Winner of Saturday’s Te Aito Cook Islands women’s race, Serena is no stranger to hard work when it comes to achieving her goals.
One longstanding goal Serena will soon tick off her ‘bucket list’ is the gruelling Molokai solo – a 55km ocean race between the islands of Molokai and Oahu in Hawaii.
“It’s a huge commitment in every which way – time, training, financial support, so it’s not something you’re going to get the chance to do too often,” says Serena, who is going through final preparations for the race on June 13.
“It’s just something amazing to me paddling between two islands – I’ve heard so much about the solo that it became a personal challenge that I really wanted to take on.”
Training has been tough for the multi-sport athlete who says that support from family and the wider community has motivated her through punishing regimes.
“The awesome thing about preparing for an event like this is the support you receive from people. Everyone just wants to see you achieve your goal.”
Training at this elite level has involved on-the-water paddling sessions, core work, yoga and running, and in the last few weeks before the big race Serena has adjusted her training to just solid paddling only – sometimes twice a day.
She is grateful to have been able to borrow fellow paddler Teina Taulu’s canoe as she will be using a similar one during the race.
She enlisted the help of Ray Preston, who has worked with top male paddler Reuben Dearlove in the past, to provide a weekly training programme for which Serena is grateful.
Reuben has also been a source of invaluable knowledge about the race, having paddled in the Molokai solo twice before.
Reuben has basically coached Serena out on the water and pushed the athlete through her sets.
“I think he has really helped me lift my game,” says Serena.
“Also his wife Victoria and even his mum Janet have helped truck us and our canoes up to Avana for repeat surf runs when the wind has been on, so I am really grateful for the support.”
She says she absolutely wouldn’t have been able to get where she is without the support of her family.
“I know I’m very fortunate,” she says.
“I couldn’t do it without my mum, who is a huge help for me at home and with the girls,” adds the mother of four.
Managing the family lagoon cruise business also allows Serena some flexibility during the day.
“It’s impossible for me to paddle early mornings with the two little ones, so I usually head out on the ocean during the day while the girls are at school, or later in the afternoon.”
She admits that the hardest thing has been dealing with the lack of sleep at times, as her youngest still doesn’t sleep through some nights.
“Proper recovery is really important with this sort of training,” says the seasoned elite athlete.
“My husband Conrad is very supportive of my goal this year, and is coming to support me in Hawaii.”
Super supportive mum Francis will look after her mokopuna while their paddling mum heads to Hawaii to tick the epic race off her life goals list.
Husband Conrad will be on the support boat for the race to help pass drinks to Serena while out on the 55km course.
“I feel very happy knowing I’ll have that support,” she says.
Serena says she is blessed to also to have good friend Denise Darval Chang and her son Kainoa, both standout paddlers, running her support boat.
“An experienced support crew out there will be invaluable.”
Serena is no stranger to the Kaiwi channel, having raced across the challenging course in 2007 when she joined Team Wahoo, a crew of top New Zealand and Hawaiian paddlers for the Na Wahine o ke kai.
That year the crew placed third out of 83 teams in the 41-mile race.
“It was amazing and one of my most memorable experiences.”
“I know it will be as much mental as physical. To me it will be an achievement to cross the channel and all I pray for is favourable conditions.”
Serena heads to Hawaii next Friday and would like to thank her great support team for being beside her on this journey.