Bay stars of tomorrow stronger; fitter

Aiming high: From left are netballers Asher Grapes Netball and Imke Kitchen, and hockey players Olivia Ward and Grace Gibson. Olivia and Grace are off to America this year to take their sporting careers to the next level.

After just six months a bunch of talented young Hawke’s Bay athletes are rapt with how much stronger and fitter they are after taking part in a new high performance programme, not previously available in Hawke’s Bay.

They are also loving working with like-minded teens across a range of sporting codes. Traditionally, their training has focussed on their sport and running – now they also take part in a conditioning regime which, among other things, leaves them less prone to injury. They also understand a lot more about their bodies’ nutritional needs at different points in their sporting preparation.

It is all happening at a new temporary training facility at the Hawke’s Bay Regional Sports Park. It is the first step on the way to a proposed $15 million Hawke’s Bay Community Health & Sport Centre. The project is being led by Sir Graeme Avery who established and still leads the world leading AUT Millennium Institute on Auckland’s North Shore. He is driving the fundraising and working with Council on the placement of the Community Centre at the sports park.

Once built the young athletes will make up just 15 per cent of all users. The full facility will work as a sport and health hub, connecting sporting bodies, community facilities and health organisations across the region. It will provide research-backed programmes designed to raise health and fitness levels in the community, and give promising young athletes a pathway to top-end sporting success.

Helping the region’s young sports people is already underway, guided by the Pathway to Podium nationwide talent development programme, put together by Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand. It is run in 14 sport hubs around the country, with the idea of connecting and spreading expertise for greater community benefit.

Already there are around 80 young athletes training regularly in the temporary facility, with approximately 250 in total having gained access to the programmes. The sporting codes range from tennis, hockey and netball, to weightlifting, cycling, triathlon, athletics and rowing.

And it has come just in time for Olivia Ward and Grace Gibson, who will embark on four-year hockey scholarships in the United States towards the end of this year. They said the high performance programme meant they would not be “starting from behind” when they reached the US. “We really are fitter and that is a real help in our sport. It means we are better able to work on our skills. Our base foundation is so much better; now we are set to reach the next level,” said Gibson.

Netballer Asher Grapes, 16, said she had not realised how much strength training would help in her sport. Fellow netballer Imke Kitchen, 16, agreed. “We really are stronger when we’re landing and jumping; a lot more stable. It gives you heaps more confidence.”

Health and sport development manager Marcus Agnew said that without specialised training, many young people would not reach their potential. “These kids are showing real talent. We want to give them every chance.

“We help them with strength training, stamina, nutrition advice, life coaching and sport psychology; the things they need to make sure they are performing at their best and quality movement patterns to protect their bodies from injury.”

“If they have the ability and they really want to make it, then it is no different to training someone talented in science to pursue their chosen career.”

The new facility fitted perfectly within the original plans for the park, said Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule. “It was always envisaged that there would be a main sports hub there; and having someone like Sir Graeme drive it means that the bulk of the funding and organising will not come from ratepayers. It is for our community and it will be world-class.”

Hastings District Council will decide whether to contribute $2 million towards the building phase of the project as part of this year’s Annual Plan process.

Sir Graeme is driven by the social impact the facility and programmes can achieve, and said “funding is the crucial element; we do not want to risk delays which would impact on the planned community health outcomes.”