Early next month, three excited young athletes with Whanganui connections start on an exciting journey to take up their US track scholarships.
They add to the impressive list of former Whanganui athletes chronicled in a previous article in June.
Genna Maples, Tayla Brunger and Spanish-born Andres Hernandez have all signed scholarship deals with universities in the United States.
Genna Maples and Tayla Brunger had their first athletics success at the Colgate Games and announced themselves at New Zealand Secondary Schools level in 2016 in year 9.
Maples won gold in the 100m and silver in the 200m and long jump; and Brunger took gold in the 400m. They ran together in the winning Whanganui Collegiate School 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relays. They repeated the relay double a year later and again won individual medals.
Brunger was hampered by injury that season, but still finished second in the 400m. Maples won three individual golds at the Athletics New Zealand Champs (100m, 200m and long jump) with Brunger winning the 400m.
Both made their New Zealand Schools international debuts in Adelaide in 2017, and returned to Cairns a year later competing for the New Zealand Schools team at the Australian All Schools Championships. They also returned with medals at the annual Athletics New Zealand Championships.
Both athletes have had to battle injury and setbacks. Brunger bounced back with an outstanding 2020-21 season winning 100m and 400m senior girls double at New Zealand Schools, and the 100m New Zealand under-20 100m and 200m silver, along with a relay double running for Waikato, where her coach Kerry Hill is based (Tauranga).
Maples had to withdraw from New Zealand Schools in December and reinjured herself in the 200m under-20 final at the New Zealand Championships in March, with hope of a full recovery in California.
Maples departs for Division 1 California State University, Northbridge, Los Angeles, on August 12. Her course starts on August 26 and she will major in kinesiology.
Maples says she is "beyond excited to start my new journey and develop what I love doing".
Brunger leaves four days later for Fort Collins, Colorado. She joins Division 1 Colorado State University studying health and exercise science. Her course starts on August 24, where she will follow her athletic dreams in this exciting step on her athletic journey.
Spanish-born Andres Hernandez, now of Christchurch, spent his final school year at Whanganui Collegiate School. The year was frustrating for him because he suffered health and injury setbacks, but nevertheless between these setbacks he added to his impressive athletics CV.
He won the 1500m at the Porritt Classic, took silver at the New Zealand under-18 3000m (when unwell), and won the North Island Steeplechase at the end of term 1 in 2019. Hernandez was a member of the silver medal-winning Whanganui Collegiate 3 and 6 to score Cross Country Team.
The highlight of his year in Whanganui was winning the New Zealand Under-18 Road Race, breaking the New Zealand record then held by current New Zealand Olympian Sam Tanner. That record has since been surpassed but remains an outstanding performance.
The versatile Hernandez departs New Zealand from his Christchurch home on August 19 for Division 1 La Salle University in Philadelphia. His course in business data systems starts on August 22. He, too, is "super-excited to start his journey".
We wish all three best wishes as they embark on the next stage of their lives, and will follow their progress with interest and hope they, like others from Whanganui who made the exciting journey, go on to represent New Zealand as senior athletes.