A lot can happen in a year – just ask Oamaru rower Mark Taylor.
Twelve months ago, he was laid out with glandular fever, an illness that persisted until it was properly identified last September.
But last week, he capped off an outstanding season by being named in the New Zealand under-23 rowing team.
“It was tough at the time, but those six weeks gave me the extra motivation to push as hard as I could this year,” Taylor said.
“Just not being able to do what I wanted to was really frustrating.
“I kept thinking I was being a bit soft and not working hard enough. It wasn’t until I got my blood tested that I realised what I had been dealing with.”
When Taylor returned to training, he effectively had to start from square one.
“My time on the rowing machine was significantly down, and I was lifting 50% lighter weights than I had been able to.”
As his health improved, so did the results, and he capped an impressive season by winning a gold medal in the men’s under-22 double sculls, and silver in the men’s coxless quad and men’s single sculls at the national championships last month.
The silver in the single sculls proved he was up to the level required to compete with the best.
“I was looking up to those guys [first, third and fourth placegetters] all season, and to beat two of them really proved to myself that I deserved to be there.”
It was a short turnaround for those chosen to trial for the national under-23 squad at Cambridge a week later.
“It was a lot different to prepare for. We had just given everything at the nationals, so had to balance recovery with training.”
The process at the trial was designed to replicate the pressures of an international regatta, Taylor said.
“They want to see how you react under pressure.”
The first test was to row 2000m on a rowing machine as 15 selectors watched behind a glass wall, carefully examining technique and split times.
“It was really different and intimidating. Normally I would do that in a group situation.”
Unfazed, Taylor beat his personal-best to set a time of 5min 54.8sec, later finding out it was the best recorded in his group.
Over the week, he and the six other triallists completed a variety of tasks, and Taylor was relieved when he found out he was selected for the squad.
“I was stoked, but I also felt for the boys who didn’t make it, because I have been in their position before,” he said.
“It is the highest level I have reached, and it shows I am on the right track to achieve my goals.”
After the world under-23 championships, Taylor has his sights set on the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“It is a long way off, but I am confident I can put in the work to get there,” he said.
“I will be 24 then, which is often the peak age for a lot of rowers.”
His former coach, Owen Gould, said Taylor had “fulfilled his promise that was evident after his first years rowing.”
“As well as his physical talents, he has the ability to set goals and focus on them,” Gould said.
Taylor visited the Oamaru Rowing Club this week, a boost to North Otago’s secondary school rowers training for the Maadi Cup.
Last weekend’s South Island secondary schools regatta in Twizel was a successful one for them, and especially the St Kevin’s College under-18 novice coxed four girls –Annie Metcalf, Jamiee Trainor, Ruby Bradley, April Linares-Fontana and Ruby Macaulay – who came away with a gold medal.
Hannah Cunningham won bronze in the under-17 girls single sculls and had a victory with Yneka Edze in the B final in the girls under-18 double sculls.
Edze then went on to win the B finals of the girls under-16 double sculls with Sophia Linares-Fontana.