Year 11 Papamoa College athlete Jaxon Woolley’s goal is to compete for New Zealand at the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.
Jaxon has just completed an outstanding summer in athletics, breaking sprinting records in theT38 category he competes in.
Jaxon has an underlying condition called Polymicrogyria, this is a rare condition where there are too many small folds in the brain.
Polymicrogyria is a condition characterised by abnormal development of the brain before birth. The surface of the brain normally has many ridges or folds, called gyri. In people with polymicrogyria, the brain develops too many folds, and the folds are unusually small.
Jaxon has one of the more severe forms of this condition as it affects his entire brain rather than just one area. Bilateral forms of polymicrogyria tend to cause more severe neurological problems.
“Because of his conditions Jaxon experiences Spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, epilepsy, Global Developmental Delay, problems with speech and swallowing, behavioural difficulties including ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder,” explained his mum Tash Bowden.
“Individuals with his condition are often severely disabled, so for Jaxon to be experiencing reasonably mild symptoms and achieving the things that he is doing is beyond incredible,”
We caught up with Jaxon to find out more about his record-breaking achievements this summer and his goals.
You were recently at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Hastings. Can you please give us a brief run-down on what events you entered and your highlights?
Earlier this year, in January, you broke the 100m T38 National record – what was your time, can you run us through that achievement? Was it a surprise, or were you targeting this?
I have now broken the record multiple times this year. I was definitely aiming for that; I am long listed for the Commonwealth Games so have been trying to get my times closer to the qualifying although Paris Paralympics is my goal in two years’ time.
I broke the NZ record for the 100m at the Tauranga Twilight meet on January 1st with a time of 12:79s, then again at the Capital Classic meet in Wellington on the 4th of February with a time of 12.63s, again at the Waikato Bay of Plenty Championships the following week with a time of 12.48s, and most recently at the New Zealand Track and Field Nationals in Hastings with a time of 12.42s.
Have you also been competing in other meets this summer, such as the ‘Classics’ events?
I have competed at the Potts Classic in Hastings (Would have been a NZ record but didn’t count due to wind assisted), Capital Classic in Wellington (see above), Sir Graeme Douglass Continental Bronze International Meet in Auckland (also wind assisted but would have been a NZ record at the time) and am competing tonight at the Daikin Night of 5s event in Auckland.
You have recently started long jump as well as sprinting?
I have just started doing the long jump this year and have already broken the U17 NZ record for T38 and am aiming to take out the U20 and Open men’s records by next season.
How long have you been doing athletics?
I have only been doing it properly with a coach for three years (this is my third season), but six years in total as I did club athletics at Riverhead in Auckland initially. I then moved to Bays Athletics and begun training with Hamish Meacheam. At the beginning of 2021 my family moved to Tauranga and I started training with Kerry Hill who is my current coach.
Have you competed previously in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Track & Field Championships, and are these on your radar for the end of this year in Inglewood?
Yes, I competed at New Zealand Secondary Schools Track and Field Championships in 2019 in Wellington, and again in 2020 in Tauranga where I set the current the current championship records in the 100m, 200m and shot put. It was unfortunate that the championships were cancelled last year. I will be attending them this year in Inglewood and plan to better all the current records and add to it the long jump, and also before William Stedman was re-classified to a T36 he set the 400m record in the T38 classification, so I hope to beat his record for that too.
What are your future goals?
My goal is to compete at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
I got long-listed for this years Commonwealth Games which was unexpected, I have competed well this season although I’m still a way off the qualifying time for this which is 11.60s.
I would like to compete at some International Grand Prix events and at the World Para Athletics Championships, which is the same year as the Paralympics.
I would also love to compete at the World Junior Para Athletics Championships, which were postponed last year and this year due to COVID, as I would like to be the World Junior Champion.
Who are the other T38 athletes in your races; do they have the same or similar disabilities?
Everyone who is a T38 has cerebral palsy, we go through a rigorous process of testing to ensure we are in the correct classification and that we are competing against those with similar disabilities. We first get national classification and then international classification.
What challenges do you have on meet-day, preparing for your races, during the race and afterwards?
Well, the Cerebral palsy really affects the coordination of my hands, so there’s no way I can do up my shoelaces on my own! But in terms of race day breakfast, packing my bag, getting to the event early and then going through my warmups and drills that would be similar to an able-bodied athlete. With the exception that I probably need to be warmer and do a bit more stretching over and above due to the spasticity in my muscles.
How does their support of your family spur you on and motivate you?
My family is amazing. My mum was a 10m platform diver and represented NZ all over the world and my step-dad was an international runner (one of the top in the world in his day), they are both pretty competitive and they understand what it is like to compete and to experience success and they back me 100 percent, 100 percent of the time. My little brother and sister are usually at the track cheering me on as well.
And your coach? How often and where do you train?
