Father daughter team burn up track

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

IT'S easy to get caught up in the banal motions of life but there are those fortunate enough to find something to make them snap out of it.

In the case of William Stephenson, of Waipukurau, that something came in the form of an ox three years ago, all 750kg of it driving straight into his guts to leave him on the seat of his pants.

"It winded me. I got cocky and I was turning to shut the gate," says the 42-year-old livestock driver, reflecting on the attack at a Central Hawke's Bay farm that left an indelible impression.

"Luckily the gate wasn't shut so I just went flying to the other side from the impact otherwise it would have done some serious damage," he recalled.

While he counted his blessings, it also made Stephenson more determined never to be caught again. That's because he has the ability to move quickly, something that saw him become the Lindisfarne College sprint champion in the 1980s.

Not only that, the rekindled high-twitch fibres after the accident have spurred him back on to the track of the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park as a 60m, 100m and 200m athlete in the Masters grade.

And daughter Briana Stephenson is also reaping the benefits of her father's experience and knowledge.

So much so the 13-year-old became the first Hawke's Bay recipient of the $500 Nick Willis Scholarship at the North Island Colgate Games in Taranaki early this month.

The Argyll East School student, who will attend Napier Girls' High School from next week to join Sheila Smidt's stable, was one of four athletes chosen from more than 1200 competitors at Inglewood from January 4-6.

Representing the Hastings Athletics club, the teenager returned with six medals (two of each colour) in the girls' age-group division.

Briana clinched gold in long jump, the only one in her division to clear 5m. The 5.08m effort was her personal best and shattered the Bay under-15 record, set in 1991, by 30cm. She collected gold in high jump, scaling the bar at 1.59m.

Silver came in the 100m in a time of 12.89sec, behind Georgia Hulls (12.69), also of Hawke's Bay.

An exhausted Briana overcame cramps to join the Hastings club 4x100m relay team to add to her silver tally. Bronze medals came in the 1600m mixed medley relay, her 200m anchoring a strong finish, and the other came in the 200m race, finishing behind Hulls and Papakura's Tori Kolose with a PB of 26.87sec.

A week later, Briana graced Surrey Park, Invercargill, for the South Island Colgate Games to pick up three gold medals in 100m, 200m (PB 26.7) and high jump where she equalled her under-15 Bay girls' record of 1.6m set last year.

Briana is among the top three in her four events in the country for 13-year-olds, maintaining her high jump No 1 ranking for a year.

Stephenson says Briana's ability to leap comes from her mother, Trudi Hill, a former Central Hawke's Bay College high jump and sprint champion.

Briana, like her mother who plays for Central Sports, employs that leap with aplomb as a goal defence from goal attack in netball after Hill coached her rep team.

A qualified primary teacher and a PE major, Stephenson has been honing Briana's sprinting skills while Bay field coach Murray Andersen has been polishing her jumping prowess.

She trains four days a week in 1.5-hour sessions.

"It's good and easy to work with dad because I know him," says Briana, who was at the Sylvia Potts Memorial Classic in Hastings to watch some of the country's top athletes compete, as well as her father. No doubt, Smidt will have an input at NGHS, too.

"What I do, she does," Stephenson says of Briana who started training from the age of 7 and also played basketball, softball and tennis.

The youngster has come to grips with missing out on hanging out with her friends if she is to realise her Olympic dream.

While her father gave up sprinting to become a rugby winger, Briana isn't following suit, although touch appeals.

"Rugby was quite daunting," she says, adding the scholarship money will go into buying gear for her choice of sports.

A grinning Stephenson, who competed in the Hawke's Bay-Poverty Bay Championship in his heyday, reveals he had a poor preparation.

"I did not have enough sleep," he says, adding he was "pretty much" partying the night before.

"I gave it all up to be a rugby winger with the first XV for three years," says Stephenson who was a Bay under-16 and -17 representative.

His mother, Denise Stephenson, of Nuhaka, was "pretty fast" as a child while sister Joanne Scholfield, of Waipawa, took to equestrian.

Lindisfarne teacher Grant Gilbert helped him sharpen his skills.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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