Hoping for Maadi strokes of genius

Asarina Johnson says she went to a Te Awamutu Rowing Club open day in 2022, got in a boat and hasn’t wanted to come back to dry land since.

“Rowing is my happy place, I love the rush you get when you race, but also the stillness of an early morning row,” she said.  “It’s definitely an escape.”

Now, she and double sculls teammate Casey Lee Baker are about to test their skills against Aotearoa’s best at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Rowing Championships.

Te Awamutu rowers Asarina Johnson (left) and Casey Lee Baker relax on the pontoon after a training session at Lake Ngaroto. Photo – Alya Mexted.

They are heading to Twizel this week with about 2000 other high school rowers to compete at the 2024 Aon Maadi Regatta, running from March 18-23 at Lake Ruataniwha.

“I’m extremely excited to head down, I haven’t been to the South Island so I can’t wait to experience it,” Asarina said.

She and Casey have been training on Lake Ngā Roto three times a week, plus cranking through additional strength and fitness sessions.

Having previously rowed together in a quad, they were “chucked together” in their boat about a month before last year’s Maadi Regatta, Asarina said.

“It was definitely a stroke of genius on our coach’s part.”

They finished second in their novice B final, leaving them 10th in New Zealand.

This year, they are gunning for a podium spot in the girls’ U18 double sculls event.

“The goal is to medal,” Asarina said.  “It’s going to take a lot of focus and hard work but I’m giving my absolute all into this, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m not putting it to waste.”

She and Casey are the only Te Awamutu College students heading to Maadi from Te Awamutu Rowing Club’s 16-strong team.

They will fly to Christchurch, then drive to Twizel to pick up their boat and equipment, which is hitching a ride to the South Island on a St John’s College trailer.

The trip will cost them about $3000 each.

Two coaches and two parents will stay with the students in their holiday home, making sure they are well fed and hydrated in preparation for their races.

Head coach Alya Mexted said Asarina and Casey had worked incredibly hard to place fifth in the A final at this year’s club nationals and second in the B final at the North Island Secondary School Rowing Championships held at Lake Karāpiro earlier this month.

Now she’s looking forward to watching them represent Te Awamutu at the Southern Hemisphere’s largest school sports event.

About 2000 secondary school athletes are gearing up to compete at this year’s Aon Maadi Regatta in Twizel from March 18-23, hoping the hours they’ve poured into early-morning trainings will pay off.

Behind the scenes, a huge effort has been ploughed into getting everyone to the annual New Zealand Secondary School Rowing Championships.

The 2021 Maadi Cup parade reaches Cambridge’s Town Square after parading through the town. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

The annual Maadi Regatta alternates between Lake Ruataniwha in Twizel and Lake Karāpiro. Heading south from Waipā are 46 athletes from St Peter’s Cambridge, 44 from Cambridge High School and two from Te Awamutu College.

For the parents, caregivers, coaches and support people involved the journey south is a major logistical exercise.

“We have to take everything we need – boats, oars, ergs for warming up and a big marquee the kids hang out in during the day,” said Cambridge High School rowing chairperson Nic Peacocke.

Peacocke is one of nine parents, five volunteer coaches and one teacher travelling south to support Cambridge High School’s 44-strong team at this year’s Maadi Regatta.

Also going is Karl Manson, employed to run the school’s rowing programme this year.  Manson attended four Maadi Regattas and rowed for New Zealand for seven years, taking silver in the men’s quad at the Rowing World Cup in Switzerland in 2015.

His Cambridge High team will be driven to Auckland on Saturday  and fly to Christchurch then travel to Twizel in rental vans hired for the week.  Their 12 boats will be driven to the South Island on a trailer.

The Maadi Cup, the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest secondary school sports event, isn’t cheap: with all costs factored in, Waipa’s athletes will each fork out around $3000 to take part.

“We fundraise to operate the rest of the season, but Maadi rowers pay for themselves,” Peacocke said.  “It is a big cost, but it’s a pretty amazing experience for the kids.”

St Peter’s Cambridge will take 42 rowers and four coxswains to the regatta.

“At Maadi, we’re fortunate to have our supporters on hand providing support – we’ll be taking down boats and a support trailer with equipment to cater for the rowers, and our parents and caregivers very ably take on the responsibility of cooking breakfasts and lunches for the team,” said director of rowing Josh Wedlake.

The team will stay about 40 minutes out from Twizel, on the way to Mt Cook.



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