My Coach is Kerry Hill, coach to five of the fastest seven Kiwis ever, Gus Nketia, Joseph Millar, Kodi Harman, James Dolphin, and Matt Brown, plus World Champs relay representatives David Falealili and James Mortimer, and World Youth 200m finalist Graeme Read, and three national women’s beach sprint champs. Seven Olympians have emerged from his squads at sprints, jumps, middle distances, decathlon, heptathlon, and bobsleigh. I am the first para-athlete that Kerry has coached and I think he’s really enjoying it. It’s a new challenge for him.
I train at Tauranga Domain three times per week and at the Adams Centre for High Performance two to three times per week. I am the only para-athlete they’ve ever had!
Are you aligned to an athletics club?
I belong to Athletics Tauranga – I just love this club, they are so supportive of me and really make a big deal out of my achievements. This helps and motivates me to do even better. I am proud to represent them.
Away from athletics, what other sports or hobbies do you follow or participate in?
I go to The Cave Papamoa at least twice a week! This is my favourite hobby; it is New Zealand’s best Virtual Reality and Simulated Racing studio. The guys there all know me and support my running as well, I think they are going to sponsor me and I want to work there for my job. I also have a sweet racing set-up at home for my gaming. I do also like bike riding, go kart racing, and going on adventures with my family.
Thank you and good luck for the future.
Story by Steven White for College Sport Media, March 2022.
Earlier this season, Zoe Hobbs broke the New Zealand all-comers Women’s 100m record, the former New Plymouth Girls’ High School student clocking 11.15 seconds to break a record that had stood since 1990.
Hobbs is part of a group of super-competitive women’s sprinters pushing each other on to faster times and personal best performances.
There is now a new generation coming through, headed by Auckland’s Talia Van Rooyen, who at just 15 is turning out some quick times to match those of Hobbs and others before her.
Most recently, last Thursday on day one of the College Sport Auckland Championships at Mt Smart Stadium, Talia clocked a personal best 200m time of 24.61 - running into a 2.4 metres per second headwind - to break Nadia Evans’ 2020 record of 24.70.
This follows on from an outstanding meet at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Hastings the previous weekend, in which Talia won the Women’s U18 100m in 11.50.
This would have been a national record, if not for a 3.1 m/s tailwind, which ruled the time invalid. If legal this would have broken Briar Toop’s 32-year-old U17 and U18 record of 11.55 and Zoe Hobbs’ U19 and U20 record of 11.53.
Talia won the U18 100m final comfortably ahead of Manawatu’s Collette sisters, Chayille and Addira, who followed her to the tape in second and third.
The year 11 student at City Impact Church School on the North Shore, also won the U18 Women’s 100m hurdles in a personal best time of 13.84.
Needless to say, Talia was happy with her performance. “I was very happy with those results,” she said, “they were unexpected to be honest. I was just annoyed about the illegal wind for the 100m final, but there is always next time to keep improving.”
Talia then joined the Auckland Women’s U18 4 x 100m relay team, along with Amelie Fairclough (16), Katelyn Quay-Chin (15) and Marielle Venida (16), to help set a New Zealand under 17 record of 46.77 breaking the New Zealand team of Amy Robinson, Talia Horgan, Abby Goldie and Zoe Hobbs time of 47.29 set in Sydney in 2013.
“Overall, I’m stoked with my times. It gives me the confidence knowing that my legs can even run that fast.”
It has been a busy summer of sprinting for Talia. “I’ve also competed in Cooks Classic, Capital Classic and Sir Graham Douglas International. They were all great competitions to compete in and I got great personal bests as well.
“My highlight for all three has to be running with those older girls and being able to run next to them.”
Talia is looking to round out her successful season with the College Sport Auckland Champs and the popular Night of 5s meet, on Wednesday 23 March at AUT Millennium in Auckland.
She then hopes to compete in the Oceania Championships in Queensland in June and possibly the World U20 Athletics Championships in August in Colombia, which she qualified for in Hastings.
At the end of the year there is the NZSS Championships in Inglewood, where she will be competing in the Senior Girls grade for the first time.
She won the Junior Girls 80m Hurdles and was third in the Junior Girls 100m as a year 9 at the most recent NZSS Championships meet in Tauranga in December 2020.
Talia moved to New Zealand from South Africa in August 2015, having been born in Pretoria and raised in a town called Heidelberg.
Her family has an athletics background.
“Both my parents did athletics so you could say they already had that natural running ‘brains’. My mum used to coach in South Africa where I would just watch, but I started competitively in year 7. I started performing decently good times when I was 12.
“They have always coached me, but only around four years ago my dad started coaching me more seriously, it’s a lot nicer to have my parents as my coaches especially for events nowadays where you can only have your coach near you and for me that would be my parents, which is really nice.”
Talia used to play hockey, but her sole sporting focus now is understandably athletics.
“I used to play Hockey quite competitively but lost my love and passion for it, so now I focus on Athletics.
