year stints as a selector for the White Ferns, and loved being able to watch cricket as a job.

“The opportunity to be strategic and still be able to contribute to the game at a national level was something I found really exciting,” she recalls. “The season was still quite compact at that point, but it was a time where women’s cricket was just exploding; there were so many new, talented players coming through. I enjoyed seeing the pathway for some of emerging players, some of whom are still White Ferns today.”

Penny Kinsella batting at a White Ferns practice with keeper Sarah Illingworth in 1994. Photo: NZ Cricket Museum Collection.

A firm believer in volunteerism, Kinsella gives back to the game she loves in every way she can.

She was a driving force in bringing back girls’ cricket to Onslow College, coaching and managing the side. She assists Cricket Wellington with selecting and coaching age group squads, and is on the board of the Cricket Museum, based at the Basin Reserve.

“It’s really exciting to have been involved in bringing the Cricket Museum into the 21st century,” she says. “There will always be a place for bats and balls, but we’re looking to tell the stories of cricket using interactive things like virtual reality,” Kinsella says.  

“How far could you hit a virtual bowler? That interactivity is what’s going to make the younger generation interested.”

Capturing the history of NZ women’s cricket

A new book released last week, The Warm Sun on My Face: The Story of Women’s Cricket in New Zealand, is a comprehensive telling of women’s involvement in the game.

While the words are enlightening, even browsing the myriad images demonstrates the progression through the years, from on-field fashion to techniques and equipment.

Kinsella had been involved in gathering statistics, notes and stories from women’s games in New Zealand with historian and cricket fan, Adrienne Simpson, in the mid-1990s. Sadly, Simpson passed away, but her family passed on her research to the Cricket Museum. There, former curator Jamie Bell discovered her work and got the ball rolling on making something of the incredible resource.

Over time, a project team grew to include Kinsella, former NZ cricket captain Trish McKelvey and and first-class cricketer Elizabeth Scurr, the first female board chair of Cricket Wellington, Sally Morrison, and author Trevor Auger. A huge cricket fan, Auger spent "every spare moment" over four years pulling together the weighty 676-page book.

Penny Kinsella with the new on the history of NZ women's cricket at Eden Park No.2 - where she made her White Ferns debut. Photo: Suzanne McFadden 

“We’re so fortunate Adrienne did all that research, as some of the people she spoke to have since died,” Kinsella says. “She had put together a treasure trove of information, interviews and newspaper clippings. She spoke to players from New Zealand’s first women’s match in 1935, discovering that places like Matamata and Whanganui were real women’s cricket strongholds.

“It helped us get a feel for what these pioneer women went through to build the game and structure it into what we see now. It’s been inspiring to be part of the team and a real pleasure to bring it to completion.”

Women’s cricket has endured through key points of social and historical importance – wars, natural disasters, even apartheid. The book’s narrative approach captures those points, and presents one of Kinsella’s favourite memories of the research process.

“I really enjoyed talking to [White Fern] Shirley Cowles, who had been on the last official cricket tour to South Africa before the boycott,” she says. “The team were protested by Halt All Racist Tours [HART] and had to assemble in secrecy to leave on the tour. She had some stories to tell about what it was like in South Africa at the time. She didn’t realise people could be treated so differently because of the colour of their skin.”

There is, of course, space dedicated to the White Ferns’ World Cup win on home soil in 2000.

With the postponed 2021 Women’s Cricket World Cup to be held on our shores next summer, Kinsella is hopeful the White Ferns can stake a claim for the trophy again.

“We have some absolutely brilliant, experienced players, which is a huge positive,” she says. “What I’d really like to see in this extra 12 months we have before the tournament is some runs being scored by that next tier of players. If those experienced players don’t come off with the bat, we have the ability to still build a 50-over innings.

“We definitely have the talent, it’s just a matter of harnessing it and developing a real stickability at the crease.”

And if they manage that, the 2022 White Ferns might just add their own chapter to the richly storied history of New Zealand women’s cricket.

The Warm Sun on My Face: The Story of Women’s Cricket in New Zealand by Trevor Auger, with Adrienne Simpson (Upstart Press, $69.99) is available in bookstores nationwide.

The Lauz of motion come to a stop

Laura Langman is rolling down her long white socks and hanging up her black dress. The most capped netballer in Silver Ferns history, is she also the G.O.A.T?  

