Kelsey Berryman has been a leading name on the domestic circuit for some time. But as Steve Landells discovers it has taken a switch in events to find her true calling.
Sometimes athletes need time to find "their event" and in the case of Kelsey Berryman a recent switch to the long jump could be the one which best enables her to fulfil her athletic gifts.
A former hurdler and sprinter, this season Kelsey has excelled in her new event setting a flurry of PBs (her official best is 6.29m) plus an eye-catching wind-assisted mark of 6.40m to secure the New Zealand title.
The 25-year-old is still some way short of earning qualification standards for major championships but quite rightly buoyed by her progress in a short period of time coupled with her relative inexperience, and therefore potential ability to improve, she can look forward to the future with genuine optimism.
"In the couple of weeks before nationals I wasnt performing as well as I would have liked, so to jump 6.37m in the second round (at NZ Nationals) was an incredible way to start the competition and then to jump 6.40m was even better," she explains. "It was a shame about the wind but it was nice to get a feel for jumping that kind of distance."
Born and raised in Christchurch, Kelsey was always a natural athlete. A former gymnast who also excelled in her "family sport" of touch rugby, where she later played at the Trans-Tasman Championships, athletics was the sport she participated "outside of school."
Encouraged to try as many events as possible as a junior she competed in 100m, 200m, high jump and long jump, but the hurdles was her true passion. In 2008 she earned her New Zealand debut competing at the Oceania Championships in the 100m and 400m hurdles - and was excited to earn her first taste of competing for her country.
Kelsey went on to earn more schoolgirl success, although her athletics commitments were compromised by her passion for touch and in year 11 and year 12 she chose to compete in the national secondary schools championships in the latter sport over the athletics equivalent which clashed on the same weekend.
Yet aged 21 the Christchurch Old Boys United athlete, who in 2012 had landed triple gold in the 100m, 200m and 100m hurdles and long jump silver in the U20 events at New Zealand Championships, made the tough decision to quit touch and focus in athletics.
"I got to understand more of the opportunities that athletics presented," explains Kelsey. "In touch I could compete at a World Cup or Trans-Tasman event, but I think I saw the bigger picture with athletics and at the time I enjoyed competing in an individual sport a wee bit more."
Fully committed to athletics and committed to travelling to more better quality meets started to reap rewards as she set PBs a in a range of events across 2013.
However, another significant factor in her improvement she believes came about because that year she also started working with a new coach, Peter Henry, the 1990 Commonwealth Games decathlete and Winter Olympic bobsledder. The pair instantly hit it off and the combination has gone on to flourish for the past four seasons.
"I was very lucky to have him on board," he explains. "At the time he was only coaching his son, Jack. It was a big step for both of us to start working together, but what I enjoy about him is he understands me really well as both a person and as an athlete. This makes for a really good relationship. If he doesnt know something he goes out and finds the answers."
Injury frustratingly derailed her ambitions for much of the 2014 domestic season, but later that year when flirting with the heptathlon proved the catalyst for her future direction.
"It sparked the thought that the long jump (that day in Timaru she leapt 5.84m in the long jump) might be my best option," she admits.
With the benefit of extra time coaching with Peter, the second half of the 2014-15 domestic campaign proved a big hit. She ran a 100m PB of 11.78 in Wellington before later securing the national title in that event. The Cantabrian also claimed silver in the 100m hurdles, but perhaps most significantly, she also cracked 6m for the first time in the long jump (with a 6.01m effort in Timaru followed by a 6.04m in Whanganui).
"It was quite exciting because I hadnt done a lot of work in the long jump," she adds.
Later that year she competed in the 100m flat at the World University Games in Korea and performed with distinction on her maiden global international event. Focusing purely on sprint training in the months preceding the event in Gwangju paid dividends as she sped to successive PBs of 11.77 in the heats and 11.64 in the semi-finals - to just miss out on the final by one place.
Kelsey returned for the 2016 domestic season seeking success in the 100m hurdles but was left disappointed to finish a distant third in the national championships in Dunedin behind Fiona Morrison and Rochelle Coster.
Reflecting on the disappointment and having claimed the national long jump title at the Caledonian Ground, she made a potentially career-defining decision.
"Id never preciously spent a lot of time on the long jump, it had been very much the third event on my list but after nationals in Dunedin I decided to have a break from the hurdles," she says. "Since then Ive focused most of my time on the long jump."
On a steep learning curve to understand the technical intricacies of the event has not been easy but she started the domestic campaign with a bang leaping to a new lifetime best of 6.20m in Christchurch last November and the following month adding a further 3cm that mark in Melbourne.
Kelsey then continued this upward trajectory when returning to the Victorian State capital for the Nitro Series in February and soaring out to new PB of 6.29m at the high-octane event.
Training on the long jump runway "90 per cent of the time into a side wind or head wind" at Christchurch Boys High School presents its challenges, but working hard in her craft by watching numerous videos of the top athletes and making progress on her take-off earned its rewards at last months New Zealand Track & Field Championships.
There at Hamiltons Porritt Stadium Kelsey excelled to unleash the longest two jumps of her career so far with a pair of wind-assisted marks of 6.37m in round two followed by 6.40m in round four to be crowned national champion. For Kelsey, it was total vindication of her decision to switch events.
She followed the New Zealand Championships effort with a third placing at the Australian Championships with a jump of 6.24m.
Such is her rising level of excitement and confidence in the future the part-time high school sports co-ordinator is eyeing up a first crack at training and competing in the European summer later this year where she is targeting some big marks including Chantal Brunners long-standing national record of 6.68m.
"Any athlete who wants to perform at the highest level is always looking at national records, she explains of Brunners 20-year-old mark. "I think around 6.60m is where the B standards are for the Commonwealth Games (6.60m) and World Championships (6.65m) so as they are sitting in the same range, it is almost like if you get one you get them all.
"Looking to gain those qualification marks is always the priority, but its also about going over to Europe and being exposed to top competition. The long jump is very much a new event for me and I think there is a lot to be gained. When I compare myself to other athletes in the long jump, I still feel like a novice."
- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Athletics New Zealand