With her trademark victory grin, oe vaka paddler Serena Hunter achieved three ‘firsts’ in Hawaii on Saturday.
The elite athlete ticked off the bucket list her first Molokai solo race to place first in her age division (40-49) and be the first non-Hawaiian to cross the line in an impressive sixth overall placing.
Serena is pictured here on her final strokes to the finish line of the gruelling 55km channel crossing between Molokai and Oahu.
In a Facebook post to show her gratitude for all the support received on the Molokai solo journey, Serena says all the assistance was truly touching on what was a hugely emotional day for the elite athlete.
“I felt very blessed yesterday. I thought the conditions were great, (even if the Hawaiians might have wanted bigger!)” wrote Serena.
“Everyone kept saying ‘we’re so lucky it’s a good tide, rising tide’ which it isn’t always, nice northeasterly winds, some nice bumps, (it) got a bit sticky in one part of the race but over all, I thought it was pretty good, and I just thought of it as a nice long downwind run.”
When Serena got the call for the last 15km of the race, the seasoned athlete used positive self-talk to push thorough.
“When Denise called out that I had 15km to go, I thought. ‘Serena this is the easiest 15km you are ever going to do, what more can you ask for its all downhill so go for it!’”
And she did.
“I have to say I felt strong throughout and I did what I set out to do – I embraced the whole journey.”
She says with Oahu in the far distance and true to the words of past competitors in the event who say the island doesn’t seem to get any closer throughout the race – when it did, she got her second and third wind to grind out the last leg of the race.
“But when you finally get close enough and realise you’re getting there, you get a second wind!”
“Then to paddle along the wall, and get past the surf break (which was a little scary I have to say), and then see the bridge…I heard drumming and I got goosebumps,” recalls Serena.
“When Pono held out six fingers to say I was sixth I was gobsmacked and got my third wind, and just paddled my heart out to the end with a huge smile; I was so happy!”
Serena describes the emotional and once-in-a-lifetime experience as a blessing.
“I feel blessed to have had this amazing experience and to tick off this bucket list goal of mine, and now can’t wait to get home to my babies!”