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Be hungry, eat the race!

Wednesday 17 November 2010 | Published in Regional

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Rising star learns to

paddle from within

Paddle from the heart, read the waves, don’t hold back and trust yourself.

This is a mantra that Kiwi paddler Vesna Aroha Radonich goes through as she prepares to take to the water.

Her favourite mantra though is – be hungry, eat the race!

Vesna, who is of New Zealand Maori and Croatian descent, has been paddling competitively for some four years and is one of the rising stars of oe vaka.

This is her fourth trip to Rarotonga for the Vaka Eiva festival and she looks forward to competing against good friend and local paddler Serena Hunter.

In fact, Vesna placed second after Hunter in the 2006 OC1 Iron and this year both paddlers will be contesting what should be a thrilling Iron race this Saturday.

But her rise in the sport of oe vaka has not been an easy feat for Vesna who is deaf in one ear.

She began paddling in the dragon boat class but after being introduced to outrigger canoe in Australia by Shelly Oats – she fell in love with the sport.

And with her crew Vesna collected a number of titles and medals at various Australian regattas.

When she returned home to New Zealand she was hit by a wave of negativity that dented her confidence in the sport she had only been in for a year.

She threw away anything that had to do with outrigger paddling. “But then I decided I can do this,” says Vesna.

“My goal was to go hard and get good.”

Her list of achievements are impressive including gold at the adaptive worlds at Lake Karapiro, first place in the 12km Tauranga harbour race, gold in 2007 at the New Zealand long distance nationals, bronze at the worlds in 2008, gold at the New Zealand national sprints in 2009 and winner of the 2010 long distance race 28 minutes ahead of the second place getter.

But for Vesna – the trip to Tahiti for Te Aito was a real eye opener and trip where she gained a huge amount of personal and paddling growth.

After placing second at Te Aito Aotearoa, Vesna headed to Tahiti.

And with the support of her Tahiti paddling family, she learnt to read the sea, paddle from within. She discovered that being relaxed and going with the canoe is better than muscling it.

She says that her Tahiti family and friends did a huge amount of work during her training before the races and although she couldn’t hear their instructions they would communicate in sign language to her or bang the side of their boats to give her direction.

She says they taught her not to battle with her canoe, to paddle from within and to feel the spirit of the ocean and vaka.

“They taught me to relax and be open when I’m paddling,” says Vesna.

Vesna recalls being in 18th spot during Te Aito Tahiti and on the home stretch she overtook 12 canoes to place 6th overall to qualify for the Super Aito where she came 4th in one race and 5th in the other.

She also credits her great achievement at Te Aito to her custom made ‘Timi Vaa’ which was built to her weight and height.

At this year’s Vaka Eiva, Vesna will paddle with Lara’s Lot – a top open women’s crew returning for their 7th Vaka Eiva.

She will also paddle the Iron on Saturday where she has been tipped by local paddlers as the one to watch in the women’s division.

Above all – Vesna says that she is grateful to her parents and siblings for their unwavering support.

“I do what I do for my parents and my family who always support me,” she says.

Vesna is keen to get on the Rarotongan water and paddle and of course enjoy everything that Vaka Eiva has to offer.