Rowing for teens’ mental health

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Johannah Kearney will call on all her rowing ability as well as her passion for mental health awareness when she takes part in a special challenge this weekend.

The former Oamaru rower and three friends are embarking on a rarely seen rowing excursion across Cook Strait.

Their plan is to raise awareness and money for a charity they have started, Through The Blue, which is targeting a big push to provide resources for mental health support and education at secondary school level.

The group’s first fundraiser is a 98km row from the Picton Rowing Club through Tory Channel and across the unpredictable strait that separates New Zealand’s major islands, finishing at the Wellington Rowing Club.

“We want to show that challenges and obstacles can be tackled more easily and effectively when the struggle is shared between friends and professionals,” Kearney said.

A crew with an impressive list of rowing achievements will tackle the challenge.

Next to Kearney (23), a three-time medallist for New Zealand at world junior championship regattas, will be 2012 Olympian Tina Manker, a German rower who teaches in Wellington, former British representative Rachel Gamble-Flint and Wellington rower Eleanor Morris.

Another Olympian, Julia Richter, is coming over from Germany to be a reserve.

The crew has been supplied with an ocean quad boat from leading New Zealand manufacturer Laszlo Boats. It was imported from China, Kearney said, and would be sold after the row.

“It weighs about 150kg and sits higher in the water than a regular skiff.”

Safety boats will surround the crew, which hopes to complete the row in about 13 hours, depending on the conditions.

“It’s such a variable stretch of water,” Kearney said.

“I guess there’s a reasonably high chance of failure due to environmental factors.”

The group had canvassed widely, talking to Interislander ferry pilots, yachties, divers and coast guards to gather information about the strait.

Kearney said Through The Blue was started by eight friends who wanted to focus on early intervention in mental health.

“It initially started because our group consists of teachers and rowing coaches and rowers, working with high school kids, and we wanted to do something for them.

“We did a lot of research before we started the charity around who we wanted to fund, and we found there were very few groups that focused specifically on where we saw room for
improvement.

“It’s been a huge learning curve, looking into charitable trusts, and board governance, and liaising with people who are professionals in the areas we want to help.”

Kearney, a former deputy head girl at St Kevin’s College, said she had known lots of friends who had experienced mental health challenges, and had also dealt with her own issues.

“I found high school really challenging. Then I came to university and I was diagnosed with a few learning disorders.

“Looking back, they had really affected me at school and how I perceived myself.”

Exercise and physical activity had been her main coping strategies, she said, but everyone was different.

earney is in her third year of a landscape architecture degree at Victoria University and is loving both her studies and her adopted city.

She has not rowed competitively since representing New Zealand Universities in Brisbane in 2016, but has no regrets when she reflects on an elite carer that featured a red coat at the national championships and eight Maadi Cup medals, many alongside twin sister Caitlin,
to go with her world junior haul.

“I kind of reached the capacity that my body could cope with, and I’m really proud I pushed it to that point.

“I’ve since been involved in surf-boat racing and rowing coaching. I’ve still got a passion for the sport, but not necessarily in high performance.”

  • Donations to the Through The Blue charity can be made at the givealittle.co.nz/org/through-the-blue-charitable-trust site.