An Olympian, a cyclone, and Eastland Port, help kayakers go for gold!

An Olympian, a cyclone, and Eastland Port, help kayakers go for gold!

THE level of the churning water is getting higher and the sky has turned black. Just about the whole of the North Island is on lock-down as the highly-anticipated Cyclone Cook makes landfall – and members of Poverty Bay Kayak Club are just launching their boats!

“Training and discipline” is a mantra oft-repeated by the club’s Olympian coaches Alan and Liz Thompson, and the cream of their crop aren’t going to let a once-in-50-years storm leave them land-locked.

That’s what’s going to get them onto the international circuit and perhaps even to the Olympic Games themselves.

But it all costs – and costs a lot, even for this small, 75-member club that consistently punches above its weight.

After a cracker result at the 2017 New Zealand Canoe Racing national championships – bringing home 17 gold, 24 silver and 12 bronze medals – PBKC finds itself with a full complement of eight young rising stars that have qualified to compete in events around Europe this year.

Through a combination of fundraising, sponsorship and harvesting their own family resources, each competitor needs to find up to $9000 to fund their campaigns so, says Liz Thompson, “every bit helps”.

Eastland Port helps

Especially helpful, she adds, is having some surety around what funds are available, which is why the PBKC so values its annual $3000 sponsorship from Eastland Port.

The sponsorship was originally granted to help fund the Olympic hopes of club member Darryl Fitzgerald and was then rolled over to support all promising juniors.

“Just knowing it is there and we can count on it is really helpful,” Liz says.

Alan and Liz try to keep up the maintenance on the building Kiwanis Club of Gisborne members constructed for them in 1984 but the décor hasn’t changed for more than 30 years, and isn’t likely to any time soon.

“The priority is travel, which is very expensive but it’s crucial to their development,” Liz says in between barking circuit training instructions at paddlers deemed too inexperienced to go out in the cyclone.

“Between the coaching and chasing sponsorship, Alan is on board seven days a week. It is never-ending.” She’s more than full-time herself but says they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Even after all this time I still love coaching and kayaking and still enjoy getting out on the water.”

Looking back

Back in 1977, at the age of 18, Alan Thompson was already a successful swimmer and rugby player when he turned to kayaking.

In 1978 he and his coach John Grant decided to adopt the Arthur Lydiard training methods and that same year the Poverty Bay Kayak Club was founded, paddlers launching their boats into the Waimata River from the garden of Bill de Costa’s Clifford Street home.

By 1980, Alan was among the New Zealanders good enough to be making the finals of major events and in 1981 he met 20-year-old Australian paddler Elizabeth Blencowe (later Thompson), who a year later joined him in his hometown of Gisborne to train.

They both competed in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Thompson’s success in the K4-1000 and the K1-1000 making him one of only 10 New Zealanders to have won two or more Olympic gold medals. And later that same year Liz moved to Gisborne full-time.

Thompson was in 1996 inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall Of Fame and even today, at the age of 57, he remains focused . . . he doesn’t really do interviews, he does kayaking.

He has coached and managed New Zealand teams overseas, was a long-time national selector, and served as president of the New Zealand Canoeing Federation.

Doing it for the kids

But it is seeing young paddlers reach their full potential that inspires him, and Liz says they are both in it for the long haul.

“Unlike many people who are heavily involved in a sport while their kids are in it, we were both involved prior to our children being there and will remain even if they move on, or out of district like (daughter) Kim has had to do,” she says.

“Gisborne is a fantastic place to be a kayaker or coach. Everything is so close and accessible and we can generally get on the water even in rotten weather. Even in a cyclone.”

Pictured left to right are:  Zach Ferkins, Sam Ferkins, Kim Thompson,  Alex Berminham, head coach Alan Thompson, Britney Ford and Quaid Thompson. Absent: Alicia and Jordan McLarin.