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Swordfox races to victory in the Spring Challenge

Swordfox races to victory in the Spring Challenge all-women's adventure race in Westport

Spring Challenge South – Westport


Racing together for the first-time, with a team mate called in with minimal notice, team Swordfox crossed the finish line in first place in the 9-hour category, at the Spring Challenge South event in Westport today.

Navigated to success by Nelson’s Georgia Whitla and made up of Christchurch’s Jen Walker and Queenstown’s Meg Bichard, Swordfox won in 8hours:42mins:08secs.

“It was quite a fast course, so it was head-to-head the whole way,” Whitla says referring to their battle with second-placed team Just For Girls Adventure, who finished close behind in 8:53:03, winning the 9-hour vet category.

“It was a great course with lots of good navigation. The team went really well. Everyone was really strong and even. We’ve never raced together before, so we were quite pleased with how we went as a team,” she adds.

Whitla used to share a house with Bichard, so when one of their team mates couldn’t race, she called her old flatmate up a few weeks out from the event to join Swordfox.

Just for Girls Adventure’s Sia Svendsen says: “We had a great race. It was wonderful to see Georgia absolutely executing her race with her teammates. We lost them a little bit on that canoe section.”

Swordfox and Just For Girls Adventure [Nelson’s Susie Wood, plus Sara Prince and Svendsen, both of Christchurch] had clocked into stage 5 - a 10km canoe and 5km hike - at exactly the same time. Teams could navigate their way through the checkpoints in any order they chose and the low tide when they arrived prompted some strategising. Low water meant the early teams had to carry their inflatable canoes for some of the time and Swordfox gained a small advantage, which they stretched out throughout the last 23km mountain bike and 8km orienteering sections.

Third-placed 9-hour team Back on Deck made up of Christchurch-based athletes Lara Scott, Emily Kelly and Hannah Buchanan finished in 10:04:42.

“It was epic at times,” was Scott’s take on the 96km race. Her team found the canoe section the toughest, as they dragged, pushed and employed the wheelbarrow technique to move their craft.

For many of the 3-hour, 6-hour and 9-hour teams, their highlight was the hiking stage around Cape Foulwind. The checkpoints were situated along and around the coastline, providing the scenic, West Coast element to the race that organiser Nathan Fa’avae had been wanting to showcase.

“The major aim this year was that we wanted to get the teams out onto the coast and beaches. Every year as Spring Challenge moves around New Zealand, it is part of a bigger picture, as we build the culture and legacy of the event. It is nice to give it different element every year, like the mountains of Queenstown, or the inland areas of Methven or Marlborough. This year in Westport we wanted to make the coast the strong theme and we managed to design a course that spends a significant amount of time on the beaches,” Fa’avae says.

He adds that the organising team couldn’t have asked for a more supportive community than Westport.

“Westport has been an awesome host destination for us - right across the board from council level to the mayor endorsing it from the very start. A big thanks also to the farmers, who gave us land access and to the community groups, who have been working hard to make the event happen.”

From the event management side of things, there were no major incidents. Another huge positive was the weather, which had been forecasted to be terrible but was near-perfect – allowing the 1350 women (450 teams of three) competing today to experience, enjoy and appreciate the landscape and the terrain.

Navigation was a big part of this event with all teams completing orienteering stages of varied lengths on the Westport Golf Course.

“Having the course in a compact area and enhancing the quality of the navigation, enabled us to take the course to some quite small, intricate places” Fa’avae says.

Westport really turned it on visually for this event, with a large welcome sign, near the main bridge, which was festooned with pink and white balloons. The whole town, in fact, had them hung from fences, signs and gates.

What makes the Spring Challenge the sell-out annual success that it is – is the women themselves. The camaraderie of an all-female event is something special and the smiles, hugs and tears of exhaustion/ happiness/ accomplishment at the finish line are heartfelt and real. There are hundreds of inspiring stories, such as, women experiencing major weight loss through training; three generations racing together, all-sister teams, long-time friends reuniting as a team, work colleagues keen to get fit and mums taking a bit of time for themselves. The list goes on.

Sound amazing? It is! Enter the 2019 Spring Challenge on October 1 and see for yourself.

© Scoop Media

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