She has been a phenomenon in netball, and would be in most sports. It would be difficult to find another Kiwi athlete – woman or man – to rival Laura Langman’s astonishing record.

When it looked like her international career was over after 141 consecutive tests – and 18 months in the world netball wilderness (following her controversial ineligibility when she chose to play a season in Australia) - Langman came back to captain the Silver Ferns to the World Cup victory that was missing from her screed of achievements.

The 34-year-old has now called time on her dazzling career on the eve of the naming of the next Silver Ferns squad. She’s playing out the rest of Australia's Super Netball season with the Sunshine Coast Lightning, and then looking for a “new adventure”.  

LockerRoom has collected memories from some of those who’ve been alongside her on this one.

Laura Langman brought back the long white socks when she returned to the Silver Ferns in 2018. Photo: Getty Images.

The long white socks:

From the first time Dame Noeline Taurua saw Langman, 15 and fizzing, she was wearing long white socks pulled up to her calves that became her trademark. “From day dot she had those socks pulled up – just one of those little special things that make her Lauz,” Taurua says.

Langman explained their origins are before her netball days - an old habit from growing up on a dairy farm in Te Pahu, south-west of Hamilton, where she’d tuck her trouser legs into her socks before putting on her gumboots.

“Even in trainings she wore them like that too,” says Taurua. “I think for her it became part of her routine, pulling up her socks and starting her work.”

First impressions:  

Langman was a 15-year-old at Hillcrest High School when she first came onto coach Taurua’s radar trialling for the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.

“We had a game and she went up against Jenny-May [Clarkson]. Usually kids who play against Silver Ferns get overawed by them, but she just got stuck in and never backed off,” Taurua says.  “She showed great promise, which was what really caught my eye.”

It’s Clarkson’s first memory of Langman, too: “Here was this kid who was wet behind the ears and I’d been around for a while. We stood on the edge of the circle and talked about the trajectory of the ball as she was putting it in to the shooter, and I told her ‘That kind of ball needs a little more spin and a little more height on it’. And then she executed it in that same game. I remember thinking ‘Wow, this kid is something special’.”

Irene van Dyk recalls Langman as a "nuggety" 16-year-old wing defence in the Magic squad. “I had to do a drill with her and I was like ‘Where are you?’ She was so fast and so strong. I said to myself, ‘Irene you are out of your depth here, this kid is going places’.”

Laura Langman playing for the Magic in 2006. Photo: Getty Images

A head for numbers: 

Langman is a chartered accountant, who studied for her degree and has worked all through her netball career. But she was never hung up on her own statistics. “Are you sure they triple-checked that?” she’d say before a milestone game.

For the record: Langman played 163 tests for the Silver Ferns, and was the first New Zealand netballer to reach 150 tests. She played the first 141 of those without missing a game for the Silver Ferns between 2005 and 2016.

She won World Cup gold and three silver medals; a Youth World Cup title; two Commonwealth Games golds and one silver; one ANZ Championship title as captain of the Magic, and one Super Netball title with the Lightning.

Colourful language:

As well as bringing her dynamic on-court skills, leadership and dedication to the Silver Ferns, Langman also brought laughter.

“As she’s got older, some of the strange words she pulls out have been really funny,” Taurua says. “Words like wakachangchang.  She definitely adds lightness and humour to a team.”

In her first training session back with the Silver Ferns - after a season away from the game - Langman said: “It felt like I’d blown a huhu valve”.

Clarkson remembers interviewing Langman and her long-time team-mate Casey Kopua straight after last year’s World Cup victory. “And Laura said in her cow-cocky voice: ‘It was a bit of a bumpy ride - I had to squeeze my bum cheeks together’.”

“Although she’s a perfectionist she doesn’t take life too seriously,” van Dyk says. “She knows there’s always a time and place for laughter.”

After the final whistle of the Silver Ferns 2019 World Cup final victory over Australia. Photo: Getty Images. 

A netball obsession:

Langman’s commitment to netball could almost be described as an obsession at times during her career. She has trained religiously, and the fact that her body has held out for 17 years of elite netball is testament to the recovery work she pours in.

I remember the eager 21-year-old preparing for her first World Cup, in Auckland in 2007, with a fractured foot (one of the rare injuries in her career). But come hell or high water, she was going to play. She got medical clearance a few hours before the first game.

“She’s gone through stages of being quite obsessive about everything she did. She was so committed to netball. But she’s more balanced now,” Taurua says.

