Dannevirke's Anne Cairns may be the only Rio Olympian selling raffle tickets to power her way to success, but it's nothing new for the paddler.

Likely to be the only paddler at Rio who doesn't live within cooee of the water, nor the threat of the Zika virus isn't putting Cairns off her Olympic dream.

Born and raised in New Zealand, Cairns will fly Samoa's flag at the Olympics in Rio, the first time a female will be representing the island nation in the Olympics in paddling, competing in the K1 200 and 55 metre events.

"I qualify because my mother is Samoan and I've got dual citizenship," she said.


"It's been a pretty windy, bumpy road to get here and be selected, especially living somewhere where there is no water, but I've just had to stick it out," she told the Dannevirke News.

For Cairns, 35, who lives with partner Nigel Walshe in Dannevirke, it's all part of the extraordinary juggling act she's undertaken to achieve her ambition to compete at the Olympics.

A veteran in a range of paddling sports, Cairns has also represented New Zealand in sprint kayaking, wild-water kayaking and whitewater rafting.

She also has strong ties to Hawke's Bay and still competes in surf lifesaving events for Ocean Beach Kiwi and races waka ama for local Napier Club Haeata Ocean Sports.

A member of the New Zealand flat-water kayaking squad from 2006 to 2009, Cairns was hopeful of making the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I seriously thought I'd get to the Beijing Olympics as part of the New Zealand women's K4 team, but sport politics put an end to that when crew member Agnes Szabo's residency didn't come through."

Problems with her replacement saw the crew disband and Cairns' Olympic dream seemed dead and buried.

"It was pretty heartbreaking," she said. "Two girls in the crew quit, but I decided to hang in there. The priority for our London Olympic team wasn't for a K4 crew, but as I watched what happened with Lisa Carrington, I started training straight away."

Up until now Cairns has been self-funded.

"Money has never been a reason for me not to go to the Olympics. I've just had to make it all happen, but it's been pretty tight some years. This is me and it's my choice to do it. I'm pretty realistic about my chances in Rio. The top paddlers are all training fulltime, but it's a completely different ball game for me. I've a house, mortgage, fulltime job and my partner to consider."

Only 1 or 2 per cent of those racing at the Olympics are in fulltime work and as a professional firefighter in Palmerston North and living with Nigel in their new Dannevirke home in an area with no suitable water to train on, there's plenty of juggling for Cairns to be ready for Rio.

But she's not daunted. Training includes making the 84 kilometre return trip to Backpaddock Lakes at Takapau.

"When it's horrible outside and I've got to haul myself out of bed and head off to paddle on cold mornings in the winter and it's frosty, windy and raining, it's tough."

Cairns also uses her daily firefighting training as part of her Olympic preparation and trains on the Manawatu River and the Lagoon in Palmerston North. That was until low summer water levels meant she had to drive out to the Foxton River to train.

"I do two or three training sessions a day for six days a week so I'm not home a lot. But I knew that would be the case if I got in the Samoan team. Training is nothing compared to getting to race at the Olympics.

"Yes, life is hectic, but Nigel is really supportive. He knew from the get go that I don't do things in the mainstream. I certainly don't live what you'd consider a conventional life.

"Having lost one of my best mates, a triathlete at 24, was a defining part of my life. I intend to make the most of everything in my life.

"I'm pretty intent on making the most of what I pack into my life. Yes, things are quite busy and I have a lot of lists in my head, but I sleep pretty well."

And there's no way she'll finish paddling after the Olympics, Cairns reckons.

"I can imagine being in my 70s and paddling around in something."

Cairns won the New Zealand Fire Service sporting excellence award recently for her achievements in 2015.

"It was cool, but I was humbled."

But for now, Cairns' eyes are on Rio and while the threat from the Zika virus might be real, it's in the back of her mind.

"I raced in Indonesia last year and it wasn't a problem, but I know we have to be careful because being around the water makes it a bigger risk. I've friends who are in the Great Britain Olympic team and they're in Rio now training and they say it's not an issue.

"I've just got to crack on and deal with it while weighing up the pros and cons."

However, before Rio, there will be training in Europe, using up some of the overtime hours she's stacked up with the Fire Service. "I'd like to be training in Portugal in July, but if that doesn't come off I'll train in Australia," Cairns said. "For me, it's not as straight forward as it is for members of the New Zealand team, but I've been invited to a training camp in Hungary in May and then travelling to Germany and the Czech Republic. I'll have to partially fund this myself, but I don't want to pass up the opportunity as the Hungarians are some of the top paddlers."

And what of those fundraising raffles?

"My colleagues, the boys on brown watch in Palmerston North, have been awesome in helping, as has the New Zealand Fire Service. And Radio Dannevirke, Activate Gym, Dannevirke Mitre 10 and Fresh have all helped me have the money so I can train in Europe," Cairns said. "Last year I ran a raffle before going to the Worlds in Milan and I guess I'm one of the few Olympic athletes running a raffle now."

Help Anne get to the Olympics:

* Radio Dannevirke is supporting Anne and looking for sponsorship and support for that all-important raffle.

* If you can donate prizes for the raffle or can help out Anne in any way, contact the station on 374-6601 or message their Facebook page.