From spectator to New Zealand team in six weeks

Melanie Magowan won three medals representing New Zealand as part of the Waka Ama New Zealand Elite Para Mixed Team, competing at the IVF Va'a World Elite Sprint Championships 2022 in Windsor, UK.

Kavinda Herath/Stuff

Melanie Magowan won three medals representing New Zealand as part of the Waka Ama New Zealand Elite Para Mixed Team, competing at the IVF Va’a World Elite Sprint Championships 2022 in Windsor, UK.

Six weeks was all it took for an Invercargill woman to attend a Waitangi Day waka ama display, to representing New Zealand in the sport.

Then within months, para-athelte Melanie Magowan was standing on a podium at the IVF Va’A World Sprint Club Championships in London to receive a gold medal.

Almost two years ago, Magowan was faced with a decision – live with unfathomable pain and an unusable left leg, or amputate the limb below the knee.

Magowan chose the latter and in May was chosen to represent New Zealand at the world championships this month in a para mixed team.

The team won a gold medal in the V6 500m, silver in the V12 500m and bronze in the V6 1000m.

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Melanie Magowan competing with her team at the IVF Va’A World Sprint Club Championships in London in this month.

Supplied/Stuff

Melanie Magowan competing with her team at the IVF Va’A World Sprint Club Championships in London in this month.

Astoundingly, Magowan said she only started waka ama two months before her selection into the team, “after accidentally ending up in the middle of a Waitangi Day celebration in Te Anau”.

It was that chance visit to that led her to waka ama, as a friend tried one of the free sessions available after a morning swim.

“She said ‘there’s a fixed bent seat, it’s perfect for you’.”

Magowan then contacted her local waka ama club (Te Piritahi a Rua) and went down to give it a go.

“They were so welcoming, didn’t make a big deal of my disability, in fact welcomed me even more I would say.

“Most other sports I have tried have made a big deal of it, thrown barriers in my way or made things so difficult I gave up. But waka ama was so welcoming. I can only assume it is to do with the Māori cultural element.”

Within the first trainings she was being approached to join the New Zealand team.

Invercargill para-athlete Melanie Magowan with her gold medal from the IVF Va’A World Sprint Club Championships in London.

Supplied/Stuff

Invercargill para-athlete Melanie Magowan with her gold medal from the IVF Va’A World Sprint Club Championships in London.

While hesitant at first because of her lack of experience, a friend “pointed out my past international race experience, fitness background and discipline, ability to learn and drive to be my best”.

So she put in an application, was invited to a selection camp and was selected onto the elite para team.

“I was blown away. I had only taken the sport up six or so weeks before.

“I was told that my fitness background, ability to fit into and work as a team, and take on coaching advice were some of the key the characteristics they were looking for.

“When I was selected, I felt like I had actually found my calling post amputation. I was looking for a sport I could do, that I could excel in, that was not affected by my disability.”

Magowan is originally from England and had represented the country in triathlons.

“The fact that it [the competition] was in England was the icing on the cake. I got to go home for the first time in nine years.”

The first race was against Great Britain.

“I left everything out there on the course. We took the gold. I cried. It was a special moment.

“First time ever standing on a podium – and it was the top step. It was a very special moment indeed.”

The silver and bronze medal almost paired into insignificance by comparison to that moment.

Magowan said she was now seriously thinking about trying singles.

“I have the individual desire to push myself, so I can do both with waka ama. I am interested in the long distance worlds next year and will definitely continue this sport into the future.

“I have found my new identity as a para athlete.”

Melanie Magowan represented New Zealand as part of the Waka Ama New Zealand Elite Para Mixed Team at the IVF Va'a World Elite Sprint Championships 2022 in Windsor, UK.

Kavinda Herath/Stuff

Melanie Magowan represented New Zealand as part of the Waka Ama New Zealand Elite Para Mixed Team at the IVF Va’a World Elite Sprint Championships 2022 in Windsor, UK.