College Sport: Star rower grabbing future with both hands

By Campbell Burnes

17-year-old's fourth Maadi Cup looms next month before build-up to world champs
Ella Simanu says coach Rachel Arbuckle has built up a strong culture at Diocesan and there is a tight bond among the crews. Picture / Doug Sherring
Ella Simanu says coach Rachel Arbuckle has built up a strong culture at Diocesan and there is a tight bond among the crews. Picture / Doug Sherring

Diocesan has a strong rowing programme and one of its top hopefuls is Ella Simanu.

The 17-year-old Year 13 student will lead the charge at the Maadi Cup next month in Twizel. She is an old hand at this marquee event, the 2016 regatta being her fourth since she took up the sport as a fresh-faced Year 9.

Last year she medalled once, a bronze in the Under 17 eight, but Simanu has her sights on more silverware this time with her Diocesan teammates.

"It's pretty hectic and busy, but really cool to be surrounded by so many rowers all doing the same thing you are. It's such a cool vibe," says Simanu.

"We prepare well for it. We'll be at Maadi for 11 days, so you know when to switch on and race."

As a rower who prefers sweeping (one oar) to sculling (two oars), Simanu says she is likely to enter three girls' Under 18 races at Maadi -- the pair, quad and eight.

Crystal-ball gazing is always fraught in rowing, but Simanu says training has gone well under Diocesan rowing coach Rachel Arbuckle, so physically and mentally she is in good shape.

The variables are conditions and what opposition crews will bring.

"I love all the boats. The eight is very team-oriented, same with the four. The pair is very different. This is my first season racing a pair or smaller boat," she says, happy to assume the versatility tag.

Diocesan has a large rowing team of over 50, and Simanu says there is a lot of faith in each other.

"The culture Rachel has built has helped. It's a hard-working team culture and we're a close squad. You know you just have to work hard for the girls. You back your team."

School rowing training takes place on the Tamaki Estuary, a crowded section of water given the number of schools and clubs who do their preparation there. There are three water sessions a week, plus a double session on Saturdays. The bulk of the endurance work falls between September and January before the competitions kick in and the tapering off begins.

Last month Simanu won three victories at the Head of Harbour regatta, though the course is much shorter than at Maadi. It is a good early schools season hitout, but of more relevance to Maadi was her work last weekend. Simanu won two golds and a bronze medal at the North Island schools regatta at Lake Karapiro. Her Under 18 girls' coxed quad and eight crews both won their finals, while she was third in the coxless pairs. Diocesan won five gold and two bronze overall to prove their form and fitness for Maadi Cup.

Her career highlight is last year's Junior World Championships off Rio de Janeiro on the same stretch of water as the Olympics will be held. The New Zealand coxless quad came second in the B final.

"It was pretty crazy. I just remember our semis and we came fourth, just missing out on a final. We were so gutted," she says.

Now she has her fingers crossed for the same event, to be held in the Netherlands in August. She knows what this will entail -- after a short break following Maadi -- more hard work and a two-month relocation to Karapiro, while doing her schoolwork at St Peter's Cambridge, another rowing powerhouse.

Between all that, her studies and maybe some social basketball, (previously football), there is not much time for anything else. Such is Ella Simanu's life, but she wouldn't have it any other way just now.

- NZ Herald

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