Year 12 Nayland College student Zena Denton inline speed-skates at both a national and international level. Last year she competed at the Oceanias, while over the New Year period she competed in the flat track and road nationals. Two weeks ago, she competed again in the banked track event. She came 2nd in relays and ranked 6th individually.
Zena first discovered speed-skating when she was only eight years old. Her father used to skate when he was younger, so he took her and her twin brother along after hearing the news that the Nelson club was starting up again.
"My brother and I loved it, and we just kept going back," Zena said. "At one point, my whole family of six were all skating. When the club was still quite small, we made up literally half the club."
Speed-skating is certainly quite extreme, with athletes getting to a usual 40km/hr cruising pace and sprint speeds of up to 50 or 60km/hr. With no way to brake, injuries are quite common. Last year Zena gave herself a concussion after some bad luck with vehicles blocking off one of the roads she and her clubmates train on. "I fell over a slab of concrete and whacked my head really hard," she said. "One girl got her leg wedged under a fence and couldn't get it out. There were about ten of us - only my brother stayed up."
"There's nothing you can do, just gotta try and stay upright, and when you know you can't, you've just gotta accept it."
Risk isn't something Zena has all that many concerns about, even outside of her sport. She recently bought herself a motorbike and is getting her license within the week. "My personality so doesn't go with that though," she said. "When people know me and I tell them 'yeah, I've got a motorbike,' they're like, 'what'? Like 'oh she's shy, she doesn't do anything.' It must be so confusing."
Training can take up a lot of Zena's time. At the most intense of times, training is six days a week, sometimes both before and after school. Add to that self-directed training and gym-work, and there's almost no time for anything else. This year Zena is making an effort to balance the different aspects of her life. It means letting some things go, such as when she decided not to compete in the Oceanias this year. "I just wouldn't be able to invest as much of myself as I should be if I was going," she said. However, Zena still hopes to go to Indonesia to compete in August later this year.
Zena approaches her sport with the mind-set that she's there to ultimately have fun. "I used to be quite competitive, but I didn't enjoy it as much," she said. "If I lost I'd just beat myself up about it, and so many times I'd be like 'nope, I'm quitting' after a race I didn't do so well in. Now I just go for it and see what happens. If I win, it's a bonus."