Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nelson Mail Article

I was very lucky to have had the best sports reporter write my story.  It took pretty much the whole page!!!

I have had awesome feed back from this story and a lot more tooting!!  which is wonderful.

Here are the photos that were in the article and then a copy of the article as per the site.

photos as per Colin Smith / Nelson mail

As per Wayne Martin Nelson Mail June 13th 2011

Nyle Sunderland recalls giggling the first time she saw race walkers on the television screen.
Still a kid back then, she was at home watching Olympic Games coverage with her parents many years ago and remembers being amused by the wiggling walkers, never for one moment imagining the path her competitive athletics career would ultimately lead her down.
Yet in four weeks time, the now 43-year-old champion race walker will be competing at the world masters track and field championships in Sacramento, California. She'll have turned 44 by then, having just returned from a gold medal performance at the Australian masters 20km road championships in Melbourne, where she recorded a smart time of 1hr 57min 26sec.
Sunderland's now passionate about her sport and under the guidance of her new coach, Australian Jim Leppik, is looking to take her individual performances to even greater heights.
However, she's still able to keep her sense of perspective and humour. She knows race walking looks odd to some people and acknowledges the stigma still attached to the sport.
"Even when you go overseas and compete internationally, everyone has their own style," she says.
"Even now, I'm a race walker myself, but I look at some of the styles and have to have a bit of a giggle. Some of them really exaggerate the wiggle to the side. They're using too much energy for starters."
While her own style is a little more restrained, she still attracts her share of attention.
"Every time I go out and walk, I get laughed at, I get tooted at. It looks like you have a carrot somewhere where you shouldn't have a carrot.
"I used to give them the one-fingered salute but I've given up on that now. It doesn't look good for me either. Now that I'm recognisable, I just give them a wave and keep going. Usually I'm that focused or have got a head set on, I don't hear much. A lot of it's tooting and clapping and that's fine, I don't mind that.
"You feel silly sometimes, if you're walking towards a group of people, you sometimes do take a check and make sure you're not wiggling around too much. But once I started winning things and started getting medals, I started being a bit more proud about it and got over it. There are a lot of race walkers who won't train on their own, they'll go out in groups or they'll run."
Originally from Blenheim, Sunderland moved to Nelson as a 19-year-old, dabbling in powerlifting and body building among her early sporting interests. Competing in the under-60kg class, she finished second at a South Island body building competition and third at a national event before eventually giving the sport away.
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"I looked like a skinned rabbit," she jokes. "But I couldn't handle the diet, I couldn't face that again. I still gag when I think of eating tuna and egg whites."
She didn't become interested in race walking until around six years ago. Even then, it was almost by accident.
She admits to becoming something of a "couch potato" and it was only after some enthusiastic prompting from close friend, Jo Rawlins, that Sunderland agreed to compete in the 2006 Taylors Nelson women's triathlon. The event involved a 3.5km run-walk, a 14km cycle and a final swim leg.
"I didn't really think I had that competitive edge, so I said I'd walk with her. The gun went off and she said that was the last she saw of me, I was off. Something clicked.
"I think I got ninth in my age group overall, it wasn't a stunning event or anything like that, I just really liked it. And when I finished, and like all the other women, it was like `wow, I did that'."
She'd competed as a recreational walker, knowing nothing then about the techniques involved in competitive race walking. It was stored somewhere in her consciousness, though, eventually rising to the surface.
"I remember seeing a chick [race] walking up and down the Railway Reserve and can still remember giggling away, never in a million years thinking that that was one day going to be me. I started trying to teach myself. With race walking, you've either got the swing or you don't and I didn't. And it didn't matter what I tried to do, I still looked mechanical, it just didn't come together at all."
Gradually, her association with established Nelson race walkers like Sharon McDonald, Wendy Healey and Yvonne Shaw and the arrival of experienced coach Stephen Farquhar from Dunedin finally gave her an insight into the technical aspects of the sport.
Farquhar officially became her coach in 2008 and that was when, she says, she "really stepped into the race walk realm".
She gradually developed her own style and technique, but says she's constantly thinking about fluency and rhythm in her stride.
"When you get your style and you're doing it properly, it's very fluent and you're actually skimming the ground. When I'm doing a 20km, I'm not breathing hard.
"You just get in a rhythm and it feels great. And the hardest thing of all is just keeping that rhythm in your head, because the moment you allow any distractions to get in your head, you just lose it and it's really hard to get it back again."
Since 2008, she's consistently won medals at New Zealand and Australian masters championships and the Oceania and World Masters Games, plus a myriad of local club and regional titles, including the Buller half marathon twice. But despite her healthy stack of gold medals in both 10km and 20km events, including three golds at the 2008 Oceania Masters Games in Townsville, ironically it was her silver medal performance, behind Australia's Fiona Porley in the 10km at Sydney's World Masters Games in 2009, that she remembers most fondly.
"We'd battled backwards and forwards and that, to me, was a race. She collapsed at the finish line ...that was my personal best time [59min 50sec] at that time as well and I was so disappointed when she didn't front up for the 5km.
"Out of all my races, that would have been my most poignant race, because we really raced, we really pushed each other and really gave it our all."
She was disappointed to miss selection last year in a four-person New Zealand team for a trans-Tasman test match in Hobart, finishing fifth at the trials despite recording a time nearly five minutes below the qualification mark. However, she noticed that on their return, the New Zealand team members had all added former Institute of Sport coach Leppik to their Facebook accounts. Sunderland's interest was stirred, eventually getting in touch with him.
She'd reached a point where she wasn't making any significant competitive gains and, with Farquhar, at that stage, struggling with serious health and personal issues, her choices became obvious. Eventually she signed Leppik as her new coach, introducing her to a "revolutionary" new style of coaching.
"I thought, `my god, I've never trained like this before'. I was doing fartleks [a Swedish training approach] and kick downs and interval training and my times dropped really quick."
The consummation of their new arrangement remains a standing joke between the pair.
"At the time I had artificial nails, you know, the girlie thing, and they were exactly the same price [as Leppik's fee]. Needless to say, no nails. But it was a sacrifice well worth making. You don't need nails for race walking. That's sort of been an in-joke between me and my coach now. Fifty dollars a month, that's all he cost me. That's so cheap for what he does and that's what he does for all the race walkers."
Leppik radically altered her technique.
"It took a month before I was able to do a whole walk with the new style. It was little things like just tucking your hips under, tucking your bum under. I always thought you walked with your legs, but you don't, you walk with your glutes and I didn't use mine. It just felt so weird so it was just learning how to do that and not leaning back but leaning forward from your ankles.
"He literally just stripped me down to bare and rebuilt me and within weeks, my times just started dramatically dropping."
She'll compete in the 5km, 10km and 20km events in Sacramento and, with Leppik's help, is looking to achieve a personal best 1hr 55min or better in her favoured 20km event.
"The 20km seems to be where I'm at my best. It's a long way and it's intimidating when you're on the start line or you're thinking, `oh my god, 20km'. But when you get out there and start blasting into it and start counting down the kilometres, I don't ever look ahead and think, `oh I've got 18km to go', I think, `I've done 2km'."


Glennis said...

Wonderful article and factual too, they got it right! I like some of the photos, you look so young, a girl again, young and eager and animated!
So proud of you Nyle.

Sarah said...

Nyle, that article is fantastic! I always tell people that if I worried about what I looked like when racewalking, then I would never be doing it! And, I've gotten the "carrot up your a$$" line once, and just laughed. I've heard it all! Congratulations on the recognition. That's great!