Spectators would have understood if Hawke's Bay swimmer Reese Drager had pulled the pin at the AIMS Games in Tauranga last week.

The 12-year-old Taradale Intermediate School Year 7 student was scheduled to swim in eight events. But after three of her heats, 100 and 200m breaststroke and 200m backstroke, one of her shoulders was telling her no more.

"I had physio on the shoulder for a period leading up to AIMS and I thought I would be fine with the eight events. But after my third heat I had no feeling in the shoulder for 10 minutes ... the swimming made it worse," Drager recalled.

But instead of telling her parents, Charlie and Phillippa, it was time to return home from the annual intermediate-aged games which involved 10,139 athletes in 21 codes, Drager switched her focus to another of her codes, canoe slalom, which began two days later and continued for two days.


The decision paid off with Drager winning gold in the Year 7 girls time trial event and silver in the Year 8 mixed teams event with Ben Stephenson and Hugo Minor. After her heats in the time trial Drager was ranked second by 0.002s.

This enabled her to skip the quarterfinals and compete in the semifinals where she won her race to secure a berth in the final of the 10-paddler event where she took on the competitor who was ranked first after the heats. As if Drager hadn't had enough drama earlier in the week at the swimming there was more to come in her canoe slalom final.

"I finished second because my paddle got stuck during my roll and I couldn't come back up. Fortunately the paddle was ruled to have got stuck in a safety hazard and we were allowed a rerun of our final and we won that by 5s," Drager explained.

The fact Drager had only been dabbling in canoe slalom for 16 weeks added to the significance of her feat.

"I'm more into canoe polo but my canoe polo coach [former New Zealand rep Kirsten Wilson] suggested I should give it a go. Her daughter [Jaimee Wilson] who is at Taradale High School does both and I want to follow a similar path to her," Drager said.

The Greendale club swimmer who is coached by Gary Knight returned from Tauranga on Sunday and was back in the swimming pool training last night.

"I was just doing kicks. My physio tells me I won't be able to rotate my shoulder for another one or two more weeks," Drager said.

A winner of a silver and bronze medal at the New Zealand Junior Swimming Festival Aquaknights Zone in Rotorua in February, Drager also plays cricket and she knows by the end of her secondary school studies she will have to make a decision on which of her four sports she will be able to continue with.

"At this stage it's too hard to decide."

A Hawke's Bay 13-and-under B team canoe polo representative, Drager hopes to do at least three of the sports at secondary school level. In three weeks she is scheduled to compete at a swimming carnvial on the same weekend she will tackle a canoe polo tournament in Palmerston North.

"Hopefully I will be able to do both."

Drager doesn't expect to compete in any more canoe slalom events until next year's AIMS Games. No doubt she hopes to complete her swimming schedule then too. In that code Drager has some unfinished business in Tauranga.