It is a cold and crisp morning on Lake Karapiro. A light fog has almost lifted, giving way to clear blue sky. Shafts of sunlight dance on glassy water.
Two women – strong and slender – launch their double scull into the lake. Nothing is spoken.
These Waikato waters have been home to the giants of New Zealand’s rowing – Waddell, the twins, Drysdale. Karapiro holds their blood, sweat and tears; it is the training ground that makes or breaks an athlete.
It is somewhat fitting for lightweight rowers Ana Holt and Ellyce Stehlin to train here every weekend while they prepare for their first international regatta.
“Our Olympic rowers have been pretty inspiring. It makes you want to push that little bit harder,” says 21-year-old Holt.
“The lightweights have made achieving on the world stage so much more realistic,” she says, referring to New Zealand’s lightweight women’s double Louise Ayling and Julia Edwards who came eighth in London.
Stehlin, 23, and Holt will compete in the lightweight women’s double sculls at the World University Championships in Russia early next month. To qualify, they must have a crew average weight of 57kg with a maximum individual weight of 59kg.
Coach Mike Gilbert says this means constant dieting and slightly less training than open weight rowers.
“They train hard and long in the mornings, but often have a light session in the afternoon. You have to be careful with the way you train lightweights because often they don’t have the same energy [as open weight rowers] to recover,” says Gilbert.
“They have come a hell of a long way as a crew in a very short amount of time.”
Stehlin says she finds it easy to make the required weight because that is where she naturally sits, but has to avoid eating too much of her favourite food – ice cream.
Holt finds she has to closely monitor her weight because she is naturally around 60kg.
“I try not to do any baking or watch the foodie shows. I find it’s better if I’m not tempted at all.”
Nick Coyle, a personal trainer and nutritionist, says nutrition plays a 70 to 80 per cent role in sports performance.
“If you are underfuelled you cannot perform. For lightweight rowers, frequent and smaller meals are better to consistently keep weight down.”
Stehlin and Holt train up to 12 times per week and have been focussing on race starts and speed work.
“We have been performing pretty well in our practice racing,” says Stehlin.
“The Olympics are always in the back of your mind when you’re rowing at this level.”