BAY ATHLETES ON WORLD STAGE

You have to be totally committed to be a full time athlete.

You devote hours and hours to training and experience the highs and lows that come with competing internationally.  It is vital to maintain optimum health and battle injury and fatigue. Then there’s finding the funding to support the quest for success.

WORDS LIZ FRENCH /  PHOTOS LOGAN DAVEY / SUPPLIED

Anneke Jenkins is a Bay of Plenty triathlete; Courteney Lowe a cyclist. Both excel in their respective sports and have chosen to chase international success. It all sounds pretty good on the surface. Accepted into teams comprising the elite in their sports from around the world, jetting off to America and Europe to train and compete, no nine to five jobs, instead making what they love and are best at into their careers.

But that’s only one side of the story. Any perceptions that once an athlete makes it on the world stage there are buckets of money just waiting to be showered on them – so much support that all they have to worry about is cycling, running and swimming – are dashed when you hear the way it really is.

Not that these two athletes are complaining. They may be young (Anneke is 24, Courteney 23) but they knowingly chose their paths, “an expensive journey” as Anneke comments wryly. UNO. interviewed them while both home for Christmas. There was only a small window of opportunity. Anneke was leaving for San Diego at the end of December, Courteney for San Francisco early in 2014.They had just competed in a team in the Craigs Investment Partners Tinman at Mount Maunganui. Though only beaten by one men’s team, they did not like it; they had gone out to win.

COMEBACKS AFTER INJURY

Participation in as many events as possible is all part of their training. In this instance Anneke was working back up to full fitness

after a tibia injury alerted her to the need to build up bone density; highlighting for her yet again the importance of looking after the body. Anneke learnt this early on when overtraining as a swimmer, a champion breaststroker, holder and breaker of several records, led to glandular fever and chronic fatigue syndrome. Battling the condition for over a year prompted her switch to triathlon in early 2012 after adding other sports to her fitness programme while she worked to regain full health. Winning the 2012/13 Triathlon New Zealand Emerging Talent Award reinforced the rightness of her decision.

Courteney is no stranger to the frustrations of injury having suffered a blocked artery in her hip in 2012. “It restricted blood flow to my left leg which just stopped working,” she recalls. “Not good when my job as a cyclist relies on two legs.” Once the cause was identified she had two choices – give up cycling or undergo surgery. She had surgery in September 2012. A few months later she won her biggest race to date, the 2013 NZ Elite National Championship. Early this year the same issue arose in her right leg, forcing her to pull out of the same event at the last minute.

Again she faced the same decision, “There was no way I was giving up cycling for an inconvenient artery,” she says. So surgery was booked, her return to the US postponed by a month or so; her determination made even stronger by “yet another speed bump”.

JOINT EFFORT

Anneke and Courteney became friends when at Otumoetai College, keep in touch when away and always see each other when visits home coincide. They agree that their health is paramount, share

an interest in nutrition and in eating for performance.

They acknowledge some athletes “get away with eating junk”, not a risk they would take, instead preparing their own clean raw food. Both also love creating baking that enhances their diet. The ‘good food’ gene may be inherited for Courteney whose parents are Rick and Anne Lowe, long term owners of Tauranga restaurant institution, Bethlehem’s Somerset Cottage. When Rick was not in the kitchen he was out on his bike and it wasn’t long before his daughter joined him; then beat him.

When they are not training (up to 30 hours a week) and keeping their bodies in peak condition with good food, regular massage, physiotherapy sessions, they are on the constant quest for the funding and the gear they need to do their jobs. By comparison the rest is easy. “Training every day is totally ingrained, like brushing our teeth,” says Courteney. They find it hard to ‘push their own barrows’ and have recently opted to seek support in partnership, as they are both have similar goals, Olympic Gold in 2016 the ultimate one.

Sponsors get kudos as events get regular television coverage so good results reflect on our country and on the Bay of Plenty.

