Livvy Wilson stood behind the starting blocks ready for her 100m heat in the Athletics New Zealand national championships and beamed when an announcement came over the loudspeaker.
The winning time for the first heat of two was read out to the crowd gathered at Newtown Park in Wellington 10 days ago.
“Zoe Hobbs, 11.07 – a new national record,” said an elated ground announcer.
Wilson tried to compose herself for her own race, but couldn’t hide her huge smile for Hobbs.
“I was fully in race mode, but to hear that just as I was about to get into the blocks, I couldn’t not be so happy for one of my best friends and training partners, after she hadn’t raced since last August. Naturally it lifts you,” the 30-year-old says.
In great form already in 2023, Wilson went on to set a new personal best of 11.51 seconds in her own heat, cementing her form amongst the top women sprinters in New Zealand.
“I felt really relaxed during the race and I wasn’t expecting to see a PB pop out,” she says. “I was just stoked to break into the eleven-fives which I wanted to do for the last few seasons.”
But there was another reason why Wilson was so happy. In her day job, she is Hobbs’ physiotherapist and a critical member of ‘Team Zoe Hobbs’.
“I’ve been treating Zoe for a few years now and so for her to come out and run like she did off an injury was just amazing,” Wilson says. “As her physio, you can’t ask for more than that. And as her friend I was just so stoked for her.”
(Wilson had even more reason to be proud of her friend and rival over the weekend – Hobbs ran her first official sub-11 second 100m on Saturday night at the Sydney Track Classic with a new national and Oceania record of 10.97s. It’s the fastest 100m time run in the world this year.)
This is the reality of Wilson’s two careers – she often treats the people she’s trying to beat.
Based out of a hot bed of track and field talent on Auckland’s North Shore, and coached by James Mortimer, Wilson is part of a crop of the fastest women in New Zealand.
“I’m just super ecstatic about the depth of wāhine sprinting. I want all my competitors to do well because I know it will make me run fast too,” she says.
Devastatingly later on that day – when Hobbs ran a wind assisted (+3.4 m/s) 10.89 seconds in the 100m final – Wilson pulled up lame at the 60m mark.
She was gutted.
“That was the biggest rollercoaster ride I’ve had in the space of six hours – to go from being super chuffed and then to be out of nowhere to pick up an injury,” she says.
“I really just had to reframe it to myself because of the PB earlier in the day. Injuries are part of the process.”
As a mark of her maturity in the sport, combined with her physiotherapy background, Wilson is optimistic she’ll be able to come back and run in the later stages of the domestic season.
“I have to admit I didn’t think I’d still be going at my age, but the love of the sport has kept me in it,” she says. “As well as the fact that I’m getting better and better each year, which is awesome.”
Last year, in Mackay, Australia, Wilson ran alongside Hobbs, Georgia Hulls and Rosie Elliot to set a New Zealand record in the 4x100m relay – their time of 44.05s would have qualified them for the world relay championships, significant in terms of being able to qualify for future world championship and Olympic Games events.
The NZ relay team who set a national 4x100m record in Mackay last year.
Wilson was a talented youth touch rugby player (her dad is legendary All Black winger Stu Wilson). She credits her PE teacher at Kristin School, Dennis Brown, with introducing her to running, taking her along to a junior club night at North Harbour Bays Athletics Club.
When she arrived at the track, she ran fast – and she loved it.
“With athletics, it’s all on you and I enjoy the pressure of it,” she says.
When Wilson initially started treating her training partners (including Portia Bing and Isabel Neal), she decided she had to set some firm boundaries around respecting her own needs as an athlete.
“On paper it looks like a strange dynamic. I’m treating my really good friends, who I train with and who I race against,” says Wilson, who works at Sports Lab.
“I have eyes on them every day at training observing their mechanics, which is really helpful. It’s a privilege to see them achieve their goals.”
Last year Wilson was part of the management team for the New Zealand team at the world junior world championships in Cali, Colombia.
“Cali was the best experience for me as a physio,” she says. “Every day I would have a moment and reflect, ‘Am I really here sitting here in South America doing physio for these up-and-coming athletes?’” admits Wilson, who would love to have another team management role in the future.
A huge part of Wilson’s success as a physio is her lived experience as an athlete – constantly trying to push the boundaries and figuring out what those boundaries are.
As an athlete she’s had her fair share of ups and downs starting with a bout of glandular fever as she finished high school and started at university. She was initially advised to have six months off sport.
“I tried to go to uni for two weeks and I couldn’t handle it because I was so fatigued,” reflects Wilson.
Due to the severity of her illness, six months turned into a whole year off sport and study, and Wilson remembers spending her days on the couch in her dressing gown.
Eventually she was cleared for a graduated return to training, but then went through a long period of amenorrhea (a lack of a consistent periods).
Her journey to “getting my period back” required a huge mindset shift in nutrition and self-acceptance.
“It was tough because I had to put on weight and eat more. As a track and field power athlete it was hard but so worthwhile,” Wilson says.
“Once I got my period back, I could really see I had potential in athletics because I was injured less, I could train more consistently and I was recovering better.”
As track and field athlete dressed in a crop top and short tights, Wilson hopes the narrative is now changing around prioritising female athlete health for performance.
“I’d be lying if I said it’s not something you have to manage all the time. I’ve got strategies now that keep me going,” she says.
Her experience, along with other injuries like a lumbar spine stress fracture and disc bulge, creates a level of empathy which she believes is helping make her a better physio and all part of her journey as an athlete.
At the end of the day, as Wilson draws on all her experience to heal her quad, she simply ‘froths’ at sprinting.
“There’s no better feeling than running fast,” she says. “There’s still more room for improvement and I’m hungry for more.”