Yet another product of the mighty Whanganui River is set to make his Olympic debut after gaining selection into the New Zealand men's K2 1000m boat for the Tokyo Games.
Max Brown and regular Kiwi K2 Wellington crewmate Kurtis Imrie were officially named yesterday at Lake Karapiro as the first New Zealand canoe sprint paddlers to earn selection for 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.
While he is the first from the paddling fraternity to make the Olympic journey, those before him have included rowing greats Simon Dickie, coxswain of the gold medal-winning 1972 New Zealand eight that triumphed in Munich; and Rebecca Scown who, together with Juliette Haigh, took bronze in the women's coxless pair at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Although the New Zealand rowing crews are yet to be named, Whanganui sisters Kerri and Jackie Gowler, Chris Harris and Georgia Nugent-O'Leary are in the frame for Tokyo.
Brown and Imrie enjoyed a breakthrough international campaign in 2019 – finishing eighth in the K2 1000m A final at the World Cup in Poznan, Poland.
Later that year the duo finished joint sixth in the B final of the K2 1000m at the World Championships in Szeged, Hungary, before qualifying a New Zealand boat for the Tokyo Olympics via the 2020 Oceania Championships in Sydney, Australia.
For both paddlers, Olympic selection is rich reward for a competitive kayaking career spanning more than a decade.
Brown, 26, who originally hails from Whanganui, grew up playing in bands and also enjoyed big mountain skiing before taking up paddling at age 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.
Making his international debut in 2013, Brown later graduated with a Bachelor in Music from the NZ School of Music at Victoria University of Wellington.
Struggling with injuries for several years, he returned to the international stage in 2018 and has gradually developed into one of the leading paddlers in the New Zealand men's squad.
"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 in 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."
Imrie, 25, the younger brother of Kayla, a 2016 Rio Olympic paddler and three-time World Championship medallist, is a former surf life saver who took up kayaking aged "15 or 16" with the Mana Club in Wellington.
A paddler of rich promise, he was fifth in the A final of the K1 1000m at the 2014 World Junior Championships before later stepping up and forming an impressive combination with Brown.
In 2019 he also grabbed a K1 500m bronze medal at the World U23 Championships in Romania. He currently also works two days a week as an apprentice electrician.
"It's always been a dream to go to the Olympics and represent my country at the world's pinnacle sporting event. It's pretty surreal that a big dream of mine is actually coming true.
"Hopefully I'll get to experience the Olympics alongside my big sister Kayla as that would be such a special moment for our family."
New Zealand has won one Olympic medal in the men's K2 1000m when Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald snared silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.