News & Updates

23 April 2020 • General

The Isolation Station

We may be on a level four alert lockdown status in New Zealand but this has been no bar to maintaining fitness levels for some of the country’s leading athletes. Steve Landells chats to five international representatives, all of whom have come up with some innovative techniques to keep their athletic goals on track.

Olivia McTaggart

The New Zealand pole vault representative has been forced to improvise during lockdown – where everything from broken poles and milk cartons have been used to help maintain technique and fitness.

Olivia won a silver medal behind training partner Imogen Ayris at the 2020 Jennian Homes New Zealand Championships in March only for her plans for the remainder of the season to come to an abrupt end after the cancellation, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, of both the Queensland Track Classic in Brisbane and the Australian Championships.

“It was mixed emotions for me,” says Olivia. “I was quite excited by the thought of ending my season on a high in my last two competitions,” she says. “It has not been my best season but I felt I had more in the tank. On the other hand it was a bit of a relief. My back was sore after a long season which started in November. I’d been competing almost every weekend, so I was pleased to take a break and start my planning for the next season.”

Living in the family home in West Harbour on Auckland’s North Shore, she is fortunate to have some gym equipment thanks to her weightlifting brother with the “home gym” also including a treadmill and static bike.

Currently going through her off-season period, she has no need to vault – which makes life easier in lockdown – but is committed to training six times a week which includes gym sessions, circuits and a range of exercises which has forced some leftfield strategies.

“It’s been an interesting mental challenge adapting to the new situation,” explains Olivia. “I have some equipment at home but I’ve had to be creative with the workouts by using some household items.

“I’ve used the laundry bench in the garage to do some stand up push ups and milk cartons as weights as part of my body circuit.”

Olivia – under the guidance of her coach, Jeremy McColl – has tried to maintain her programme of combining upper body days followed by lower body days. While Friday – which typically would entail a gymnastics session – has been replaced by a boxing workout, which just prior to lockdown she had recently introduced into her regime.

Yet the 20-year-old Kiwi’s most interesting “improvisation” was copied from a social media post by Olympic pole vault champion Katarina Stefanidi – in an exercise which involves a broken pole.

“I took the makeshift pole drill from her in which she takes a broken pole up against the corner of a room,” she says. “I then try to emulate the last action of the vault pushing off the top from an inverted position, but the drill is carried out from your side onto your stomach.”

Yoga has also been on the agenda most mornings while in her downtime Olivia is also sharpening her pub sport playing ability.

“I’m brushing up on my skills on the pool table playing my dad or brother and also playing some darts!” she adds.


Jess Gillan

As an essential worker with the police – juggling her daily work demands with that of maintaining her training load has been challenging for Jess Gillan.

Yet with the help of long-time coach, Raylene Bates, she is finding a way to cope with the twin demands.

The 2016 Paralympic and 2017 World F34 shot put bronze medallist works in police admin entering data and preparing charging documents to be read out in court hearings.

Carrying out shift work seven days a week has been gruelling, but Jess has been encouraged by how people have responded to the lockdown.

“The overall mood is that the public is abiding with a small percentage of people who don’t really care,” she says. “Police have a good procedure in place to deal that small percentage of people and are doing everything they can to help. Times like this, our culture as Kiwis really shine through. We are all as one. We are all equal.”

Living with her husband, Dale, in a separate house out the back of the same property from his parents and brother, the five of them live in the same bubble in Dunedin, and her training has been compromised.

“Clearly the lockdown has affected the throwers because we need the space to throw,” she says. “Being in lockdown means I cannot interact physically with my training mates or coach and I have to make do with what I have at home and use the knowledge I have to keep my body up to par.”

Training at home with rubber bands to aid stretching and stability and using a weighted plate to replicate exercises she would typically carry out in the gym, Jess often squeezes one training session per day either before or after work depending on her shift pattern.

Meanwhile, she has also made the most of the steep driveway by carrying out gruelling hill sprints “which is hard yakka,” according to Jess.

Connecting through Facebook messenger and email with Raylene has ensured Jess is as well prepared as she can be during these challenging times.

“I’ve communicated daily with Raylene, she has made sure I have the best equipment I can and we are currently looking at getting a grinder to help my training.

“My support network – which includes my nutritionist, sports psych, physio and massage – have also been very helpful with numerous check ins and phone calls. It is good to know they are there for me.”


Portia Bing

As an international 400m hurdler, the current alert level 4 lockdown has created its challenges for Portia Bing but the 2019 World Championships representative is staying positive and feels equipped to ride out the current challenges to her training regime.

After Portia successfully defended her New Zealand 400m hurdles title in Christchurch last month, she returned to her summer training base in Brisbane, Australia.

However, shortly after her arrival back in Queensland she quickly realised the rapidly evolving Covid-19 pandemic would prompt a shift back home to New Zealand.

“The rate of infections were climbing in Australia and were significantly ahead of where we were in New Zealand,” she explains.

“Our training facility closed, events were being cancelled and I was told to take ten days off training.”

Sensibly, Portia decided to head back to New Zealand and the family home in Kumeu – just outside of Auckland – and underwent a strict 14-day self-isolation period.

Having no bodily contact with family members was tough but her time in self-isolation led to a valuable stint of self-reflection.

“For the first time in my life I found I could take time and that was a big positive,” she explains of her time in self-isolation. “I had taken time off work to chase the big goals of winning Olympic selection but now the Olympics were not happening in 2020, I had time to think how I was going to fill this big gap. I changed my goals.”

Grateful to be living on a five-acre lifestyle block with lots of space she returned to full-time work in the financial sector earlier this month but has been managing her training as best she can.

