Ironman star fondly remembers AIMS experience

New Zealand ironwoman star Danielle McKenzie is racing against the world's best this week in the three-test International Surf Rescue Challenge series in Australia. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media
New Zealand ironwoman star Danielle McKenzie is racing against the world’s best this week in the three-test International Surf Rescue Challenge series in Australia. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media

By Jamie Troughton

She’s taking on the best in the world but a small part of Danielle McKenzie wishes she was heading to the NZCT AIMS Games once again.

The 21-year-old McKenzie is an outstanding surf lifesaver and ironwoman, part of the New Zealand team who defended their title at last year’s world championships in France.
Today, she lined up in the first test of the International Surf Rescue Challenge on Maroochydore Beach in Queensland, against the best surf athletes from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Korea, the United States and Japan.

Some of her favorite memories in her memorable sporting career so far, however, came when she was representing Murray’s Bay at the AIMS Games in 2006 and 2007.

“The multisport was such a cool event – it was an awesome taster for my triathlon/multisport/surf lifesaving career,” McKenzie said. “I clearly remember the girls starting 2mins behind the boys and by the end of the kayak, I was beating all the boys. I hadn’t done a lot of my biking but really enjoyed the downhill at the end – it was really muddy and steep and the best way down was to go fast and not pull on the front brake!”

McKenzie won the Year 7 girls’ multisport title in 2006 and was second in the Year 8 girls’ in 2007, before combining with Nick King and Sam Blake to win the teams title. She was also named in the water polo tournament team in 2007 and, for good measure, played football in Year 7 too.

Danielle McKenzie at the 2007 AIMS Games with teammates Nick King and Sam Blake, after they had won the multisport teams challenge.
Danielle McKenzie at the 2007 AIMS Games with teammates Nick King and Sam Blake, after they had won the multisport teams challenge.

“The water polo was really important to our school and team and I remember the hype around winning, and the past Murray’s Bay Intermediate teams that had won. Our team was pretty tight and we had some awesome female players so it was pretty special to take out the title and continue the winning streak.”

McKenzie is one of a number of illustrious athletes who have passed through the AIMS Games – junior All White Alex Rufer was a star in Palmerston North Normal Intermediate’s title-winning AIMS Games squad in 2009, while world champion double sculls rower Zoe Stevenson played hockey for Tauranga Intermediate in 2004 and New Zealand women’s rugby sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong was in the 2007 girls’ soccer tournament team, representing Blockhouse Bay.

McKenzie firmly believes the AIMS Games is the best sports tournament in New Zealand and relished the chance to compete for her school in a range of different sports.

“It’s cool to get to stay with the Year 8s and hear everyone’s achievements at the end of the day. The support and camaraderie of the school, your mates and other kids backing you during the finals is a really cool feeling and something special to be a part of.”

And her advice for athletes competing this year, when action gets underway on Sunday?
“Enjoy the moment and smash out an epic race or final.  Compete hard and fast and to the best of your ability, to be the best in New Zealand. It’s a great tournament to meet new people and build new friendships in sport that will last for a lifetime. To compete with like-minded people in your favorite sport and achieve your goals with your mates is special and the memories will last.”

Hers certainly have.

Fast start for NZCT AIMS Games

Photo by Jamie Troughton Dscribe Media Services
Lucy Kokich (Cobham) on her way to a new record in the Year 7 girls cross country at the NZCT AIMS Games in Tauranga today. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Liam Back went some way to emulating his running heroes on the first day of the NZCT AIMS Games in Tauranga today.
The St Peter’s College (Auckland) 12-year-old lists middle distance greats Peter Snell and John Walker as his idols and copied Snell’s trademark withering finish to claim the Year 8 boys’ cross country title on a stunning opening day at the national intermediate schools tournament.  The championships have attracted 7500 Year 7 and 8 athletes from all over the country, from 228 schools.
Back has a decent track pedigree, breaking a 34-year-old Auckland record in the 800m earlier this year and clocking a new 400m mark to boot.  But cross country titles have eluded him, until now, as he out-gunned Finn Ward (Auckland Normal) and Gisborne’s Matthew Proffit to record a sweet victory.
“I didn’t compete last year because I was too slow,” he explained. “I’ve done well on the track but I wanted to get a cross country title to add to it. I’ve trained four times a week since then because I wanted to go for glory and managed to get it finally. I stuck near the front and went with my gut and came out on top.”
Despite a balmy spring day in the Bay of Plenty, athletes from colder climes featured heavily.  Christchurch’s Lucy Kokich claimed the only individual record of the day, clocking 11mins 24secs for the 3km distance, breaking the old mark – set in 2006 – by 4secs.  Gisborne Intermediate’s Briana Irving also dipped under the old record, clocking 11.26, but she couldn’t head her Christchurch rival.
I’ve been training quite hard but I didn’t know how I was going to go today,” Kokich said. “Just as I came up the last hill, I thought I could have a go and just had enough at the end.”
Fairfield’s Charli Miller was third in 11.37, also helping Fairfield win the Year 7 girls team title.
Another Hamilton athlete, Peachgrove’s Kalyan Gujji, won the Year 7 boys, easing past Taradale’s Ollie Marshall in the home straight, with Finn Seeds (Hutt International) third.
Gujji arrived in New Zealand four years ago from India, picking up English quickly but his running even faster.  He looked comfortable throughout and admitted he did enough to keep Marshall in sight, before out-kicking him at the finish.
The Year 8 girls title also went south, captured by Liliana Braun (Christchurch South) in a title of 11.25.   She led throughout, though had a few nervous moments thanks to fast-finishing Phoebe McKnight (Hutt Intermediate) and third-placed Samantha Corbett, striking a blow for the smaller schools representing Te Kuiti’s Pukenui School.
Braun, 13, recently finished second in the New Zealand under-15 cross country championships and runs with the Port Hills club.
“I got a lead early and was just trying to hold on – I thought I was going to get caught,” she admitted.  “I was definitely pretty relieved to cross the finish line.”
Otumoetai retained the 12km team relay title and broke the second record of the day in the process, taking 5secs off the old mark set in 2011 by finishing in 41.25.
Year 8 boy Jade Stafford needed a big sprint in the final leg to dip under the record, while the school team was set up by two great legs from another Year 8 boy, Harry Low.
Low and schoolmate Grace Blissett have a huge schedule this week, competing in cross country, swimming and multisport, with Low also adding football and Blissett adding hockey to their week.
Tonight’s opening ceremony features guest appearances from Silver Ferns netball legend Irene van Dyk and Commonwealth Games gold medalists Sam Webster (track cycling) and Lauren Boyle (swimming).