Racing into Retirement

Waka Ama races Lake Rotoiti

I am passionate about waka ama even though I came to it later than most. I was 63 when I took up the sport. I have never done a team sport before, and not done any sport at all in the last 25 years, apart from an occasional walk to the Centre of New Zealand and a couple of small tramps. My first waka ama race was at Lake Rotoiti in February 2014 and I was ‘hooked’.

I am currently a member of the Maitahi Outrigger Canoe Club and am mainly paddling with an OC6 Golden Masters mixed crew of 6. We are training for endurance 20km races. I also paddle with a couple of recreational crews. Joining the club has been fantastic for me. It has given me opportunities to participate and to learn, but what I love the most is the strong whanau support, the encouragement and inclusiveness waka ama seems to engender.

At 64 I was the youngest in my Golden Masters crew when we did the 20km race at the “Tuna E Hoe Ana” waka ama regatta at Lake Rotoiti in February this year (2015). We completed the race in 1 hour 56 minutes. The category (Golden Masters) was uncontested. However, we beat both a masters and a senior masters crew in the same race.

My ‘Cool Impossible’ (thank you Eric Orton)

And now I have a dream – to paddle Vaka Eiva (the Round Rarotonga race) in November 2016 and the Motu2Motu race in Aitutaki that follows it. The Vaka Eiva race is 37 km race that requires paddlers to do water changes (deep water entry). This requires upper body and core strength on top of normal paddling endurance as well as confidence and courage. It also requires that I jump out of the waka and out of the support boat into deep water. I am terrified of jumping into deep water.

Outward Bound

So last month I applied for a scholarship from Waka Ama NZ to go to Outward Bound on a 3 week Masters course. The age range stated 27+. I emailed away and asked “how far can we stretch the plus?”.  I was told that I sounded like a great candidate and to apply. I got the scholarship, passed the medical and went, “Oh, what have I done!”.  I see the Outward Bound 21 day course as being an ideal way to start building towards that strength, confidence and courage I will need to compete in the Rarotonga race and to face some of my fears. I believe it will challenge me physically, emotionally and mentally.

Boot camp

In preparation to go to Outward Bound I knew I needed to get fitter so I have been in boot camp for an hour, twice a week, the last 5 weeks. It is paying off. I have never worked so hard, sweated so much, had so much encouragement from my trainer and other boot campers, or lost so much weight so easily. It has been a real eye opener into what I am capable of – so much more than I would have thought. I hadn’t realised that the effort required would be so great or the rewards so delicious. (I can actually look at those fancy yoga tights and running gear now and imagine myself in them. That definitely was not an option before.)

Age is no barrier to starting

I will turn 65 the day after I complete the Outward Bound course. What a rite of passage into an age where a lot of people are thinking to slow down.

I want to show others that age is not necessarily a barrier to starting. I want to inspire others my age to have a go, start something, keep going, keep active, keep competing. I also want to inspire younger paddlers by showing them that people our age can still ‘cut the mustard’.

Encouragement from a friend

To qualify for Outward Bound I have to be able to run 3 km in under 25 minutes and do it easily by June the 7th. Its not a big distance to most people. I can paddle a waka 20km, but running is something else again. Before I applied for the scholarship I could run about 50mtres. I power walked the rest just to make sure I could do it. I did the 3km in 23 mins 56 seconds. However, I wasn’t a pretty sight when I finished and my recovery time was considerable (days, not minutes). I had tried again a month later and got shin splints after the first 1km. A friend sent me some words of encouragement when I said I was starting to doubt I that I would be able to ever do it.

Winning has nothing to do with racing,
Most days don’t have races anyway.
Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism,
and never, ever, ever giving up.

I have never been a runner, never wanted to be a runner but, by golly, I want to do this Outward Bound course, want to do the Rarotonga race, and so I will learn to run. I am not giving up!

You may wonder what this article is doing in the GoMinimal blog. Brendyn is my running coach and the main reason I walk, and now run, in minimalist shoes.



  • BJ Munro

    Kia ora Jan. Thank you for your reply. First nationals …amazing experience and can’t wait for next year. Our best result was to place 5th in the W12 500m Master Women finals. That result earned us a place at the World Sprint Championships being held in Australia in May this year. A result that exceeded our expectations.

    I am a paddler with Te Pou Herenga Waka Ama Club based in Weymouth, Auckland. The club is preparing for the long distance series. I’m really looking forward to the longer distances and paddling the ocean waters.

    I’ll keep an eye out for your updates. And thank you again for your reply.
    Kind regards, BJ

  • Jan Blythe

    Hi BJ, Well done for taking the plunge and doing the National Sprints! How did you go? I’m more of a distance paddler I decided. Are you thinking of distance paddling. Our club, Maithai OCC, has an event coming up in a couple of weeks at Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park. Tuna E Hoe Ana, (Paddling with the Eels). They are big in there. Where abouts are you based? I will be posting an update soonish. Thanks for your feedback. Cheers Jan

  • BJ Munro

    Kia ora Jan. I’ve just finished reading your blog and I’m in absolute admiration of you. You Go Girl ????????????????????
    Your blog resonated in me in so many ways… I was in awe, cracking up and right there with you…especially the running. I had to text a friend the link to your page so I could share your kōrero and my experience of being in your moment…despite your blog being written in April 2015.

    My name is BJ, I’m 48 this year and I’ve only just completed my first National Waka Ama Sprints after joining my local waka ama club last July. And like you, I’m hooked. This is my first team sport in 20 years.

    I appreciate that you have progressed and achieved many of your goals since writing this blog. I would love to read an update should you be willing to share. Thank you for writing this blog. Oh and just to share how I found your blog…I went to Google “35km Training Preparation Waka Ama Paddling”. Your blog was in my result list.

    Amazing and inspiring sharing…thank you Jan ????????????????

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