When I heard Zack Mutton's $4500 kayak had been stolen last week, my heart broke for him.

The 18-year-old Okere Falls paddler has been on a fast track to canoe slalom fame for years and when I interviewed Zack and his sister River for a feature a few weeks earlier, he spoke at length about how excited he was for the year ahead.

The big goal? The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, an event Zack has been targeting for years. That journey is set to start later this month with team trials for the New Zealand canoe slalom team. Making the senior team is crucial if he is to earn enough Olympic qualification points throughout the rest of 2019.

You may ask what difference a kayak makes. But, those accustomed to canoe slalom know it is a sport of milliseconds.

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At the Under-23 World Championships in Italy last year, in which Zack finished an impressive fifth, the first and second placed paddlers were only split by 0.03 seconds. Zack was just 0.4 seconds behind third place, but a gate touch added two seconds and saw him drop to fifth.

Each athlete's kayak is cut to the specific style of the paddler, the weight of the paddler and the personal preference of the paddler.

When every millisecond counts, having your own kayak could be the difference between first and last.

My sadness for Zack is equalled by my disgust at those responsible. Not only is Zack a promising paddler, the youngest in the New Zealand High Performance Squad, from what I have seen of him he is an exceptionally humble and hard-working young man who does not deserve such a setback.

It is a theft I cannot get my head around and shows how thoughtless and despicable thieves can be. The kayak is priceless to Zack, but of little value to whoever took it - unless the thief is another Olympic hopeful, which I highly doubt. It would be extremely difficult to sell on and we can only hope it is returned.

As a sports reporter I see first-hand how hard many of our local athletes work in their attempts to get to the top. Through my time as a general news reporter, I also saw first-hand how little regard criminals have for their victims.

Zack spent all season finding the kayak that was right for him and has since spent hours getting used to it.

It will be a real tragedy if those responsible do not see the error of their ways and return it. However, if they don't, Zack strikes me as the type of person who will refocus and paddle his heart out in whichever kayak he ends up in.