Whanganui has entered uncharted waters with no less than five athletes from the River City competing at the Tokyo Olympics this year.
Sprint canoeist Max Brown and four rowers from the Aramoho Whanganui Rowing Club, sisters Kerri and Jackie Gowler, Chris Harris and Georgia Nugent-O'Leary, have been named in New Zealand crews.
This will be the first time Whanganui has produced five athletes to compete at the same Olympic Games and the number swells to six when New Zealand men's double scull coach Calvin Fergusson is added to the mix.
And hardly surprisingly, all are products of the mighty Whanganui River.
The Aramoho Whanganui Rowing Club (AWRC) is celebrating the outstanding achievement of having four of their homegrown athletes selected for the Tokyo Olympics.
Harris, Nugent-O'Leary and the Gowler sisters were all confirmed last week as part of the 32-member New Zealand rowing squad for Tokyo.
Despite having to relocate to the New Zealand rowing base at Lake Karapiro in recent years, the quartet remain members of the AWRC, with both Gowlers and Nugent-O'Leary, together with Phoebe Collier, winning the national championship women's four title at Lake Ruataniwha four months ago.
Long-serving AWRC coach Ian Weenink, who has followed these rowers' progress since their introduction to rowing on the Whanganui River, said it was a tribute to the tenacity and deep commitment of each to reach their ultimate goal of Olympic representation.
•Read more: Meet our Tokyo Olympians
He was not unduly surprised at their selections, however, given that as school and local club rowers they all displayed the fundamentals of strength, technique and dedication to reach the pinnacle of rowing.
"The Gowler sisters, Georgia and Chris, all had outstanding family support, were highly reliable, and with their delightfully engaging personalities they were great to be around," Weenink said.
He said they all had the ingredients to succeed and had patiently continued improving over their years in such a demanding sport.
"Each also had a natural boat-moving rhythm which meant they were very adaptable, whether leading or following others, as well as being highly capable sweep rowers or scullers."
Along with all other Olympic aspirants, the postponement of the 2020 Olympics has required the rowers to have a further 12 months of intensive commitment while not allowing the uncertainty of the event to unduly affect their thinking.
At 35 Harris is now one of the elder statesmen of the New Zealand rowing team. He commenced his rowing at Whanganui High School in 2002. He first represented New Zealand in 2007 at the world under-23 regatta at Glasgow in a coxless four, which won silver.
Tokyo will be the third Olympic campaign for Harris. He went to London in 2012 in the men's coxless four which finished 11th and to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 where he also finished 11th in the men's double scull.
Harris has combined in the men's double scull Olympic event with the highly promising and current New Zealand single scull champion Jack Lopas.
Of particular local interest, they are being guided by former Whanganui rower and coach Calvin Fergusson, who famously coached Joseph Sullivan and Nathan Cohen to an Olympic gold in the men's double sculls in 2012.
Raetihi-born Kerri Gowler commenced rowing at Nga Tawa Diocesan School/Aramoho Whanganui Rowing Club in 2009, and has developed into one of the country's most successful female rowers, being selected to represent NZ in two rowing events – the women's coxless pair and the women's eight.
Gowler first represented New Zealand in the elite women's eight in 2013, which took seventh place that year at the world championships in South Korea.
The following year she stroked an outstanding New Zealand women's coxless four at the world championships in Amsterdam, which won in a world best time of 6:14.36 – a record which still stands.
At the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Gowler was in the New Zealand women's eight for the second successive year, and the crew finished just outside the medals in fourth place.
Jackie Gowler, at 25, is two years younger than sister Kerri, and also attended Nga Tawa School, commencing rowing in 2010.
In her last year at secondary school, she combined with Nugent-O'Leary at the NZ Secondary Schools Regatta (Maadi Cup) Regatta at Lake Ruataniwha to win first placing in the girls' under-18 double sculls event – the first gold medal that Nga Tawa School had ever achieved at rowing.
Jackie Gowler's rise at rowing on the international scene since then has been very impressive.
She has stroked a New Zealand women's coxless four to a fifth placing at the 2015 World Under-23 Championships in Bulgaria, the NZ women's eight to a fourth placing at the 2016 World Under-23 Championships and the elite women's coxless four at the 2017 World Championships held in Florida. Progressing into the 4 seat of the elite women's eight in 2017, this crew was placed seventh at the world championships in Bulgaria.
The following year, the younger Gowler was given the responsibility of stroking the New Zealand women's eight. This crew created New Zealand rowing history, becoming our first world title holders in this event. In doing so, this boat qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
Nugent-O'Leary also commenced rowing for Nga Tawa School in 2012, and won a Maadi Gold Medal with Gowler two years later.
This success, along with other fine performances saw Nugent-O'Leary being selected in the New Zealand women's uunior crew which finished in fourth position at Hamburg.
In subsequent years Nugent-O'Leary represented New Zealand at the under-21 level and was a member of the New Zealand women's under-23 eight at Amsterdam, finishing fourth.
In 2017 she was elevated to the elite New Zealand team. However, a serious cycling accident shortly afterwards resulted in a broken arm and concussion, which required a long-term period of recovery and limited her rowing to internal New Zealand competition.
Despite the significant setbacks of injury and Covid-19 delays, Nugent-O'Leary has succeeded in being selected in the New Zealand women's quadruple scull event this year.
Reports from Karapiro indicate that this is an amazingly fast crew. With current world double sculls champion Olivia Loe and highly experienced international rowers Eve MacFarlane and Ruby Tew completing the combination, their prospects look very promising.
Previous Aramoho Olympians were Ted Johnson, John O'Brien and Colin Johnstone (cox) in 1952 to Helsinki; Colin Johnstone (cox) in 1956 to Melbourne; and Ben Hammond in 2012 London.
Paddler Brown and regular Kiwi K2 Wellington crewmate Kurtis Imrie will represent New Zealand in the K2 1000 in Tokyo.
Brown rates the Whanganui River as one of the major factors in achieving this Olympic goal and appreciates he is one of many from that river culture to reach such lofty heights.
Brown, 26, grew up playing in bands and also enjoyed big-mountain skiing before taking up paddling at the age of 15.
"I only went down to the river with my mates to have a bit of fun paddling around," Brown said.
"For the first dozen or so times I fell out of the boat, but we had fun and ate pies and ice cream afterwards. Then I fell in love with the sport and began to take it seriously.
"If it wasn't for the Whanganui River, the kayak and canoe adjunct of the Whanganui Multisport Club and my coaches Aaron Cox and Brian Scott, I wouldn't be in this position today.
"The river played a massive part. I still remember those dark, cold mornings working hard in training - I really appreciate the help I got from everyone in those early days," Brown said.
"I'm absolutely stoked to have been selected to represent New Zealand at the Olympic Games. As a young kid I would never have dreamed I would be good enough to challenge at this level," Brown said of booking his spot on the Olympic team for Tokyo.
"I always felt like I had the least amount of talent of the boys I trained with, but I was prepared to be the hardest worker. I guess that's what matters most, and that's the reason I've made it this far. I hope lots of young Kiwis take inspiration in my journey and dare to dream."