Covid-19 lockdown has flicked the switch to push classy Whanganui athlete Tayla Brunger into a fulltime career in track and field.
The 17-year-old sprinter was named Outstanding Whanganui Athlete of the Year last week beating one of the most talented groups of young Whanganui female short distance runners for some years.
In fact, late last year Whanganui could lay claim to three of the top five under-18 women sprinters in the country, including Brunger.
Brunger has left Whanganui Collegiate School to move to Tauranga to be near her new coach Kerry Hill, a well-known and well-respected trainer both nationally and internationally.
"I've known for some time I wanted to make athletics a career, but this lockdown has made it come earlier than I thought it would," Brunger said.
"If it wasn't for lockdown I would still be at school. I didn't make the decision lightly. I weighed up all the pros and cons then sought advice from a lot of people, including my family, Collegiate headmaster Wayne Brown and new coach Kerry Hill. They all support me in my move and I am really looking forward to it."
Brunger had an excellent season winning the 100m and 200m Under-20 titles and claimed silver in the 400m at the New Zealand Championship after returning from injury that ruled her out of the sport for the majority of the previous season.
She also travelled to California to compete in open meets last year winning five out of the six events she ran in. Ironically Brunger ran personal best times in every event other than her favoured 400m trip.
The teenager was also disappointed with her second place over 400m at the nationals last year after winning gold over the two shorter journeys.
"I'm not sure what happened. I was happy to have won both the 100m and 200m, but running second in the 400m was personally disappointing. I just love the challenge of the 400m, you really have to work for it.
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"But a few weeks later I ran a personal best in Manawatu. I ran 54.63 which bettered the world qualifying time of 54.6. The New Zealand qualifying time (for world competition) is actually set faster than the world at 54.3."
Winning last week's Outstanding Whanganui Athlete of the Year by some margin over her fellow school and Athletic Wanganui club mates was special.
Among those rivals was close friend and fellow nationally-ranked sprinter Genna Maples.
"It was Genna who got me into athletics. She talked me into going to a Tuesday club night at Cooks Gardens where Alec McNab saw me. He eventually took me aside and convinced me to join. That was when I was in Year 9 or about 12 or 13-years-old," Brunger said.
"I'm lucky to have come to athletics at a time when Whanganui had such a strong group of girls my age that compete and win at national level. It has certainly helped me improve my performances."
While Brunger is a formidable individual competitor, she also excels in relay. She and her Collegiate team mates are multiple national title holders in sprint distance four-strong relay competition.
"I love relays, they're awesome. Before Covid we were trying to put together a New Zealand relay team for the World Championships in Kenya. The event was postponed until June and then put off until next year at a date yet to be set because of the virus. Hopefully we can still do that."
Brunger has continually improved throughout her relatively short career and apart from nearly all of a season off through injury two years ago Brunger has competed at the highest age group levels at both school and New Zealand national competition. She has also represented New Zealand in Australia.
"During my Year 10 I tore a hamstring, that was pretty annoying and then at the end of year 10 I suffered tendonitis after a tramping expedition – those two injuries pretty much ruled that whole season out for me."
In earlier years Brunger played netball and ran cross country during the winter months and latterly took up cycling with some success.
She was bordering on the top 10 in the criterium at national level cycling, a fitting result given that the event is decided by the outcome of a series of sprint sessions.
Brunger has now given up her alternative winter pursuits to concentrate on her first love – athletics.