Newly appointed Dame Lisa Carrington opens up to NZ Herald Focus’s Cheree Kinnear during a hectic 2021, reconnecting with her family after Tokyo and what lies ahead as she commits to another Olympic cycle . Video / Andrew Warner / Photosport
It’s not long after 6.30am, but already there is some excited chatter in the air. A group of young people have gathered for their morning paddle, but this is not just an ordinary training session at the
Eastern Bay Canoe Racing Club, based on the WhakatÄne River.
It’s because Lisa Carrington is in town, and the Residents of Hope will be on the water with them.
“You can tell when she’s coming because they’re all very excited,” club head coach Gary Waller told the Herald on Sunday. “Even the boys – although they won’t admit it. And the girls, definitely; all over her like a rash.”
Carrington received the country’s highest honor last week and was named Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for service to canoe racing.
She’s carved out an incredible career, with her Olympic achievements in London, Rio and especially Tokyo, as well as a truckload of world championship titles.
But Carrington’s influence goes far beyond medals and podiums.
The 32-year-old has helped revitalize her sport over the past decade, and if you want to really understand the impact, it’s best to call the club from her hometown.
Eastern Bay is one of the newer canoe clubs in the country, founded in 2011 by Pat Carrington (father of Lisa) and Tony Lovett (father of Olympian Jaimee Lovett in 2016).
âThey decided we needed it here because they spent most of their time bringing the girls back and forth in Tauranga,â Waller explains.
“So they’ve got one going here.”
Waller’s son, Tim, was one of the first members, before Gary started coaching there.
From humble beginnings, the club has around fifty active members, including 27 juniors. And there are promises on the horizon, with seven young paddlers recently joining a national camp, as part of the Canoe Racing New Zealand track programs.
âThings are going well,â Waller says. “We have had kids selected to compete in the marathon world championships, ocean ski world championships and sprint kayak world championships. The next generation looks strong and the kids are enjoying it.”
The club was built through the efforts of many passionate volunteers, like Waller, who devotes up to 35 hours a week, training kayakers of all skill levels.
But he admits Carrington has been a massive catalyst in leading kids into sports.
âIt was amazing,â Waller says. âIf we didn’t have people like Lisa we wouldn’t be in such a strong position. The sport has grown so much over the past 10 years, especially with girls. For us, there is so much more. girls than boys trying to do it.
âThey all watch her on TV and they have chats on Facebook, they were all chatting about how she was doing at the Olympics. I would say that got a lot of kids playing the sport all over the country.
“And that’s a big bonus for us, a girl from a small local town is doing it, everyone else is starting to believe they can do it.”
With the golden glow that has surrounded kayaking in recent years, it’s easy to overlook the dramas at the turn of the last decade. There were high-profile fractures at the top of the sport and a generation of accomplished male paddlers, led by Ben Fouhy, was coming to an end.
It was around this time that Carrington appeared on the scene, later becoming the first New Zealand woman to win a world championship title in 2011.
This was just the start and Carrington, along with gold medalist and Tokyo K2 500m world champion Caitlin Regal, have helped inspire a new generation in kayaks, as well as improved annual government funding, which is increased from $ 800,000 in 2010 to $ 2.58 million for 2022.
There is also great potential for the men, especially with the promising K2 1000m duo of Max Brown and Kurtis Imrie who finished fifth in Tokyo, ahead of several much more experienced crews.
Wgoing says that Carrington, for all his success, has never changed or forgotten his roots.
âShe always finds time to come home and makes time for the kids,â Waller says. âOver the course of the three or four years, as the kids get older and faster, they just stay out of his rhythm, which actually gives him something to train with.
âAnd it gives them someone to admire and listen to some of the things that she’s learned over the years. It’s just a great environment.
“The kids love to be with her and I think she enjoys being with the kids.”
Carrington also recently joined the committee, becoming a member of his home club’s board of directors.
âIt’s really good of him to take the time and a huge boost for us,â Waller said. “Especially with the high performance knowledge she will be able to impart.”
Carrington resumed training on December 27, after a week of Christmas break. She was thrilled to see the growth of her local club, which attracts athletes from WhakatÄne, Åhope, Edgecumbe and ÅpÅtiki.
âWhen I started, there was no club here,â says Carrington. âI’ve been a member from the start, but it wasn’t the last time I lived here.
âIt’s a nice little club and it’s growing and they’re doing what they can with the limited resources they have. So that’s really good.
âThere are a whole bunch of young kids and a few older kids potentially heading into the next phase of their lives. It’s pretty exciting to see how they’re doing.â