It’s not often when you’re one of the top young runners in the country that your mum can still help out – as your training partner.
For Camryn Smart – daughter of 1996 Olympic 800m finallist Toni Hodgkinson, and national decathlete and 400m hurdler Alistair Smart – it’s pretty special having Dad on the stopwatch while she chases down Mum at training on Moteuka’s grass track.
“Mum still joins in with me – not so much for the speed stuff, but she’ll join in for a 300m and still puts her spikes on which is awesome,” 19-year-old Smart says.
This summer has been a breakthrough athletics season for Smart over the 400m – breaking her personal best time by over a second and winning at the Whanganui Cooks Classic, Wellington Capital Classic and Auckland championship.
Hodgkinson – who still holds the national 800m record – says she’s been really impressed with her daughter’s improvements and consistency. And that she’s enjoying her racing so much.
“Both Alistair and myself knew she had a really good winter training block last year so we were confident she was going to race well over the season. But we’ve been surprised how well,” Hodgkinson says.
Smart started out as a 100m and 200m sprinter. “I started with my coach, Tony Catchpole, last year who is quite speed and technique focused. I think that’s where my breakthrough has come this season,” she says.
Smart is now in her second year of a bachelor of communications degree at the Auckland University of Technology. The move to Auckland last year was a huge change for Smart, particularly with the disruption of two lockdowns, where she went back to Motueka to be with family. But she’s loving life in the big smoke.
“I’m enjoying my uni and I have a great training squad – I’m really lucky,” she says.
Having her training group ‘family’ away from her family has made the transition north as smooth as possible, but Smart says she’s still getting used to driving on Auckland’s motorways for the first time.
Together with younger sister, Riley (16), the Smart sisters started athletics on the Motueka grass track when Camryn was seven years old.
“They enjoyed a lot of sports at a young age, and athletics was great in terms of the skills they learn are so good for other sports,” says Hodgkinson.
Towards the end of high school, Smart started to see promising results on the track, and realised if she fully committed to athletics, that was where her greatest potential lay.
In her final year at Motueka High School, under coach Tony Aitkenhead, Smart won the national senior girls’ 400m – one second off her mother’s record of 54.92s, set in 1989 when Hodgkinson was competing for Golden Bay High School.
But Smart still made it into the illustrious national schools athletics record books combining with friends Joelle Post, Holly Young and Izzy Neal to win the 4x400m relay and break a longstanding record.
It’s the national senior women’s 400m record Smart is now chasing down.
“Mum ran 53.45s – but I’ve got a few years to get it,” says Smart, who’s personal best is 54.67s. The mother and daughter “meet in the middle” with the 400m, with Smart coming from a sprint background and Hodgkinson making her mark internationally over the 800m and 1500m.
Last weekend, Smart should have been lining up in the 400m to battle it out for the national title at the Hawkes Bay Regional Sports Park. But the national track and field championships were postponed due to the current Covid-19 levels until March 26 and 27.
Smart’s best time, set in February at the Auckland championships, ranks her No.2 in the country behind her old school team-mate, best friend and now flatmate, Izzy Neal, who ran 54.61s at the Porritt Classic in February.
Hodgkinson would love to see her daughter “smash my times”. But more importantly both parents want her to be happy with her performance and enjoy the process.
“I think we’ve been delighted that Camryn is finding her own motivation in the sport and her own love of the sport,” Hodgkinson says.
“Alistair and I had it and now we’re just delighted she’s doing it for herself.”
Smart’s immediate goal is to qualify for the World University Games in China later this year. She’s also hopeful they will have a 4x400m relay team there.
“We have a good group of girls at the moment and hopefully we can just all keep getting our times down,” says Smart.
Amongst those women fighting it out for potential relay spots is Smart’s long-term best friend Neal.
“Izzy and I are flatting together this year and it’s really great we get each other’s lives and what we’re trying to do in our sport,” Smart says.
Smart’s athletics family history is not something that’s lost on her, but at the same time she says she feels no pressure from her supportive parents.
“Watching back to my race in Whanganui, the commentators said I had a lot to live up to as the daughter of an Olympic finallist – I don’t feel that from Mum but obviously other people think that,” she says.
“Mum would prefer to be referred to as ‘Camryn Smart’s mother’.”
Hodgkinson agrees, and admits she doesn’t feel overly nervous watching her daughter race. “I am there are her mother. I’m not there as a coach. I’m there wanting her to achieve the goals she’s setting.”
Riley Smart is also gaining a lot of traction in her athletics career, and teamed up with Camryn to win the U20 4x400m relay at last year’s nationals.
Hodgkinson says seeing the sisters achieve something they’d been working towards together was special.
“When they finished, to see them so happy together was something special,” she says.
What’s also special to Hodgkinson is being able to help her elder daughter out during tough training sessions. It’s something she never expected to do.
“I’m now very little use in most of her training, but I come into my own when she has to do some endurance work over the winter,” Hodgkinson says.
“As a mum, I just really want our girls to be happy with what they’re involved in.”