World junior rowing champion Shakira Mirfin and New Zealand synchronised swimming representative Ali Robertson have been recognised at the annual Academy Southland graduation function at ILT Stadium tonight.
Each year an athlete at the Foundation (Year 1) and Leadership (Year 2) levels of the two-year programme are honoured for their commitment to the programme and their performances during the year.
Shakira, who received the Foundation year award last year, was a member of the gold-medal winning New Zealand women’s quadruple sculls at the junior world rowing championships in Tokyo in August.
The Jack Allan-coached, Southland Girls’ High School athlete, had been an inspiring member of the programme during her two years, Academy Southland coordinator Carly Anderson said.
“As well as her performances on the water, Shakira has been really dedicated to getting the most out of the programme, especially through the Mike Piper Training Centre,” Anderson said.
“She has also been developing some great reflective tools which will help with her performances in the future.”
Ali, who is also a Southland Girls’ High School student, was a member of a young New Zealand synchro team selected for this year’s world swimming championships in South Korea.
The team was selected with next year’s junior world synchronised swimming championships in mind.
Ali had certainly benefited from her first year in the Academy, Anderson said.
“She’s really made the most of the opportunities on offer through the programme and we are excited about what the future holds for Ali,” Anderson said.
Along with Shakira’s world junior title, highlights for the Academy this year included triathlete Jaxon Taylor’s victory at the national secondary schools championships and Emily Paterson and Conor Shearing’s performances at the junior world track cycling championships.
Emily won silver in the junior women’s team pursuit, with Conor finishing fourth in the team pursuit and fifth in the 1000m time trial.
It’s been a year of celebration for Academy Southland, which has now been running for 15 years.
From having one part-time staffer, the Academy now has a fulltime strength and conditioning role and part time performance support roles in Athlete Life, Mental Skills and Nutrition.
“As part of our 15 year celebration, we contacted all 175 athletes who have gone through the programme and it was amazing to hear about how much they had achieved in their sport and in their lives,” Anderson said.
“It’s been great to see how much these athletes have contributed to the community – like Vic Baldwin on the Halberg Youth Council – becoming not just great athletes, but also great people. We’ve watched Southlanders become Olympians and world champions, we’ve had a Rhodes Scholar and several have gained college scholarships in the United States.”
Academy staff have also developed during the year, including manager Jason McKenzie, who provided sport psychology support for the referees at the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
“Ensuring we have the best people running our programme is a focus for a new strategy that our Talent Development Southland charitable trust board has been creating. This strategy will guide us through the next five years,” Anderson said.