MAKING THE TOP SQUAD

Anneke appreciates supporters like Share Insurance, and Redbike Mount Maunganui; and a school mate’s father AC/DC Drummer Phil Rudd who supplied her bike with help from Specialized (Redbike’s brand) but she has not chosen the easy road. If she’d made herself available for the Tri-NZ squad she would have been eligible for funding. She instead accepted the invitation to train under international ‘super star’ coach Darren Smith. Darren is an Australian who runs his own squad, hand picking the best athletes from all over the world. Anneke is his first Kiwi. This is a huge opportunity as she says, “He coaches just four or five women at a time and has outstanding results, like in 2013 he had four in the top eight in the world; and six of his squad made the London Olympics.” Anneke joined Darren in San Diego, and was looking forward to coming home when he moved the squad to Wanaka for three weeks in March. Later in the year they head for the challenging terrain of the French Alps. Competitions she plans to fit into and around her training include an Oceania Championship in Tasmania and, while she is in New Zealand, the World Cup in New Plymouth and World Triathlon in Auckland early April. Then South Africa (Cape Town ITU race) later in April and in May it’s Japan for the World Triathlon in Yokohama. These are all ITU events vital in cementing her place on the world stage and furthering the goal of Olympic selection.

She will also return to Germany to further the invaluable experience she gains racing in the European series with their triathlon team.

SUCCESS IN THE STATES

In February Courteney headed to San Francisco to rejoin the professional cycling team Optum P/B (presented by) Kelly Benefit Strategies. All those mornings steaming up the Minden Hills started to pay off when, from 2009, she started winning New Zealand races, a dozen wins in one year included Queen of the Mountains. So it was strange that her first international cycling experience was a three and a half month stint in Texas where there are no hills over 200 metres. Since she signed with this American based professional cycling team in 2012 she has experienced a string of successes, including helping her team achieve first place overall in the 2012 U.S.A. racing calendar, then second overall in 2013. No wonder she had her contract renewed for 2014. It all sounds lucrative, but all winnings are shared by the team including coaches and back up, so there is not much more than a couple of grand in the end. So Courteney is grateful for support from Critical Cargo Care and a couple of discreet funders for whom her success is recognition enough.

SURE TO RISE

Debbie Clark taught physical education at Otumoetai College for 20 years, so has known both athletes since their school days and watched their progress with interest. Since retiring from teaching Debbie has become a successful triathlete herself, competing locally and representing New Zealand internationally. She may not treat it as a job but she understands the pressures Anneke and Courteney are under and the psyche of what she calls the “obsessional” athlete. “We recreational athletes joke that we have to be slightly mad to regularly rise at ungodly hours to train,” she laughs. Debbie recalls Anneke as an all rounder, in every possible sports team but wanting to “be really good at something”. Swimming became that something. Triathlon was not an accepted school sport. Neither was cycling. Courteney was a quiet achiever who may not have got ‘hooked’ had it not been for her father. “I watched Courteney win the 40 kilometre Okoroire winter cycle race when she was in Year 10,” says Debbie. “When I asked her what cadence she used (cycling jargon for timing pedal spin), she shrugged and said, ‘I just follow Dad. What’s cadence?’ If this was what she could achieve as such raw talent I could imagine where she’s be if she started taking it seriously.”  Debbie points out that skill and aptitude are not enough. “To pit yourself against the best in the world takes much more than physical ability; you need a very strong mind and huge commitment.

Anneke and Courteney clearly demonstrate this.”

LIFE AFTER SPORT

A life in competition is for young bodies. Courteney and Anneke

are very aware that they do have to plan for life after sport.

They have both been employed outside the ‘industry’ already. Courteney worked for the Waikato Institute for Sport and Leisure before her own sport took over her life. While she intends to be racing till she’s at least 40 her future is looking food orientated. She says she’d love to own a bakery with her mother; her dad

doing the baking. With big bike rides once they sell out for the

day no doubt.

Anneke’s career path is already grounded in design. She has both studied and worked in graphic design and is in the process of establishing a way to do some freelance work remotely in the very limited downtime between training and competing. Seems a remote chance she’ll get time but that drive to succeed is not limited to her sport.

Meanwhile there are Commonwealth and Olympic games to aim for and train for.