Ahead of the forthcoming summer athletics season we speak to four New Zealand internationals to reflect on their childhood memories of the sport and why they would encourage any youngster to take up the sport.

Chantal Brunner - The two-time Olympian and New Zealand long jump record holder reflects on her fond early recollections of the sport.

"From the age of maybe seven or eight I loved racing. I used to be able to beat the girls and most of the boys at primary school. I first started a more serious involvement in the sport aged 11 after reading a write up in the local paper of an athlete who won medals at the Colgate Games. That really sparked my interest and I my parents took me down the Wainuiomata Athletic and Harrier club in the Hutt Valley.

From that point on we spent most of the summer driving to Saturday meets. I just loved the fun of racing. We were based out the Richard Prouse Park, which was a beautiful council maintained venue, which had a river running through the park. It was a lovely place and I remember swimming safely in the river. It was small town New Zealand at its best!


I recalled the annual ribbon day at the Paraparaumu Athletics Club was a real highlight. We would travel together as a family and I recall the picnic days back when summers were summers and the days were long and hot. It was fun being around friends. The meetings were always relaxed and the race was on to win as many ribbons as possible.

There is an event for every body type in athletics. The power-based athletes will like the sprints or throws while those who enjoy the rhythmic feel of running might enjoy the longer distances. For those who perhaps don't feel as comfortable running then the javelin, shot, hammer or discus might appeal. Besides the variety of events athletics is also a great way to keep fit and meet a nice bunch of people."

Sarah Cowley - Olympic and Commonwealth Games heptathlete and high jumper (at the 2014 Commonwealth Games) brings us her warm, fuzzy memories of her early years in the sport.

I started out into athletics through a childhood friend of mine growing up in Rotorua. I joined Western Heights AC - which no longer exists today - and I remember competing at ribbon days, hanging out with my mates and having an ice cream on the way home. In those early years, everything seemed fun, I recall the giggling, the laughs and the lollies we would eat. That is what makes me smile from that period of my athletics journey.

Another key memory came after I made the Waikato Bay of Plenty Interprovincial team and on the back of this travelling to Dunedin to compete. I am still friends today with many members of that team today. Competing at that meeting really gave me a taste for more. It acted as huge motivation to compete at World Youths and to later make senior teams.

Athletics really is the best sport. It is a great opportunity to improve your health and well-being. While at the heart of it, athletics is a pure simple sport about who can run the fastest or jump and throw the furthest. It offers a great opportunity to measure yourself and it is, of course, the number one Olympic sport. Athletics is also a great chance at the top-end to see genuine freaks (such as Usain Bolt) perform, which can be amazing to witness. I have many friends involved in athletics and running who are never going to break a world or New Zealand marathon record, but who enjoy the support and camaraderie the sport brings."

Dick Quax - The 1976 Olympic 5000m silver medallist and former 5000m world holder takes a trip down memory lane to recall his early days in the sport.

"From a young age most people are very aware whether you are a good runner or not, and from quite early on I realised I was better suited to endurance running. I remember aged 11 or 12 out of a small country school near Te Aroha racing against the older boys and hanging on to them until I got back to the school grounds.

I joined the Paeroa Club - my first club - aged 13 or 14 and ran there every Wednesday night at the Paeroa Domain. I always enjoyed the competition and the challenge. It was nice to hang out with a really neat group of kids, and even though it was not a team sport, and share in the camaraderie. It helped, of course, that I was successful. Every kid needs attention of some kind whether that is from your peers, parents or club members. That is always going to be highly motivating and it will encourage you to carry on. Looking back there were kids who were better than me that never stuck at the sport while I continued.

Athletics is a great sport because there are so many different events to choose from. If you are quick you can sprint but there are also highly technical events which require good co-ordination like the pole vault, high jump and long jump. Distance running is perhaps much less technical, but if you want to just go out and run then the endurance events will be the one best suited to you."

Joseph Millar - New Zealand's fastest man and 2017 World Championships 100m and 200m representative talks about his initial involvement in athletics.

"While playing hockey at school I always knew I was fast, but I only first become aware of sprinting after watching the 100m semi-finals on TV at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Shortly afterwards I joined a good local club in Papamoa. I liked the fact I was involved in an individual sport and I was in control of my own destiny.

The sport introduced me to a lot of new friends. Athletics is not an easy sport in that it takes a lot of dedication and time to put in all the training. Being around people of a similar mindset helped form very valuable friendships because we had a deep and shared understanding of the sport.

I quickly enjoyed the winning - hated the losing. Whoever beat me I was determined to gain my revenge the next time we met. I would always focus on the kids who beat me to make sure I did better next time. I recall my first big win came at the Waikato Bay of Plenty Championships. I was aged 15 at the time and I beat a bunch of older athletes to gain at unexpected win. That was the moment which convinced me I had a future in sprinting.

Athletics is a great sport because you gain so much from the all people you meet and the places you travel to for competition. To carry out the training also gives you a purpose and, even if you are not winning, you have the added bonus of at least forming a good body from all the hard training. You train to be like a super hero in athletics and I don't know any young kid who didn't wish they had a super power."

Carla Hohepa - World Cup winning Black Ferns winger and former sprinter/jumper

I was first introduced to the sport of athletics aged five when my mum took me to attend Te Awamutu Athletics Club. From that very first night I loved the sport, although it helped that I won every race!

Over time I competed in ribbon days and I recall spending a lot of time competing in Tokoroa against Monique Williams (the New Zealand women's 200m record holder) and at the Porritt Stadium. I became good friends with Monique. Every Saturday I would travel with my family, complete with chilly bin and some amazing food to different events. We became a real athletics family and each week I would look forward to hanging out with friends and the other athletics families.

I later competed at Colgate Games and appeared on the same Trans-Tasman team as Sarah Cowley and Sonny Bill Williams. I was also selected on the same Pacific Games team as Valerie Adams. It was cool to think I shared experiences with these great athletes.

Looking back, I believe athletics gave me a pathway for my future and made me into the type of person I am today. It made me appreciate all the sacrifices and training that is needed to prepare for big events, which is something that has transferred through to my international rugby career.

Athletics is great fun. The family environment is great to be a part of and you make some friends for life along the way too.