The break she took from the game in 2018 gave her “an appreciation for other things in life – and she’s still been able to produce the goods and have balance in her life.” And finally win a World Cup.

A one-time telling-off:

Van Dyk, who was fed by Langman for most of her Silver Ferns career, recalls a test series where coach Ruth Aitken moved Langman from her usual wing defence to centre for the first time. “At some point Laura came off the circle edge too soon, and Ruth yelled at Laura ‘Stay on the circle edge!’ And I swear Laura’s eyes were so big because Ruth never yelled. And Laura never came off the circle edge again - in her career. That's the only time I ever saw Laura got told off.”

Words to describe Langman:

Taurua: Loyal. Dogged. Tenacious. Committed. Funny.

“She’s just been a great servant of our game. She did everything to uphold the mana of wearing the Silver Fern. Whether she’s playing for the Silver Ferns or a club, the team has always come first.”

Van Dyk: Class. Integrity. Work ethic. Humorous. Humble.

“The legacy Laura leaves behind is work hard, practice what you preach, lead by example, be a Fern 24/7, lift your values and give it everything you’ve got.

“In my book, she is the all-time greatest, without a doubt.”

Bowing out:

Her decision to retire has been more than two years in the making, Taurua says, even before she asked Langman if she would help her to win the World Cup.

Langman actually first considered ending her career back in 2015, when she got her first fulltime job as an accountant, and wanted to do something different.  

“She’s been involved in netball at an elite level for half of her life, and she’s committed so much that she really hasn’t had time to live her life and do other things,” Taurua says. “It’s sad, but it’s lovely for her and [husband] Adrian. She can go surfing and skiing now, and not worry about getting injured. She’s got nothing else to prove or that she wants.

“She’s still playing amazing netball. But she’s playing for the pure joy of the game, and you couldn’t finish up any better than that.”

Netballer Kelly Hutton keeps one step ahead of cancer

In a follow-up to LockerRoom's most popular story of 2020, Kelly Hutton is walking, working out and playing netball again, striving to stay ahead of cancer. 

In a race with time, Kelly Hutton is making the most out of life.

Exactly a year after she was told she had advanced ovarian cancer, the pioneer Canterbury Flames netballer crossed the finish line of the Queenstown half marathon.  

The month before, she’d walked the best part of 12 hours dressed as a hot dog, and won gold at a Masters netball tournament.

And she’s keeping up her fitness, training every other day in a homemade gym alongside Silver Ferns shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit.

So impressive for a woman who endured major surgery and six rounds of chemotherapy this year.

“It was nice to tick the half marathon off,” Hutton says. "It was really hard, but I kept reminding myself, there’s a reason why I’m doing it. And I’d remember lying in bed in March when it seemed such an unachievable goal."

In April, we introduced you to Hutton’s heart-wrenching but inspiring story. It would become the most read story in LockerRoom in 2020. 

Kelly Hutton (the hot dog) with sister, Megan Hutton, left and former Silver Fern Angela Mitchell. Photo: supplied 

Last year, Hutton was happy working in Bahrain, and captaining the Bahrain national netball team. Around the time of her 45th birthday, she became overwhelmed with exhaustion and had an unrelenting pain in her side, but managed to keep playing sport.

Then a CA125 blood test, which helps diagnose ovarian cancer, showed her tumour markers were “through the roof”. Surgeons discovered advanced stage 3 cancer galloping through her abdomen.

So, Hutton came home to Christchurch with her mother and sister, former Southern Steel netballer Megan Hutton, by her side to face aggressive treatment - made tougher by going through it in Level 4 lockdown.

But since her last chemotherapy in May, Hutton has been building up her strength again. She’s been tackling walking tracks, like the Tora Coastal Walk in the Wairarapa, and training in the gym a friend built in her garage, which they call “Jo's Box”. Selby-Rickit – working towards her second season with the Mainland Tactix – is training there too.

“Te Paea is cracking into it. And I figure if I can keep up with her, I’ll be doing okay,” Hutton says. “My body is getting used to it, and I’m not sleeping as much as I had to before.”

Her only real setback has been a torn meniscus in her knee.

“I started running and really enjoyed it. But then I fell in a bloody hole,” she laughs. “There’s probably a bit of degeneration in there from netball too.” She’s going to have knee surgery next.

