In this week’s Extra Time, Barry Guy speaks to New Zealand canoe sprinter Alicia Hoskin on the heart problem that threatened her career, and her life. 

Gisborne paddler Alicia Hoskin would have expected to have competed in her first-ever Olympics by now, but she isn’t too concerned. 

She doesn’t get upset by too many things these days, because just three years ago she was diagnosed with a heart problem that not only threatened her career, but also her life.

It wasn’t until a few weeks before she was meant to travel to Romania for the canoe sprint world junior championships that Hoskin became aware that there may be a problem.

She thought her irregular heart rates were normal, but tests revealed there was something more sinister. 

“I still remember sitting in the changing rooms [at the Poverty Bay Kayak Club] when my dad called saying that I needed to stop and that the results weren’t good. And I think I just hung up on him and burst into tears as I wasn’t expecting any of that sort of news,” Hoskin says

She was later diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which is rare and is present at birth. “It was a lot for a 17-year-old to take in as I’d dreamed for this day (being a top athlete) for so long.”

In 2017, Hoskin ended up in a Hamilton hospital on the same day that the rest of the New Zealand team were competing at the world junior champs in Romania. She was ready to undergo a cardiac ablation – a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in the heart that is allowing incorrect electrical signals.

The operation was a success and she spent the next few days recovering, however, Hoskin wondered if she’d ever race again.

Alicia Hoskin with her mum, Toni, after her heart surgery. Photo: supplied. 

After being given the all-clear, she started racing again four months later.

“Obviously I wasn’t very fast at all which was also quite sad because part of my brain just thought that I would go back to being as fast as I was before everything happened,” she says. “But obviously it took a lot of time and a lot of crying on the river to slowly get back to where I was.”

The following year she shifted to Auckland and came under the umbrella of Canoe Sport New Zealand and their high performance squad.

Hoskin has no doubts that what she’s been through will help her to get to next year’s Olympics.

“When you’re forced into not having what you love, you reflect on why you do something, is this important to me, is this something I want to do if I’m fully recovered again and the answer to all of those was yes,” she says. “I think I’ll look back on that as a bit of personal growth.”

Last year Hoskin went to the open world champs for the first time and finished ninth in the K2 500m with Caitlin Ryan.

She’s expected to be in one of the crews that will hopefully compete at next year’s Olympics in Tokyo.

* Also on this week’s Extra Time: The Crusaders have wrapped up the Super Rugby Aotearoa title with a round to spare but the real question is: what happens in 2021? How many head knocks is too many and where to now for All Blacks skipper Sam Cane? 

And we look at how netball is leading the way with the influence of Maori and Pasifika on the culture of ANZ Premiership teams. 

Barry Guy is a senior sports journalist at Radio NZ, and host of the Extra Time podcast.

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