In many ways, this has been a week rowing stalwart Paula Storey has dreaded, but ultimately, she may emerge the stronger for it.

On Tuesday, Storey combined with good friend Eugenia Duff-Dobson to take out the women's H (70+) double scull final at the World Masters Games 2017 regatta on Lake Karapiro.

But it was a triumph that so nearly did not happen, after husband Dudley Storey was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in December and died in March.

Dudley was, and remains, an icon of New Zealand rowing, having helped the coxed four to Olympic gold at Mexico City in 1968 and then fallen just short with a silver-winning coxless four at Munich four years later.


That performance in Mexico marked the country's first Olympic rowing gold medal, opening a door that has since produced 10 more over the past 50 years, and the crew was later admitted to the NZ Sport Hall of Fame.

Dudley Storey continued his massive contribution to the sport - he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1983 for services to rowing, and managed successful teams to Olympics and Commonwealth Games through the 80s.

He was also coach and prime motivator for wife Paula, a member of New Zealand's first women's crew in 1966, as she prepared for these World Masters Games.

She had tasted previous success at the 1994 Brisbane World Masters Games, where she captured gold with a composite Canadian crew in quads and fours.

Keen to relive that experience, Paula originally entered four events at this regatta, but withdrew from them all to care for Dudley in his final weeks. The past few months have been understandably harrowing for her and the last thing she felt like doing was returning to the lake that held so many memories.

Paula Storey celebrates her rowing gold medal at the World Masters Games 2017 on Lake Karapio. Photo/CMG Sports
Paula Storey celebrates her rowing gold medal at the World Masters Games 2017 on Lake Karapio. Photo/CMG Sports

But when Dudley's health deteriorated so quickly and he passed, Paula found herself living with daughter Alison up the road from the rowing venue and was reluctantly convinced to get back out on the water for this one event to fulfil her commitment to Duff-Dobson.

"It was very emotional," she admits. "I wanted to compete at the Master Games for Dudley's sake, because he was my motivator and driver to do it - I felt like he was looking over my shoulder, willing me on.

"I was so stoked to be re-instated in the Games."

Supported by family and friends from the rowing community, she and her partner cruised down the 1000 metres course to finish almost 15 seconds clear of Sydney University in second.

There was barely a dry eye in the house.

"It was very, very emotional," sobs Paula. "I just about needed a bucket at the end, but I'm so glad I did it and it was even more special that I won the gold medal for him."

Paula must now return to the Devonport home she shared with Dudley and she understands that she must find a way to move forward.

That may see her return to her on-shore duties within rowing, just as she has done through the rest of this week at Karapiro, but she's still not sure whether to continue with her own competitive career at masters level.

"It's hard to say, because as you get older, particularly in women's rowing, the opposition gets less," she says. "The next Games are in Japan and, if you add four years to my grading, you'd like to think it would get easier.

"But whether or not I have the motivation left to train ... I'll tell in four years' time."