It meant she had to walk the 21.1km, alongside the Shotover and Kawarau rivers, to achieve the goal she’d set herself after her third debilitating round of chemo. Her other sister, Lisa, and friend Nicola McNally walked alongside in her support. And she needed it.

“After the first kilometre, I wasn’t feeling well. I’d got a little bit carried away the week before and hard with a few training walks,” Hutton says. “But it was a cool thing to do. Next year, I want to run it.”

Kelly Hutton (right) with sister Lisa and friend Nicola McNally finishing the Queenstown Half Marathon Photo: FinisherPix

All her walking and working out is helping Hutton stay on top of her health. "It makes me feel like the old me isn’t quite lost yet," she says.

"It’s been most important from a mental perspective, because every time something went wrong in the past [the death of her dad and young nephew, and the Christchurch earthquakes], the first thing I did was go for a run. So I want that outlet back."

Hutton had a "cracking early Christmas present" with her three-monthly oncology check-up a fortnight ago.

“My bloods were better than ever, and my CA125 test is the lowest it’s ever been. I’m the most ‘cancer-free’ I have been since this whole nightmare started,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

But Hutton is under no illusion that the cancer has been beaten.

“It’s a loaded gun. It will come back. My oncologist said: ‘Remember it’s not going to be like this every time’,” she says.

Her body is “still a wreck” from the chemotherapy, and she’s been suffering with the symptoms of menopause since her ovaries were removed.

“And then there’s the real mental mind games, which have been much harder than I thought. There’s the threat of it recurring hanging over your head and you realise how much you’ve had to give up in your life,” she says. “My life is very different from a year ago.”

But she's not dwelling on it. She’s walking the Abel Tasman Coast Track in the New Year and then the Banks Track on the Banks Peninsula mid-January. “I’m looking at doing the Milford Track at the end of January, but that may be too much,” she says.  

Hutton may look to coach a school netball team next season, with Selby-Rickit offering to be her assistant coach. Hutton has the pedigree, having played for Canterbury and the original Flames side in 1989 - when the Coca Cola Cup introduced semi-professional netball to New Zealand - and captaining the New Zealand indoor netball team. 

She's become somewhat of a crusader in the fight against cancer - she was “honoured” to be asked to speak at the Cancer Society Ball in Christchurch (postponed by Covid-19). And she raised $8100 in the Relay of Life Otautahi with her team, the Hutton Sizzlers (hence the hotdog suit).

The Hutton Sizzlers also won gold in netball at the South Island Masters Games, the team including former Silver Ferns shooter Angela Mitchell.

Hutton organised the team, but with her bad knee, didn’t take the court often. “I put myself at goal shoot, and just put my hand up for the ball,” she laughs.

“But I'd love to play again one day. Never say never.”

Sharp elbows help Kiwi cyclist Olivia Ray go pro

Once warned off cycling by her parents, New Zealand's latest pro rider, Olivia Ray, is now promising to buy them tickets to the Paris Olympics in 2024.

Olivia Ray wasn't meant to win one of her early races in America. There was another young woman, who'd been competing for years and raced for Rally, one of the big teams in the United States. She was unstoppable. Until Ray arrived.

"I beat her a couple of times and everyone was thanking me for beating her. They said she'd been unbeatable for years, and I was like, 'Oh, I don't know who she is',” she says.

Only a few years later, the foot is on the other pedal. Ray has just signed for Rally herself, and thanks to her aggressive and fearless racing, has turned herself into a similar force to the one she came up against when she first arrived in the US.

That was back in 2017, after she decided to take up a full scholarship in Georgia. Once she arrived though, she found it hard to adjust.

"It was pretty awful. It's so different over there,” she recalls. "I wouldn't have expected it because it's America, they speak English, it's all pretty relative. But the food, and the people and how people act, I think I had a bit of a culture shock."

A trip home to see her family for Christmas helped her reset, and when she returned, everything was easier. She now calls it her second home.  

On the bike, Ray developed her cycling skills in the furious world of criteriums. The short races involve several laps around a closed street circuit, with plenty of sprinting and shoulder-to-shoulder action thrown in. If you think of a whole bunch of stressed Christmas shoppers racing down an aisle at The Warehouse for the last toy, you’re not far off.

While the crit scene is quiet in New Zealand, with just a small handful of them every year, the stakes are much higher in America. A lot of the races are held in the afternoon or at night, with the streetlights beaming down and large crowds hanging over the barriers.

