Rowing cameraderie was alive and well on a stunning Whanganui weekend with a large masters rowing contingent from Auckland Rowing Club, who row out of a fabulous new facility on the Tamaki, enjoying our awa.
The event last weekend had the ever-organised Jacs Rush from the Aramoho Whanganui Rowing Club in charge sorting mixed rowers and boats and Nikki Mills (former Whanganui and Olympic medallist) sorting most of the accomodation at the Quaker settlement in Virginia Road.
I was fortunate to join into a couple of sessions, did a bit of coaching and even got a bit of coaching from Nikki and Jude Ellis, another former NZ elite rower, who completed her novice year at the Aramoho Rowing Club.
Social media certainly helps keep people with similar interests abreast of each other and I had a facebook discussion with Craig Smith, another former Aramoho Whanganui rower, who has pursued professional coaching for a while now and has just left a successful few years with Westlake Girls High with a number of Maadi medals under his belt to join Caulfield Grammar, a private co-ed school in Victoria, Australia.
The importance placed on sporting performance at school level is very evident with Craig in charge of 40 coaches and a $1 million budget at his new school, which is exciting for him.
I'll always maintain that young people need to come out of school rowing, often wrapped up by the school and/or their parents still with a thirst to continue. The evidence is strong in this strength endurance sport that young people won't reach their full potential until their mid-20s to early 30s.
There are plenty of other Whanganui ex-pats coaching a range of rowers from school to international groups both in New Zealand and overseas and I'll highlight some of them in the weeks to come. But someone I coached around the turn of the millinium to a couple of NZ Elite medals, who also finished his rowing career at Union Boat Club and had a couple of successful coaching seasons in Whanganui, is Calvin Ferguson.
While Calvin is not born and bred (much like myself) he spent the best part of his rowing and early coaching career in Whanganui, but like Dick Tonks before him had to eventually move to the Waikato and has been employed as a NZ High Performance coach since 2007.
Undoubtably the highlight of Calvin's coaching career was the 2012 Olympic Gold medal performance of his Men's Double scull crew of Joseph Sullivan and Nathan Cohen, the small gutsy crew with the never-give-up, come-from-behind attitude that produced one of the greatest Olympic gold medal-winning performances this country has ever seen.
Calvin is currently coaching the Men's Lightweight single sculler, Matt Dunham and Men's Double Scull, Aramoho's Chris Harris and John Storey, who both performed very well in the recent World Cup series and are off to the 2017 World Champs in Florida, USA on September 14 for a very late World Championship regatta.
Calvin's clear goal is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and trying to produce another gold medal-winning crew with his focus to keep improving as a coach, keeping open-minded about trusting new ideas, but also your gut instinct.
In his own words, if he does this he will be best placed to help his athletes become better people, as well as better rowers.
A New Zealand elite rower does anywhere between 170km and 220km a week with an ergometer session each week and two weight sessions and the occasional 2-3 hour bike ride as a replacement rowing session for fun and variety.
Things haven't really changed that much at the top level from 20 years ago from my experience, although the support of NZ Rowing, High Performance Sport NZ and sponsors enables our elite rowers to concentrate full time in the sport so they can maintain consistent training week in, week out with better rest and recovery and have the best chance of performing at the highest level all the time on the world stage.