ARCHITECTURE is her passion but Amelia Rose Watkinson has put her drawings and sketches on the backburner because right now she has designs on the ins and outs of triathlons.

But that sense of comfort and security in the choice of sport wasn't always a given to Watkinson growing up in Auckland.

When she was in her early teens she fancied herself as a professional basketballer but that was far from a slam dunk at Diocesan School for Girls, which championed netball, tennis and cycling.

"I took a basketball everywhere I went at a private girls' school so that didn't go down so well," says Watkinson, who has settled in Hawke's Bay and has been training here as a triathlete for the past 14 months.


But it was part-time job of taking neighbours' dogs for runs in the Westmere suburb of Auckland where running surfaced before taking crosscountry in school.

"High school is a long time for me now but I was fortunate to go there because I got help from family members," she says, saying it was expensive to attend a private school.

The 24-year-old, who is completing her masters in architecture at Unitec, believes Auckland has since had a decent feeder system through secondary schools to entice budding triathletes to join clubs on their way to a national platform.

The taste of cycling and running at Diocesan fuelled her passion for triathlons, says Watkinson, who finished third at the Tokoroa road race last month.

"There was a really good culture there because it made me appreciate the sport and it was acknowledged at a really high level so there was a lot of encouragement to continue with it."

As fate would have it, former champion triathlete Jo Lawn shifted to Watkinson's neighbourhood.

"She moved in down the road so I would see her running and riding [with others] past our house on a regular basis."

That grabbed the interest of the lean, mean teen who didn't need a second invite to approach Lawn to talk to her on the virtues of triathlon.

"They offered to take me out on a few runs and rides so it started from there," she says, noting Lawn and Co bought her first bike.

"So they were definitely a pretty big influence. Jo was an inspiring role model to get you into it," says Watkinson, who is still in touch with Lawn who has a year-old baby.

Having had her breaks, Watkinson is keen to give something back to the disciplines, just as Lawn did for her.

"I'm trying to engage with the Hawke's Bay community as well with a Bay Espresso Beginners' Bunch Ride," she says, offering complimentary breakfast to those who turn up in a fortnight.

The once-a-week basic ride will see her work one-on-one with the novices on confidence building.

"It's open to anyone of any age and probably be held from nine in the morning on a week day," she says.

She adds she also is in the process of doing something with high schools teeming with potential athletes in conjunction with Tri Hawke's Bay.

As enticing as a drafting table, compass and triangles are to the architect, Watkinson is seeking a part-time job in the field to pursue her dream in triathlon.

"It's hard to do both and fully put your energy into them right now so triathlon's on the front burner and I have the architecture to fall back on once I'm satisfied with where I've taken my sport."

For someone who got into elite triathlons at 17 and made the cut to the ITU (Olympic distance) as a junior (under-19), Watkinson is preparing for next year's half ironman world championship in Tennessee in early September.

"It's in Sunshine Coast in Australia this year but I'm not quite ready with the hold-backs from my injury," she says after struggling with a hip mishap since last April, which was the result of not doing stability exercises following running.

"It'll be my first world champs but ideally I want to represent the country and be on the top of the podium," she says.

She intends to eventually graduate to a full Ironman at Kona, Hawaii.

She came to the Bay through her partner's work but the province's "perfect training grounds" persuaded her to drop anchor.

"With cycling the roads are quiet, the flats, the hills.

"I just recently came back from Auckland and it was a complete shock to the system in and out of traffic that you have to deal with."

The HB Ramblers Cycling Club recruit says not only is it dangerous in the Big Smoke but the enjoyment factor takes a hiding.

"Quiet roads make a big difference. It sounds very basic but the grounds you have to train on are very important," says Watkinson who competes in the time-trial and road race segments of nationals in Alexandra on April 21-24.

She hails the attributes of Te Mata Peak as a trail run and its accessibility.

Her cycling has improved since settling here.

"Ramblers have made my cycling fantastic, to be honest," says the A grader who enjoys the bunch rides and pedigree riders who push her to her limits.

"A few girls give it a hit up there but it's good to be able to race with them and be pushed," says Watkinson, who believes her past five wins are a testimony to the high-octane environment.

Some in the Ramblers circle have encouraged to give the code a go at an elite level but the findings from her research have dissuaded her to pursue that direction.

"Unfortunately female cycling is quite different to male cycling with the prestige associated with it," she says, emphasising there's disparity in prize money and the respect it commands.

"It's one of those endless circles that don't go so well. You need more females racing but more don't want to because it's not recognised as highly."

Triathlon, she says, is on a par with the spoils and media coverage also has come a long way.

"Viewers in triathlon [for males and females] is also pretty equal and it's also my passion," she says, stressing she has a lot to achieve in triathlon but, perhaps, cycling can be a back-up plan.

Her swimming is progressing with the help of veteran award-winning coach Noel Hardgrave-Booth who will retire later this month from Greendale club in Napier.

"He'll be filling in with [Napier] Aquahawks so I'll swim with them as well as his gradual retirement plan," she says, disclosing she swam 60km a week under the watchful eye of Hardgrave-Booth while recuperating from her hip injury over last winter.

"I've really got my swimming up to a sort of level where I can comfortably compete on a world stage and make the front pack."

Her triathlon coach is Bevan McKinnon while another Aucklander Kelly Sheerin, a sport scientist, mentors her in running.

Watkinson's consistency in running wasn't there last year but because it's her original discipline she suspects she can get up to speed relatively quickly.

The rehabilitation programme with an osteopath, Sheerin's running analysis, and strength/conditioning exercises with McKinnon will add zest to her comeback, she hopes.

In her first race back after a layoff, she finished runner-up to North and South American champion Meredith Kessler in the 70.3 Taupo Half Ironman last month.

"She's a very prestigious athlete and is guaranteed a podium placing in any international race she does.

"I was running her down at the end and she said it was the hardest race she had raced in a few years so that was a very good compliment to receive," she says after finishing a minute adrift of the 37-year-old Ohio native

Watkinson says sickness and injuries are the biggest deterrents to athletes' progress.

"It's not about luck but about putting things in place and working really hard on little things to make sure it doesn't happen to succeed at that elite level."