An ecstatic Olivia Ray after winning the 2020 national criterium championships in Christchurch. Photo: CMGSport Action Images

Ray didn't put any pressure on herself as she came to grips with the frantic format, instead trying to soak everything in and learn as much as she could. After thriving and winning plenty of times throughout the US, she's developed a style of racing that works.

"I'm aggressive. That looks like going from the back of the race and getting to the front in a quarter of a lap. It's a combination of not letting anyone get in front of me if I don't want them to, or throwing some elbows,” she says.

Her impressive performances meant she signed with a team called ButcherBox this year, but she only got a few races in before the coronavirus pandemic locked her down. With her studies for a marketing and advertising degree shifted online, she decided to head home to make the most of the summer and get some racing in the legs.

Ray’s first hit out was the national criterium championships in Christchurch last month, an event she’d always wanted to come back and win. While she admits she took it a bit too seriously and got quite stressed about it, she out-kicked her rivals to take the title and is still “coming off the high” of getting to wear the national champion's jersey.

She then switched to the track, testing herself against the country’s leading riders at the Cambridge 3 Day Champs in the Avantidrome. In front of interested eyes from the national selectors, she won the elimination race and the tempo race.

Ray’s hoping to continue her success on the road and the boards, even though that has its challenges.  

A road cycling sprinter like Ray normally does endurance events on the track, but she's keen to stick with sprinting in the velodrome too. That means she’ll be coming up against athletes with a different build to her, who have trained specifically for that discipline. As Ray points out, what she’s trying to do is like if Usain Bolt decided to do the marathon as well as the 100 metres.

"People say that you can't do it, but I hope I'll be that rare person to be able to at least try to do both well,” she says.

Olivia Ray came away from the Cambridge 3 Day Champs in the Avantidrome with two titles. Photo: Cullen Browne

It's not the first time she's been told that. Growing up, she was desperate to emulate her brother Alexander, who cycled at Auckland Grammar.

"My parents wouldn't let me. They said I was going to crash and they'd have to drive me everywhere and all of this,” she laughs.

But after signing up in Year 10 at Diocesan School, she rented a bike and never looked back. The sport has always run strongly through her family, although not always with pleasant memories.

In 2018, her brother was hit by a car while out on a training ride in Auckland. He was placed in an induced coma, suffering collapsed lungs, 28 breaks in his ribs, a cracked pelvis and many more injuries. Stuck on the other side of the world, Ray found it difficult to comprehend how her parents were feeling and what it was like by his hospital bed.

"The crazy and amazing thing is that he's 98 percent ok now. The only thing he struggles with sometimes is, like what I'm doing right now, figuring how to make a sentence work,” she explains.

After the crash, her relationship with her brother strengthened.  

"He was a bit reserved before and now he talks to me. We ride together and we play-fight and we say, 'oh I'm better than you', so it's a good little rivalry we've got going,” she says.

Ray’s got plenty to brag about now, after getting a call “out of the blue” from leading American team Rally. They compete on the women’s World Tour, with three-time New Zealand Olympian Joanne Kiesanowski one of their sports directors.

"When I first saw the message, I started crying...it's completely random and absolutely amazing. I didn't think it was happening at the time,” she says.

The team is planning to do a bunch of races in America, along with a few stints in Europe depending on the coronavirus situation.

Then it's onwards to the Paris Olympics in 2024, although Ray is not quite sure how that’s going to look.

"I keep telling my parents and my coach, I'll buy you tickets to Paris," she laughs. 

"I want to be the best and I want to show what I can do. Figuring out the best pathway to show that, to go to the Olympics or the world championships or World Cup, you really have to dial in what you want to do, and that'll be the process I have to figure out in the next few months."

When she’s quizzed about her sporting idols, she mentions the attributes of Serena Williams, Kobe Bryant, Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish.

But with her cycling future looking incredibly bright, it’s her brother who sums it up best.

“I’ve always said I want to be like him," Ray says. "But he says, 'why don’t you just be you'.”

Dressage star plans to head where some fear to tread

Melissa Galloway would go to great lengths to reach her Olympic dressage goals; making the move to the United Kingdom in the midst of a global pandemic is one of them.

The 27-year-old is aiming to ride at the postponed Tokyo Olympics next year, but will have to jump a number of hurdles to get there.

Galloway, New Zealand’s leading dressage rider, says it’s a huge decision to move to the Northern Hemisphere in February as a new strain of Covid-19 spreads through England.