Speaking regularly to her 90-year-old coach, Russ Hoggard, she has been going out for regular runs of up to 10km on the road to maintain fitness and is looking to utilise a 450m road climb near her home for hill sprints.

Lacking gym equipment at home she has had to be innovative with some elements of her training and strength and conditioning.

“I can’t have any physio but it has forced me to my more careful using the rollers on the hamstrings and how to manage my body more carefully,” she says. “I’ve made sure I have been mowing the lawns uphill with a hand-mower to help strength the Achilles. I dug a hole with a spade the other day which was hard work. As ridiculous as it sounds, I’m doing all I can to strength the body without access to the regular equipment I would normally have.”


Tori Peeters

Such is Tori Peeters’ desire to be as best prepared as possible for next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games, the Kiwi javelin number one has taken to lifting her partner, Cameron, piggy-back style for weight training during lockdown.

Lacking the trapbar and sandbags necessary for one particular exercise, the New Zealand javelin record-holder decided to improvise and opts instead to lift her 90kg partner up to 40m around a field at his parents’ family farm in Te Awamutu, where the pair are currently residing during lockdown.

Thankfully, for the Southland-raised athlete she has not been forced into too many other leftfield training techniques as a little forward planning and fortunate timing has made the training demands around lockdown run fairly seamlessly for the 25-year-old javelinist.

After hurling a mighty New Zealand record of 62.04m in Sydney in February and following this up by regaining her national title in Christchurch – Tori was well positioned on her journey to potential Olympic qualification only for the global situation to rapidly change following the Covid-19 epidemic.

While fully acknowledging that it was the right decision for the Olympics to be postponed it still left Tori – who was in the best form of her life – decimated.

“I was gutted,” she explains. “I’d planned for so long (to try and win Olympic selection) and put so much time and energy into making the team. The Olympics has seemed so close, but now to seem so far away was hard.

“But you have to look at the bigger picture, there is much more important issues going on in the world right now. The postponement gives me another year to build on the good season that I have had. We now have a date for the Olympics, that gives me a lot of motivation.”

After going into lockdown her support team led by coach, Debbie Strange, and strength and conditioning coach, Angus Ross, took the decision for Tori to have a month-long break from both the physical and mental demands of throwing.

However, using good foresight, Tori sourced some gym equipment from HPSNZ in Cambridge and from Hamilton Boys’ High School, where Cameron, works as a PE teacher, to enable her to “virtually do everything I need to in the gym.”

Carrying out a training programme at the moment on a three-day cycle – she combines, a day of gym work, with a gym programme involving some gymnastics-based work and a cardio and stretching session before repeating the cycle.

Fulfilling daily jobs on the farm and setting some home exercise circuits and stress management and relaxation tasks for the students at St Peter’s School, Cambridge – in her role as co-ordinator for their Sporting Excellence Pathway programme – her days in lockdown have been full and varied.

In regular contact with Debbie and Angus and her support team, Tori believes she is in a good place to maintain fitness while also avoiding injury.

“The most important thing is that I am fit and well, and I’m not doing the programme 100 per cent flat out,” she says. “I can’t afford to get hurt or injured because at alert level four there is no option for hands on treatment. It is about managing this situation and making sure any improvements are low risk and keeping on top of any injury prevention work.”


Malcolm Hicks

When London-based Kiwi Malcolm Hicks slashed more than three-and-a-half minutes from his lifetime best to bank the Olympic qualification mark for the marathon with a breakthrough 2:10:04 clocking in Seville in February, little did he realise it would be one of the last European marathons before the Covid-19 crisis would grind global sport to a virtual halt.

In that regard, the 32-year-old Auckland-raised athlete is very fortunate to have secured the standard for Tokyo when many of his fellow marathon hopefuls have been denied an opportunity to compete.

However, having devoted almost 20 years of hard training to the sport for the Tokyo Olympic Games to have been postponed by 12 months was a huge body blow for the four-time New Zealand champion, who last year placed 27th in the World Championship marathon in Doha.

“The writing had been on the wall for a few weeks, but it was still a huge disappointment (to postpone the Games), especially having experienced such much elation in February,” he says. “Yet I feel it was the right decision. So many qualification scenarios were lost and athletes preparations were restricted by the Covid-19 restrictions. It also needs to be remembered that the world is facing much bigger issues with a pandemic – health, jobs and livelihoods are at stake.

Based in East London, where he currently lives in a one bedroom flat with his wife, Alana, has not been easy under lockdown. Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on the UK with the number of fatalities among the highest in the world but people are still allowed to exercise and Malcolm has made the most the opportunity to maintain his fitness levels.

Still managing to run around 170km a week –through a combination of road and treadmill running – he is still reasonable happy with his output, although he has faced some challenges.

“Unfortunately a few of the local parks have been closed because some people have not been following the rules,” explains Malcolm.

“I’ve had to find some new places to run, which in a densely populated city can be a tricky task. I’ve found the Hackney Marshes and running around Olympic Park (home of the London Stadium formerly the London 2012 Olympic Stadium) have been really quiet. I’ve also found there are far fewer people out and about if I go for an early morning run. On a long run, I run past the Olympic rings in Olympic Park, which offers a nice reminder just why I am training.”

In regular communication with his New Zealand-based coach, Paul Hamblyn, Malcolm has also been careful to work on strength and core stability work because without access to his physio and osteopath he can ill afford any injury issues.

At the moment his body is in one piece and is looking ahead to the future where he and Paul are putting together a “robust” plan – which could include an outing at the World Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland in October and a marathon either later this year or early next.

“They’ll be other Kiwis too trying to get the Olympic marathon qualification time, so I’ll be a targeting a sub-2:10 marathon and maybe even the New Zealand record, we’ll just have to see how it pans out.”