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In pursuit of a goal - Allison Roe

  • 09 Mar 16

Former New York Marathon champion Allison Roe is pursuing the goal of competing in rowing at the World Masters Games 2017. Steve Landells spoke to the fledgling oarswoman about the demands of grappling with a brand new sport.

Dubbed the “Golden Girl” of New Zealand athletics Allison Roe has never been an athlete to shirk a challenge. Branded in some quarters as too heavy to excel as a marathon runner, the gutsy Aucklander proved her critics wrong to secure unforgettable victories at both the 1981 Boston and New York Marathons and also take out the 20km world record in Japan.

Yet when it was suggested to Allison – a World Masters Games 2017 ambassador – she should put on her running shoes to compete in the quadrennial multi-sports festival she sought an alternative pursuit.

“I figured I’d been there and done that with running and I would much prefer a new challenge,” explains Allison. “I’d always watched rowing with great interest on TV. It is a successful sport in New Zealand and I thought it would be exciting to learn something new, so I thought why don’t I give rowing a go?”

For the past five months or so Allison has made the weekly pilgrimage from her home in Point Wells on the Matakana Coast to train at Lake Pupuke in Takapuna with the Tyred Swans Rowing Club – a masters group – attached to the North Shore Rowing Club.

Allison says adapting to a new sport has been far from straight-forward and the 59-year-old former marathon ace has found getting to grips with the nuances and the technical nature of the sport demanding.

“It was a big shock to the system,” she admits. “There has been so much terminology to learn, it has been an exercise in mental gymnastics. Even when I first went out in the practise boat I felt like I was going to tip out. I also had to learn to accept instructions because the sport is military-like. My first time out in the double scull I whacked a swan on the head which gave me a heck of a fright.

“At least I was told I did well for a first go, so that comment did not make me feel a complete klutz.”

To assist her rowing assimilation she has invested in an erg which she uses three times a week but the rowing novice has sensibly adopted a cautious approach to her new challenge preferring to row on the water just once a week – which she plans increase to twice a week this summer.

Allison believes she has made a number of small steps in her rowing journey and is slowly gaining in confidence and belief.

“I feel now I am not as conscious of the balance-side of being in the boat and I just focus on the sculling and listening to the instructions,” she adds. “I am really enjoying it. I train with a great bunch of ladies at this club, who fully embrace any new comers that are prepared to give it a go.”

Allison may have found the technical challenges of rowing demanding but her background as an athlete brings several advantages to the boat. Committed to exercising every day through a combination of mountain biking, barefoot running and gym sessions – physically she has felt in tune with the sport.

Off the water she has also adopted a vigilant dietary approach. She avoids all grains – except of the gluten-free variety - and includes plenty of complex carbohydrates, fresh fruit and the disciplined nutritional approach has seen her shed some weight.

She is looking to further step up her rowing commitments by investing in a boat to practise on and faces the first major test of her rowing credentials by making her competitive debut for the Tyred Swans later this summer.

Unquestionably this will form a key staging post in her progression, so after five months of rowing training is she still convinced she has chosen the right sport?

“I’ve made the decision now and I’m not going back on it,” explains Allison, who so far has only rowed in the double and the quad. “Sometimes when I go back to the lake I see people in a kayak and I feel that might have been an easier sport to master but I have enjoyed learning a new sport and taking instructions and I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie of the group.”

Which brings us to the World Masters Games and what are Allison's aims and ambitions for the rowing competition which hits Lake Karapiro in April 2017?

“I’d obviously like be the best rower I can be, but I think I’ll be better placed to answer this question in six months to a year’s time,” she says. “It is still early days. I am a novice. So far I feel good rowing. My body has enjoyed it and it was a bonus to learn that having strong legs is a big advantage of rowing. I certainly wouldn’t want to make any bold predictions, but I’ll be doing the best that I can.”

The World Masters Games 2017 are to be staged in Auckland from Apr 21-30. Several sports will take place outside of Auckland, including the rowing which will be held at Lake Karapiro, Cambridge.