“But it’s either go all guns blazing and move over there, or just sadly give up the dream until Paris [2024 Olympics],” she says.

“Which is what I could do, but at the same time, because we're working with animals, you just don’t know how long they're going to last. And anything can happen in the next four years.”

To qualify for next year’s Olympics, Galloway needs to place well at certain international shows. The events are not available in New Zealand - and Australia is no longer holding any because of Covid-19.

Right now, Galloway and her main horse, Windermere J'Obei W, are “going amazing” and she wants to build on that.

The pair kicked off the season in March by winning Horse of the Year after turning heads across the Tasman in February at Willinga Park on the south coast of New South Wales.

It was there she finished a very close second to Australian Olympian Mary Hanna at the Dressage by the Sea event. But it was worthy of praise, given it was Galloway’s first international event with her own horse. They only featured in their first grand prix together late last year.

They carried on their fine form in mid-March, winning the CDI FEI grand prix in Hastings. Galloway also placed third at the same event on her second grand prix horse, Windermere Johanson W.

Last month, Galloway and J'Obei W won the Bates national dressage championships - finishing ahead of Rio Olympian Julie Brougham and Vom Feinsten, back on the main stage after a year of chemotherapy and surgery for abdominal cancer.

Galloway's results are reassuring in her bid to make the Tokyo Olympics. She's looking to fly to the UK in the first week of February.

“We’re making plans but if it's looking really bad over there with Covid and lockdown and things, we’ll just have to pull the pin,” she says.

No surprises Galloway is willing to put her team in the best position to be competitive. She’s known for following her instincts and bucking norms.

She started training her own horses from a young age. And now J’Obei W and Johanson W are competing at grand prix level - the highest competition stage in dressage.

Galloway left school at 17 to train in a barn in the North Island before moving back home to work on the family stable, Windermere, in Tuamarina - a small settlement in Marlborough, where the population is just under 250.

At 18, Galloway moved to Germany to train horses and broaden her riding experience with Hubertus Hufendiek, the renowned dressage rider, coach and trainer. She met him while he was living in New Zealand.

She was only meant to go for two weeks but ended up staying for a year, and on her return to New Zealand she wanted to start anew. Galloway sold her horse and started looking for a younger option.

“I actually rode a horse in Germany by a stallion called Johnson and when I came back to New Zealand, there were these two very young horses,” she says. “One was only a year-and-a-half old and the other was three-and-a-half years old and they were both by that same stallion, so they really caught my eye.”

At first there was push back in selling the pair to Galloway as the horses had a reputation for being quite difficult and she was young and unproven. But after hearing she had ridden the stallion in Germany, she was able to visit the owners “and the rest is history”. J’Obei W and Johanson W have been with her ever since.

Melissa Galloway and J'Obei W have racked up the accolades in the last few years. Photo: Mark Watson Photography

Johnson W, the elder of the two, had gone to three different breakers before she purchased them because he was so difficult. “He was a handful. He bucked me I think six times in the first six months I had him. And he bucked me off in my first competition with him,” recalls Galloway.

“And still to this day, there's a little bit of that in there but he's a lot better. I think the higher level he got with his dressage, the better he became which is really cool.”

Why did she persevere as a young rider?

“I just have that real determination and I always believed in him. When I first fell off I was so upset,” she says. “I wanted to be the first person that hadn’t fallen off him because I knew everyone had.

“As much as he is a bit of a pain, I always believed he had the talent and he does. I just needed to keep persevering to bring it out, really. His younger brother, my best horse now, was a lot easier.”

Galloway has always wanted to train her own horses, even more so knowing the obstacles of living in New Zealand - cost and availability.

“To be honest, I’ve always been like that from a young age. When I got my first horse, everyone suggested ‘Oh you should get a schoolmaster [a safe experienced horse] or something because they know what to do’. But I never wanted that,” she says.

“I was like a 15-year-old girl with a five-year-old horse, which is not what most people would recommend, but it taught me to ride and train. I’m pretty young for someone that’s actually taught two horses now at grand prix level who are doing really well. I’m pretty proud of that.”

Galloway says she didn’t want anyone to question her ability based on potentially buying top-notch horses.

“Even when you do spend a lot of money, you still have to be able to ride the horse which takes a lot of skill,” she says. “But I think you feel a lot more accomplished if you’ve done it yourself.”

