Wairarapa College student Lara Pritchard doesn't know quite what to expect when she represents New Zealand Under-21s at the world canoe polo championships in France in September, but she is looking forward to the challenge.
At 17, Pritchard, from Pongaroa, is one of the youngest in the eight-strong national line-up and will be facing her toughest assignment in a canoe polo career which, according to her coach Brenda Clayton, got off to a rocky start four years ago. "My first memory of Lara goes right back to the first training session she came to. We couldn't keep her upright in her kayak," Clayton said this week. "But at the same time my gut feeling was she would be amazing as the water seemed to be her second home."
And you don't have to chat long with Pritchard to realise Clayton was spot on in her early assessment of the youngster's potential,
"I absolutely love anything to do with the water ... there's something about it which really gets me going," Pritchard said.
It wasn't only the playing surface which attracted Pritchard to canoe polo though, she also relished its rough and tumble and the importance of a competitive attitude on and off the ball.
"I guess the aggressive side of it really appealed ... you have to be prepared to go hard and fight for every ball and that suits me."
It didn't take Pritchard long to show the sort of form which would eventually earn her national recognition. For instance, she was a major contributor when Wairarapa College won a silver medal at the national secondary school championships last year and was selected in the tournament team announced at the conclusion of that event.
She also became a star performer for the Wairarapa and Central region sides and this year she joined the Palmerston North-Kiwi club and became part of their Valkyries squad, a move prompted by a desire to train with the "best of the best" and further enhance her skills. Remarkably, seven Valkyries players have made national teams. Selection for the world championships did not, however, come easily with Pritchard attending a series of training camps and tournaments over the past few months before hearing her name read out after the last of the tourneys played in Auckland.
"It was really exciting ... I wasn't sure I had done enough so it was a bit of relief too," she said.
Now she has made the New Zealand team, Pritchard's thirst for success has been heightened even further and her next goal is to come away from the worlds with a medal to show for her efforts.
"Our coach has already told us we are good enough to be right up there with the best, and now it's up to us to prove it," she said "I can't wait to get the chance!"
Before that happens though there is the question of finding the funds necessary to make the trip and the Pritchard family and supporters would love to hear from any sponsors willing to assist in that respect.
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