When Sarah Pearce won her 400m Open women's race in Hastings last month she got the warm applause usually reserved for non-Hawke's Bay athletes.

Sporting an orange-and-blue ensemble complementing a shock of blonde hair and a matching pair of track shoes, Pearce powered to victory over hometown schoolgirl Shannon Gearey at the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park in Hastings during the annual Allan and Sylvia Potts Classic track-and-field meeting on January 17.

"Jafas", after all, are expected to dominate with all the resources available to them in the Big Smoke.

But that's where the Pearce picture starts becoming a little pixelated.


For starters, the 22-year-old isn't a Jafa, although she does run under the Auckland banner.

She hails from the Bay, where her maternal grandparents, Jan and Terry Hart, raised her at their livestock farm in Elsthorpe.

In May 2011, the former Iona College pupil attended Auckland University to pursue a conjoint degree in arts and theology. She is due to graduate in May.

"I started running in third form," says Pearce who was Sarah Flynn in those days before she and New Zealand professional golfer Daniel Pearce tied the knot two years ago at the Craggy Range Winery, in Napier. The pair started dating when she was in her final year of high school.

Ashburton-born Daniel, who plies his trade in the Australian PGA Tour and is seeking a tour card in China now, was a former Hawke's Bay amateur golf representative who Hastings PGA professional Brian Doyle mentored.

"We see each other but there are little intervals of when we have to do our own things," Sarah Pearce explains, delighted with her strategic location in the suburb of Onehunga which is close to the Auckland airport and a stone's throw from Mt Smart athletics track.

"I spend more time at the track now then at varsity," she says, impartial towards her and Daniel settling in an affordable and alluring Bay again someday.

Soon after Sarah Pearce won her event in Hastings last month, national selector Chris Williams approached her to emulate her feat at the Capital Classic in Wellington. She did.


"I blew him away with my run, winning it again in the same time," she says, excited Williams had confirmed her as a member of the New Zealand 4 x 400m relay team with one other, Louise Jones, of Auckland, to compete in a Sydney meeting next month.

From there the Kiwis will jet to Brisbane for the Australian nationals.

Her field so far in the national circuit has included Commonwealth Games rep Zoe Ballantyne, of Auckland, and Amy Robinson, of Taranaki, who won the Dash for Cash in Mt Maunganui.

"I'm not fully matured. I've just started so I have potential," says Pearce who is under the tutelage of Neil Bartlett, of Auckland.

"He [Bartlett] thinks I'll be great and backs me 100 per cent."

The yardstick for Pearce is the likes of defending national champion Jones, 29, of Auckland, and Portia Bing, 23, an Auckland heptathlete who trains in Australia.

"They have the attitude to come out to do some mean times," she says before she races against the pair at the Porritt Classic in Hamilton tomorrow.

Another stepping stone for her is the University World Games at Gwangju, South Korea, in July.

"I'll be funding it myself," she says, needing $7500 on her part-time work of nannying and coaching athletes at a west Auckland club.

Pearce's flirtation with athletics began on a whim.

"You know, I got my granny to buy me a pair of track shoes in third form," she says, revealing the athletics gear caught her eyes at Iona College when she was buying the rest of her uniform.

"I knew I was sporty and athletic but I didn't want to be a sprinter," says Pearce who played squash, touch rugby, softball and went on to become an age-group hockey rep.

The late Allan Potts came into the equation with two training sessions a week at the now defunct Nelson Park track in Hastings and once a week at Iona College.

The liaison with Potts continued up to her graduation from school, landing her a silver medal in the 400m race of the 2010 NZ Secondary Schools Championship behind Hazel Bowring-Scott, of Nelson, who doesn't compete anymore.

"Come to think of it, granddad was a sprinter and he would talk it up a little on how good he was."

She didn't stop at running, embracing discus, javelin and hammer throw under coach Joe Bradley, of Hastings.

"I never really stood out at any one event so I had a go at everything.

"The 400m appealed and I was also good at it so it chose me more than I chose it."

She sees the irony in gravitating towards the "hardest event" in athletics.

"No sane person does it."

The legs become jelly like and the lungs scream for oxygen.

"You feel sick because you go through your fitness [regime] and it's hard on your lactic system so it's just horrible," she says.

"I have a love/hate relationship with it and it's challenging."

She is enjoying this season, putting the comfortable win in Hastings down to hard work after patchy previous seasons.

"I was surprised to win because there were some really fit girls in that race and I had never beaten them before."

Her mother, Jill Hart, a nurse in Wellington, watched her run in the Capital Classic. "My mum entrusted me to my grandparents to raise when I was young," Pearce says.