Riding at Willinga Park before lockdown, a few international judges from America and Germany noticed the synergy between horse and rider.

“They said there's a real difference with my horse, there was something about us that they knew we had been together for years. And I thought that was really cool,” Galloway says.

That was a highlight of her career so far. “Even though I have won other cool things, going to Australia with your own horse and the whole journey of it all…we went over as the underdogs, there were a lot of other top riders from New Zealand going and nobody expected me to be the one that came out on top. So that was pretty cool,” she says.

Galloway, who married husband Lachy two years ago, has also been working with New Zealand dressage champion Vanessa Way for the last six years.

The awards they have reaped have been steadily improving. In 2016, J'Obei W was crowned North Island’s young horse dressage champion, and by 2018 they'd won the New Zealand U25 grand prix championship and came out on top of the Prix Saint Georges class at the FEI world dressage challenge.

She got into dressage through her mother’s love of horses. While Galloway’s dad was really sporty, he had no involvement with the animals. “My dad actually went to the world wakeboarding championships, like, many years ago. So we kind of grew up with all sorts of sports - wakeboarding, snowboarding, mountain biking and all sorts of stuff,” says Galloway, who recently ran a half marathon.

“My sister and I used to sit out by the kitchen and beg mum to let us ride her horse. And eventually we got a little Shetland pony we had to share. We went through pony club and that whole thing." Her younger sister now competes in showjumping.

Galloway, who describes dressage as “dancing with horses”, had been a dancer when she was younger and thought that may where her career lay.

“Dressage is pretty much the perfect combination of the two. And I love the challenge of it. No one has ever got 100 percent in dressage, so everything can always be better,” she says.

“The feeling you get when you’re in complete harmony with your horse is really indescribable – and trying to reach that feeling all the time is what keeps me driven.”

Her advice to those wanting to follow a similar path: Believe in yourself.

“That’s really taken me a long way. In any sport, there are always people who have opinions, there's different coaching, people of influence that tell you different things,” she says.

“I’ve always stuck to my guns, and stuck to what I really believed in with my training, and what I wanted to do. That goes with anything really, so try to believe in yourself and your system. The way you want to do things. Anything is possible, just go for it.”

The curious, caring and entertaining Lisa Adams

Lisa Adams is a world champion shot putter and quite the character, Alex Chapman discovers, in this charming interview. But who was interviewing who? 

The formal part of the interview hasn’t even started, and yet Lisa Adams is commanding the phone call as she does a shot put circle.

“Before we start, I have some questions for you,” Adams asserts.

“Ok, go for it,” I respond.

“What’s your favourite colour?”

“I think probably blue.”

“Like National blue?”

A relevant point given we were just days removed from the election.

“I like asking fun questions,” Adams explains. “There are some questions that I get asked which are just so square, it’s boring. Tell me a joke!” 

Before I have time to think of one, the 29-year-old once again controls the conversation. “I have a seven-year-old and he got told off for telling an inappropriate joke. And it wasn’t even to the other kids, it was to the parents.”

She goes on to share it. I won’t be.

But she then tells me how she had to remind her son, Hikairo, that it wasn’t one to be shared with other kids. Read into that what you will.

“Bro, I googled you, eh,” she confesses. “It brought up this doctor and I assume you aren’t one?

“And then I googled your name with NZ on it and it brought up Jimmy Butler [the NBA basketballer] and I thought ‘Oh na, that’s not him’. So have we met before?”

We had.

It was the Sir Graeme Douglas International Track Challenge in West Auckland in March 2019. She broke a world record in the F37 shot put, but the Lisa Adams that day was a lot more shy and reserved.

Never would it be expected the Rotorua Para athlete would ask what a journalist’s favourite colour is.

Adams then tells me she has two more questions before I’m allowed to ask any. Again though, they won’t be repeated.

“Last one then,” she guarantees. “Are you happy?”

What a beautiful, personal question.

And one which catches me so off-guard. When has an athlete ever asked any journalist that, without at least a hint of sarcasm?

Lisa Adams after winning gold and setting a new world record at the world para track and field champs in Doha a year ago. Photo: Getty Images.

Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means about having a crack at other athletes. There are some brilliant human beings out there. However, it’s a question which sounds like it comes from a place of genuine curiosity and kindness.

It’s the way the Adams has approached this year: with laughter and positivity.

