Earlier This month a group of adventure racing students representing New Plymouth Boys’ High School and New Plymouth Girls’ High School won the 17th annual Hillary Challenge by a record margin.
The combined New Plymouth team beat the elements, including gale-force winds, heavy rain and a night spent camping under Mt Ngauruhoe, and 11 other eight-person teams from around the country to win by some 600 points to second placed Waimea College over the course of the five-day event.
Teams are split into four boys and four girls so non co-ed schools such as New Plymouth Boys’ and Girls’ High Schools join forces. This was their first win in three years and continued their tradition of never having finished lower than second.
This year’s winning New Plymouth team members were Jack Boon, Calum Sutherland, Oak Jones, Jason Bond, Nicola Godwin, Annabel Jones, Poppy Mitchell and Caterina Poletti.
Year 12 competitor Caterina Poletti was not only competing in her first Hillary Challenge, she only took up the sport last year.
“The Hillary Challenge was by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was the most rewarding, amazing experience that made us incredibly pleased to finish let alone win,” said Caterina.
Caterina explained that consistency and an understanding of each other’s strengths and the hours spent training beforehand in and around New Plymouth were the keys to winning. “We got on well together and we all offered different skills to help out when required.”
“We had trained really hard for this event since late last year – most times twice a day and including 4.00am starts before school.
“We couldn’t have done this without the wisdom and support of our coach, Mr Hewlett [also a teacher at NPBHS].”
The first two days the 12 teams were put through their paces in a series of problem solving challenges. “We didn’t know how we had gone compared to others over the first two days, some things we felt we did well though, others not so well, so it gave us confidence to find out after the first two days we were in the lead.” New Plymouth won four of the 12 challenges on the Monday and Tuesday.
On days three and four was the Rogaine expedition, which included a night spent camping outdoors at the foot of Mt Ngauruhoe. “Getting to camp out under the stars under the foot of the mountain was a terrific experience.”
The Rogaine was a 50-60km trek from the Desert Road to the Chateau at the base of Whakapapa, navigating check points along the way, and New Plymouth won that by more than 400 points to second placed Waimea College. “That was really hard, especially with torrential rain and strong winds as well, but also really rewarding.”
Day five was the multisport race, which consisted of a 10km run, a 6km paddle, a 20km mountain bike ride and then another 6km run. New Plymouth won this stage in about four hours, 15 minutes ahead of Waimea who also finished second overall.
There’s several events coming up for members of the team and Caterina said she can’t wait to get back into it. “We had a few days off afterwards to recover and some of us had another couple of days off school with colds, but we are ready to go now and take on our next challenge.”
That is likely to be the Kawerau Gravity Sports 6-hour Adventure Race followed by some more events throughout the year. The team is also lining up the Coast to Coast race across the South Island early next year. She said she is keen to compete in the famous GODZone adventure race one day too.
Last year’s Kawerau 6-hour event was Caterina’s first taste of adventure racing, after being signed up by a friend, giving it a go and loving it.
That’s perhaps got something to do with her upbringing. “I was brought up near Makahu, which is 45 minutes inland from Stratford.” A quick glance at the map shows that to be about as rural New Zealand as you can get, so it’s no surprise she loves the outdoors and adventure.
She was a boarder at New Plymouth Girls’ High School in Year 9, but her family moved up to New Plymouth the next year so she’s a day student and a townie now.
Adventure racing is not her only sport. “I have represented Taranaki in rugby since year 8, and love that sport too. I currently play for the New Plymouth GHS team in the local school competition. My favourite position is flanker but I have been playing lock lately as well.”
She has also been a member of the NPGHS 7s team that competed at the Condor 7s in Auckland over the past two years.
Despite her super-busy sporting life, she is also keeping ahead academically, doing level 3 NCEA with a year of schooling still to come.
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