Honour recognises the power and the glory of world beater

Few New Zealand sportspeople are as familiar with stepping atop a podium as Valerie Kasanita Adams.

Now she will be on a permanent pedestal after her appointment as a Dame of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

The honour celebrates her services to athletics.

The double Olympic shot put champion has built an enviable CV, but this recognition is as much about throwing a 4kg ball as it is about her impact on young New Zealanders, particularly historically marginalised Pacific Islanders from South Auckland, where she grew up.

Advertisement

"Hopefully this will further encourage young people that they can do anything ... if they put their minds to it," Adams says.

"I know the responsibilities that come with wearing the black singlet and representing my country.

"I take that seriously, but this has been an overwhelming, crazy, humbling experience. It's not something you can train for.

"I know you're meant to be sworn to secrecy but I kind of went 'aaargh' and told my husband. It was a great moment we could share."

In essence, Adams' feats have instilled belief in her community and beyond.

That has been recently acknowledged with her appointment as a Pacific Islands sports ambassador, a role where she can enter communities at ground level and "make things happen".

Back home, sources claim Adams randomly drops off baking at people's houses or suddenly appears like a one-woman Mucking In crew to help paint fences.

Adams says it's because she knows what it's like to receive kind gestures when you're climbing the ladder.

Advertisement

"The last couple of years I've sent shoes to promising athletes who need them around New Zealand.

"I was given some incredible opportunities early in my life, and I'd like to return the favour."

An example of Adams' magnetism came in March 2013 at the Pacific Showcase Market on Auckland's waterfront. As part of the festivities, she competed in a shot put exhibition at the far end of The Cloud. If the venue had been a see-saw, it would have dropped in to the Waitemata Harbour.

Crowds swarmed to get a glimpse of "Our Val" at work. Her charisma empowers people to assume they are on first-name terms. The cacophony rivalled that of an All Blacks test.

As she said at the time: "It's important to get the public involved and bring track and field to them. That's what made that day great; it was free, people could bring their kids along, get a decent feed and hang around to watch some shot put. There was a buzz in the air."

BULLDOZING BARRIERS is nothing new for Dame Valerie.

She is the only woman to win four consecutive athletics world championships in an individual event; she set a record 56 straight victories at international-ranked meets from 2010 to 2014; and was the first female thrower awarded the world governing body's "athlete of the year" title.

Adams even shattered the gender divide in Tonga. She was appointed the first woman matapule or chief of Houma, the village of her late mother Lilika. She was bestowed with the name Tongi Tupe Oe Taua, to acknowledge the impact of her sporting feats.

At Rio she literally came within a stone's throw of New Zealand Olympic immortality. After recovering from a raft of injuries and surgeries, she dreamed of becoming the country's first athlete to win gold medals at three consecutive Games. American Michelle Carter pushed Adams to silver in the final round of competition.

One barrier seemingly set to be forever beyond her arc is the world record. Adams' best of 21.24m, set at the 2011 world championships in South Korea, ranks her 23rd on the all-time distance list. The 22.63m world record was set by Soviet Natalya Lisovskaya at Moscow in June 1987.

Adams has suffered her share of career hardships.

There was the indignity of "losing" to Belarusian drug cheat Nadzheya Ostapchuk at the London Olympics. Adams accepted silver, but eventually received gold at a ceremony in Auckland.

As a 19-year-old at her maiden Games in Athens she missed the top eight and the opportunity for three more throws. Four of those ahead of her have since received doping bans.

DAME VALERIE broke the shackles of a difficult childhood to be crowned on the world sporting stage.

She first sampled shot put as a reluctant 13-year-old at Southern Cross Campus in Mangere East. Records started tumbling. The school's Maori motto "in te mahi he rangatira" translates in English to "by deeds a chief is known". Talk about a prophecy.

Adams recently returned to the school's prizegiving, where one of her old shoes is treated with such reverence that it is presented as the pinnacle sports award.

"That shoe has been there over 10 years," Adams says. "They don't present it every year. It only goes to a sportsperson who they believe has the necessary drive and work ethic. That makes it feel special, much like what we're doing as athletes, making sacrifices and sweating it out to earn medals."

At 32, Adams is one of the youngest appointments to the DNZM or KNZM. New Zealand-born but UK-based Naomi James was 29 when recognised for becoming the first woman to sail single-handed around the world via Cape Horn; a 33-year-old Edmund Hillary was knighted in 1953 after he "knocked the bastard [Mt Everest] off"; Susan Devoy was made a dame at 34 in 1998 for services to squash; and Richard Hadlee appeared on a scorecard as 'Sir' for the second and third cricket tests against England in 1990 as a 38-year-old.

The honour represents a source of one-upwomanship for Adams over her NBA basketballer half-brother Steven.

"I've got three things over him now," she quipped. "I've got the looks, I've got the order of merit and now I've got this."

Husband Gabriel Price won't be required to call her Dame Valerie around home though.

"Gabe can just call me his wife," Adams says with a laugh. "That'll be fine."