“I’ve been training a lot as normal. We did a camp in Hawke’s Bay, which was mean, but I’ve been on a break for the last few weeks," she says. 

“I went and visited my mum. And then I've just been doing housework, catching up on stuff, doing jigsaw puzzles…I’ve only done thousand-piece ones. I have a two and a half thousand one but I need to get proper space for it and you need good lighting and all that stuff. The thousand ones are good because they fit on a cork board so I can just do it on my lap and move it around.”

This carefree and upbeat nature has boded well for the news that Adams, and the rest of the sporting world, were delivered in March: the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics due to Covid-19.

“To be honest, it ended up being a blessing for me personally that it wasn’t this year,” she concedes. “I had a dabble with injury and illness, so it was fine.

“Originally it was ‘Oh s**t, that sucks’, but it’s sweet. I see it as getting extra time to train and an extra year to get ready. The funny thing is, I’ve only been doing this for two years, so now I get to try and crack the Paralympics in three years.”

It really has been a meteoric rise for Adams. Born with cerebral palsy, she claimed the gold medal at last year’s world championships in Dubai, breaking her own record in the final.

“It’s been good to just take a step back,” she replies when asked how the Covid-enforced break was. “Me and my coach [sister Dame Valerie], we tend to plan out what we’re doing in terms of time and training phases, and then once we’ve talked about it, we just work. So it was nice to just kick back before we get back into it and focus on Tokyo.”

Lisa Adams laughs with her sister (and coach) Dame Valerie Adams after breaking her world record in shot put at Nga Puna Wai in 2019. Photo: Getty Images

While a lot of athletes have understandably lacked motivation since the postponement of their respective Games, Adams has had no issue.

“Everyone goes through their ups and downs in motivation, but my 'why' is my son. He’s my main driver. And I’m also still green and new to doing what I’m doing. Two years isn’t a hell of a long time to have been doing this. But I’m just super hungry to get better and see what I can do, so that’s enough to carry me through."

Once again, Adams chimes in with some positivity.

“We’ve just got to have hope. We’ve not being unrealistic about everything but it seems too early to quit and why would you quit? I’m all good eh; there’s no point packing it in when I haven’t even done anything really. Why would I retire when I’ve done jack s**t?”

It’s one thing to have a goal postponed and be positive about it, it’s another to keep having that hope during a national lockdown for weeks on end, confined to your own home, unable to train as much.

“It was pretty trippy eh?” Adams replies when queried on how lockdown was for her. “But I like being a potato sometimes and I’m quite a home-body anyway. I missed being in Auckland but hey, it is what it is. Just had to do what we did, don’t  be an idiot, all that sort of thing. And I still got to train at home and hang out with my son.

“I actually learnt Spanish.”

Adams pauses. And then laughs.

“Na I’m all s**t. I watched that show 'Money Heist' though.”

For reference, 'Money Heist' has Spanish subtitles.

Adams herself is finally caught off-guard when asked how she plans to celebrate her 30th birthday this year.

“Oh you’ve been doing googling too!” she laughs. “I’ll be back training by then so won’t be getting lit or anything like that. Probably will just go to dinner or something with my son.

“People ask me how old I am. And it’s a good balance of I’m 29, I feel 60 sometimes, and mentally I’m probably 12.”

She’s since had her November birthday – there haven’t been any reports how lit it was.

An argument could be made we need more personalities in sport like Lisa Adams. But then again, that may dilute the entertaining commodity she is.

However if you’re more worried about asking someone their favourite colour, for a joke, and if they’re happy, then what can go wrong in the world?

The good, the bad and the ugly of sport in 2020

LISTEN: In the final Extra Time of 2020, what was the good, the bad and the ugly of sport, and what lies ahead?

Women taking charge in times of sporting troubles - that's the highlight of 2020 for sports commentator and rugby player Alice Soper.

In Extra Time's recap of a pandemic-dominated year, Soper congratulates the women who took the lead in New Zealand sport - from Raelene Castle as the new CEO of Sport NZ, to Sophie Moloney, the recently appointed CEO of Sky, who Soper hopes will continue the trend to bring more women's sports coverage to Kiwi screens. 

Also joining Extra Time are Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua, All Blacks captain Sam Cane and Black Caps coach Gary Stead, who offer their thoughts on the year past.

We also look forward to 2021 and ponder just what it might entail - glass half full or half empty?

Click here for more news articles.

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