The kid who used to hang out at Waimarino Adventure Park hoping to get free kayaking lessons for doing odd jobs came up trumps in Rio yesterday
Luuka Jones, 27, became the first New Zealander to win an Olympic medal in canoe slalom when she finished second after a dazzling performance down the man-made rapid course swept her on to the podium.
Jones placed 11th at last year's world championships and is competing at her third Olympic Games.
The former Otumoetai College student was the first female canoe slalom athlete to represent New Zealand at an Olympics at Beijing in 2008.
She used all that experience and 10-weeks preparation time in Rio to her advantage to win silver.
Jones says the magnitude of what she has done is still sinking in but she hopes it will help grow the sport in New Zealand.
"One of my goals is to put canoe slalom on the map in New Zealand and we have a new white water course (in Manukau) and some really good athletes coming through," she said.
"I just gave it everything. I left nothing out there. I wasn't thinking of anything during the run. My teeth were bared and I was just going for it every move and just pulling as hard as I could.
"Some things didn't feel fast, other things did, and the wind didn't seem to play a factor.
"I just have to thank my family and friends back home ... without their support I wouldn't be here. I hope they will be really proud."
Mike Dawson, 29, has trained and competed with Jones longer than anyone.
The Tauranga slalom expert, who finished 10th in the men's event, admits he "was pretty nervous" watching her final run down the course.
"I knew she could do it. I was just waiting for her to do it and she has been so close, so many times and today she crushed it," Dawson said.
"And she did it in style and I am just stoked for her."
Jones and Dawson are coached by former British Olympic canoe slalom medallist Campbell Walsh.
"The way the race was going and the mental head space she was in, I was pretty confident she was going to perform well. I didn't actually get that nervous because I thought we had a really good plan," Walsh said.
"She has been paddling well, been really happy and really in control of her emotions and she delivered a great run in the final.
"It is what she had been doing through the heats and for 90 per cent of the semifinal and then she delivered it when she had to.
"It was great but it is no surprise. People in the sport knew she could do that as they watched her do it in training but it is the first time she has done it in a big race."