She was “crazy nervous” but once local rower Claudia MacDonald hit the water in the girls under-17 single sculls final at Lake Karapiro last Friday she was going for gold.
And that’s what she got, taking the winner’s medal – and the trophy that went with it – by a boat-length at the annual Maadi Cup, which is billed as the biggest sporting event in the southern hemisphere.
A day later, at the end of the week-long regatta – which this year attracted 2200 competitors from 122 secondary schools around the country – Claudia celebrated her 17th birthday in style by also claiming the girls under-18 silver medal in the single sculls.
It was a riveting race, her proud mum Lynn told the Chronicle at their home in East Street on Sunday. Claudia came up from fifth place in the last 500 metres to get within a few seconds of the winner, she explained. It all happened so fast, Lynn reckoned, and there was so much hype among the thousands of spectators it was like watching a horse race.
Not that Claudia’s success was entirely unexpected: she’d already been singled out by the media as a stand-out competitor after good showings in the semifinals.
But while delighted with her medals she has no time to rest on her laurels. The former Raglan Area School primary student who now commutes to Fraser High – she was its sole competitor at the Maadi Cup – was training hard again this week for the national trials in 10 days’ time which could ultimately see her off to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Junior World Rowing Championships in August.
“It’s quite an important trial … a big challenge,” Claudia explains of her next hurdle.
The talented teen started rowing only in 2013 and admits she’s sacrificed a lot to succeed, like losing 12 kilograms this season through rigorous training.
Despite having done waka years before at the area school – an experience which she says gave her a taste for watersports – Claudia chose rowing at secondary school because it was “different”. Coincidentally Fraser High’s been making a big push to revive student interest in the sport after having won the Maadi Cup way back in 1975.
The single sculler’s been training on the Waikato River nine times a week before and after school with Hamilton Rowing Club, then five times a week with Fraser High once the club season finished in mid-February. It’s meant some overnight stays in the city with a relative for the 5am training sessions.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” she says, “but it was all worth it in the end.”
Even before the Maadi Cup Claudia was excelling, and not only in single sculls. At the North Island club champs she took home three bronzes in her under-20 singles, the womens club eight and club four.
Then at the national rowing champs in Twizel she took silver in the club quad and bronze in the club four, as well as earning places in the A finals for all her other events.