World Cup glory may be a big ask but New Zealand canoe slalom athlete Kelly Travers could well forge a new path in the sport this weekend.
The 23-year-old C1 paddler will compete at the second World Cup of the season in Spain, as part of an eight-strong Kiwi team that also includes Olympic bound K1 star Luuka Jones.
But while most of her teammates have been chasing the warming European water in training over recent months, Travers is arriving fresh out of an Auckland winter.
Six months ago, that would have been crazy-talk – but Travers has just come off a seven-week training block at New Zealand’s first artificial course, the impressive Vector Wero Whitewater Park in Manukau.
“Training at Wero has had a massive impact on my strength and an improvement of my whitewater skills,” Travers explained. “It’s great to have a world-class whitewater facility 20mins from home. Before Wero, I was driving about 10 hours a weekend to train at Kaituna and in Auckland I only had flat water. I’m really looking forward to being able to see where I sit on the world stage and starting off my European season.”
Basing herself in Auckland is a must, as Travers holds down a full-time job as an early childhood teacher at Grey Lynn Nursery and Preschool. She fits canoe slalom around 45hr working weeks, with pre-dawn starts and more training after work. Wero was officially opened in April, immediately appealing to Travers and giving the sport in New Zealand a massive boost.
The other female C1 paddler in the team – Jane Nicholas – has an equally hectic life, into her sixth year of medical studies, based in Christchurch.
Although the majority of her training is done on a home-made flat-water slalom course in The Groynes Park, she can occasionally sneak away to Wanaka for some whitewater, or get the odd training camp to Rotorua or Auckland.
She’s keen to move home to Tauranga for her first year as a doctor next year, where Wero’s proximity is extremely alluring.
Meanwhile, Callum Gilbert and Finn Butcher will try to back up their semifinal appearances at the first World Cup of the season last weekend, finishing 24th and 37th respectively in Italy.
Nicholas will also race the K1 division with Jones – who sat out the Italian round – and Anna Higgins, with Ben Gibb and Patrick Washer competing in the C1 men’s division at in La Seu D’Urgell.
Jones will compete in her third Olympics at Rio, having qualified with an 11th-placing at the world championships in London last year.