She’s made history as one of the most successful rowers in New Zealand’s largest regatta, and now Veronica Wall is taking on the rest of the rowing world. Taylah Hodson-Tomokino reports. 

A gold medal in any sport is a special moment that’s hard to come by, but Ashburton teenager Veronica Wall already has a stunning collection of them. 

In fact she’s reeled in 18 national gold medals during her short, but very successful, rowing career.

Wall made waves in the New Zealand rowing community during her time competing for Ashburton College, where, over three years, she won every race she entered in the Maadi Cup – the national schools rowing championships. Former Canterbury rowing chief John Wylie described Wall as being ‘in a league of her own’.

Wall created Maadi Cup history in 2016, becoming the first rower to win the single sculls treble – the under-16, under-17 and under-18 titles – all at the same regatta.

She was unbeaten last year, and this year – returning to school as a Year 14 student – Wall swept the board again, winning the under-18 single, double and quad for her school. In the singles final, she finished seven seconds clear of her nearest rival.

Of Te Aupori and Te Rarawa descent, the 18-year-old Wall is a fantastic advocate for the sport. She’s testament to how a great environment – combined with good coaching and unwavering support from a small community – can produce a fantastic athlete.

Being labelled a role model can carry a lot of pressure, but the New Zealand representative, just home from the junior world championships, is a great example of one. Rowing has played an important part of her life, but also in her development as a person.

“For me, the most important part of sport is to enjoy the process,” she says. “Working towards your goals is important, but the journey is what makes you a great sportsperson and a great person in general.”

Wall is from an impressive sporting pedigree. Her mum, Charlotte Cox, was a New Zealand cyclist, and also rowed for the Canterbury Rowing Club, representing the New Zealand University team. She continues to row out of the Ashburton Rowing Club alongside her daughter.

Wall’s father, Justin, rowed out of the Porirua Rowing Club before moving to Ashburton, where he’s now the club president, making rowing a true family affair.

“Even before I started competing, I’d always be around the rowing club and helping out at regattas,” Veronica says. “So it was sort of a natural thing to start rowing since it was such a big part of my family life already.”

She attributes a lot of her success to her parents – not just financially, but emotionally.

Her father has been her coach since 2015 and coached the New Zealand singles and quad teams at this month’s junior world championships in the Czech Republic, where Wall finished fourth in the single sculls.

“My family is without a doubt my biggest support,” she explains. “They also empathise with me having done the sport themselves.”

Starting high school is usually daunting for most 13-year-olds, but when Wall started at Ashburton College back in 2013, she also decided it was time to pick up the family sport.

“When people know you’re a rower, often the first thing they’ll tell you is how they could never survive the early mornings or training as hard as you do,” Wall says.  “Although sometimes it may be difficult waking up earlier than the normal person, or training harder than your average, I always want to stress that, though there are hardships within the sport, everything you gain from it far outweighs the cost.”

It’s easy to understand why she’s been so successful on the water when she harbours such a determined attitude.

Finding a balance between schoolwork and rowing wasn’t a problem for Wall, but she puts that down to her ability to plan ahead and communicate with her teachers. “School was very important to me so I naturally made myself accountable and responsible for completing my schoolwork regardless of my rowing commitments,” she says.

Wall finally left school in June this year, and headed to Europe for the junior worlds. Coming up against 29 of the world’s best youth rowers, she made it into the A final in the women’s single sculls with impressive times.

Just missing out on the podium wasn’t her intended result, but she was still proud of her efforts and she’s still positive.

“It’s quite difficult working really hard for a goal and not getting the result you wanted,” says Wall. “But having adversities or obstacles teaches you a lot about sport, and probably more importantly about life. I’ve had disappointments and obstacles throughout my time in rowing, but these things only make me want to work harder in the future.”

So what does her future look like? She’s still undecided whether to take up tertiary study next year in science, either at home in New Zealand or the United States, but will move to Christchurch for now, to see out the rest of the year.

She will train in the Southern Rowing Performance Centre for the national domestic season and will look for work over the summer.

Asked about her Olympic aspirations, Wall doesn’t rule it out. “A couple of months spent at the [Rowing New Zealand] high performance centre in Cambridge really instilled my passion for being involved in high performance rowing, so I’d love to be able to be involved in representing New Zealand in the future.”

Wall is an impressive young woman whose humble and mature mannerism is to be admired. If given the chance to rewind the clock, take back the gruelling trainings and social events she missed, and perhaps choose another sport, the simple answer is: she wouldn’t.

Travelling the world and making life-long friends have been big incentives, and Wall has always remained grounded.

“Rowing has opened up so many opportunities that I’d never have been able to receive otherwise. Of course, success and winning are satisfying, but I really enjoy the process that it takes to achieve the goals as well. Training hard and spending time with people I enjoy being around makes it all worth it.”

Taylah Hodson-Tomokino is a former national BMX champion and Samoa Sevens rugby player, sports commentator and LockerRoom columnist.

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