Para-swim team hoping to keep winning tradition going

By Colin Thorsen

Te Awamutu-trained Nikita Howarth with one of her two gold medals representing New Zealand in Glasgow. Photo / Luc Percival Photography
Te Awamutu-trained Nikita Howarth with one of her two gold medals representing New Zealand in Glasgow. Photo / Luc Percival Photography

New Zealand has won medals in para-swimming at every Summer Paralympic Games since it first began competing in 1968.

Te Awamutu Swimming Club member Nikita Howarth is a member of the eight-strong Rio 2016 Para-Swimming team, making it equal to London 2012 as the biggest team to ever represent New Zealand.

Between them, the para-swimming team holds a staggering nine paralympic titles, 22 world titles and 10 long course world records.

Together, they are expected to play a major role in New Zealand's campaign to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, which open on September 7, almost three weeks after the Olympics.

The New Zealand team is aiming to win 18 medals, including 12 gold, across up to seven para-sports and hopes to retain its London 2012 title of number one in the world medals per capita.

It's a vastly experienced team, including Paralympic gold medallists Sophie Pascoe, Mary Fisher and Cameron Leslie, plus London 2012 Paralympians Nikita Howarth and Rebecca Dubber.

There are two Paralympic debutants, Hamish McLean and Jesse Reynolds.

Howarth has always done things in a hurry.

In June this year, she stormed to a world record at the IDM German Open in Germany, swimming a time of 1:18.65 in the women's SF 100m butterfly, beating the previous record of 1:20.14 previously held by American Mallory Weggemann since 2009.

The IDM German Open attracts some of the world's best para-athletes.

It has been a meteoric rise.

After learning to swim as a toddler, she reportedly started the sport competitively aged seven before making her international debut as a 12-year-old.

In 2012, at the tender age of 13, the Cambridge-based swimmer became New Zealand's youngest ever Paralympian and the following year she was crowned a world champion.

Howarth has wasted no time in pursuing her dreams after being inspired to one day win a Paralympic Gold medal following a school visit from 2004 Olympic cycling champion Sarah Ulmer.

Describing competing in front of 17,000 spectators at the London 2012 Paralympic Games as 'overwhelming' she nonetheless performed above expectations, placing sixth in the 200m Individual Medley SM7.

On her return to New Zealand, the Cambridge High School student added backstroke and freestyle events to her schedule to meet her desire to compete in more races and adopting a more positive attitude to swimming made huge gains.

At the 2013 IPC Swimming World Championships in Canada she struck Gold in the 200m individual medley and earned a Bronze in the 50m Butterfly.

"It was a great feeling to know I was top of the world," says Howarth, who rises at 5am for training each day and fits in 11 sessions per week.

The Te Awamutu Swim Club member has continued to impress, winning five medals at last year's Pan-Pacific Para-Swimming Championships before notching two gold medals - in the S7 50m butterfly and SM7 200m individual medley at the 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships in Glasgow.

The Paralympic Games are the world's largest multi-sport event for disabled athletes.

More than 4350 athletes from 178 countries are expected to compete in 22 sports, with 526 medal events taking place.

- Te Awamutu Courier

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