“I train around 6 times a week, and 95 percent of my training is track work and the other 5 percent would be rehab or recovery.”
What is a single meet highlight so far? “I would have to say my races at the New Zealand Nationals this year because it was my first ever Nationals and coming home with three Golds is something I can’t complain about. And then even getting very close to the National record was also a highlight. I do have another year to try and break it.”
Looking ahead, Talia is eyeing the shorter sprinting distances. “I’m probably going to continue specialising in the 100m and the 100m Hurdles events. They work well together, so hopefully they can become my main events.”
Talia has a bright future on the track that hopefully is not slowing down anytime soon.
Story by Steven White for College Sport Media, March 2022.
At the most recent New Zealand Secondary School Track and Field Championships in Tauranga in December 2020, Whanganui High School claimed five medals in the hurdles events, which at the time that was more hurdles than the school owned.
After turning heads in the wind and rain in Wellington in December 2019, the school had a great meet the following year, with more medals also won in the relays.
Whanganui High School had 14 hurdlers qualified and ready to compete in Inglewood last December as part of a 30 plus team, and a big 5-year reunion with current and past athletes was planned. Unfortunately, these were cancelled because of Covid.
One of those athletes, Maggie Jones, has returned to WHS this year for her last year at school and is one of Aotearoa’s most promising young women athletes, specialising in one of the toughest events on the track.
This past weekend at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships in Hastings, Maggie won her favoured race, the Women’s U20 400m hurdles. She was also second in the Women's U20 100m hurdles.
“My coach Greg gave me a game-plan and I stuck to it, which is what won me the race,” said Maggie, who won with a personal best 400m hurdles time of 64.34.
“I have raced the two girls who were either side of me a few times previously and both go out hard. So the race plan was to give them their faster starts and to relax and build into the race over the first 200-300m. I think I can kick quite well in races when people are ahead of me, so with about 150m to go I took off and overtook them and finished strongly.
“I was really happy to get a New Zealand title in my first year as a senior, as well as winning a major race going up a distance from the school race distance of 300m to 400m.
“I was also pleased to win silver in the 100m race the next day because we had a bunch of really good hurdlers in the field.”
The previous week she won a 100m hurdles race in Christchurch.
Maggie agrees that the 400m hurdles is one of the hardest track events . “I’m not a huge fan of running the 400m flat race, so adding some hurdles to jump over it is not a great combination!”
Nevertheless, she enjoys it and says that the longer race is what she is best suited to. “I’m not as powerful a sprinter, but it is good to be able to do both for technique and to get race experience.”
The North Island Secondary School Championships have been cancelled, but she is interested in starting heptathlon and is looking at competing at the 2022 New Zealand U18 And U20 Combined Events Championships on 26 March in Auckland.
Asked for a couple of highlights thus far in her career, Maggie said winning the Junior Girls 300m Hurdles at Wellington at the 2019 NZSS Nationals was memorable.
“That was my first big win, and I got to celebrate it with my two Whanganui High School teammates who were also in the race, with Paris Munro who came third and Casie Glentworth who was fourth. We also came second in the relays not long after.
“Also winning the NZSS Nationals 300m race in 2020 and winning last week’s U20 New Zealand 400m hurdles title were satisfying for me.”
Maggie also has a balanced sporting life, playing basketball and netball for her school in the winter and cricket in the summer as well as athletics.
Next year she is hoping to win an athletics scholarship in the USA, unsure exactly what she wants to study after high school, but the sciences interest her.
Maggie trains with a big group of athletes at the Whanganui High School Athletics Club, a competitive, supportive group, from year nines and beginners through to the seniors.
As well as Maggie, Nat Kirk is a leading Senior Boys hurdler at the school at the moment.
A big factor in the Whanganui High School Athletics Club’s success is the input of coach Greg Fromont, who started coaching at the school five and a half years ago. Greg’s part time role is to provide a fundamentals and conditioning pathway for all sports students.
With a background in athletics coaching but also in fundamental skills, a key mantra from the start was making sure all students have a basic grounding in movement skills, stability, flexibility and co-ordination.
Greg said having fun and fostering a welcoming, family atmosphere is important. “There must be more to the group than just their performance on the track,” Greg added.
“Students from other sports can come into the athletics conditioning and use it to prepare for their other sports. Hurdles is good because it’s a great example of all the fundamentals being put together in one event.
“We started with one athlete in the athletics group and now regularly have 40 at a training session.
“Our first two national champions both came to the training group to prepare for their winter sports of hockey, and within three years both had won NZSS titles over 400m and 1500m respectively while it was still their second sport. Rebecca Baker, the 1500m champion is now part of Hockey New Zealand’s High-Performance programme. Both still come back in the University holidays and help with coaching and are an inspiration for our young athletes.”
Interview and story by Steven White for College Sport Media, March 2022.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand