Award-winning rower enjoys being part of community

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Maude O’Connell, who won Cromwell Sportsperson of the Year earlier this month, says she does not row to get awards, but is just happy to give back to the community.

However, her neck would still feel heavy with all the gold she has won.

At the World Masters Games in Auckland earlier this year, O’Connell rowed away with five gold medals, one for the women’s quadruple scull, two for the mixed double scull and two for the women’s quad scull.

A resident of Central Otago for 40 years, O’Connell began rowing in the early 1980s just as a way to keep fit.

A key mentor was Russell Mills, who for 57 years was deeply involved in rowing in Central Otago.

O’Connell described the early years when she was rowing in Alexandra as “just great fun”.

“There were a great great bunch in Alexandra, lots of regattas.

“It wasn’t such a hard sport then. Now there is a lot of pressure to achieve, but we just had fun,” O’Connell said.

“They are absolutely my best friends today.”

After spending time raising her children, O’Connell renewed her dedication to rowing, setting up the Cromwell Rowing Club seven years ago.

O’Connell describes starting the club as one of the highlights of her time in rowing.

She saw the children who had gone through the club as an extended family.

“You see them growing from year to year, which is a real highlight.”

She spoke highly of the benefits of living in Cromwell.

“Central Otago is all perfect.

“The people in Cromwell are friendly, with all ages getting on.

“There is lots to do with the mountains and lake [and the region has] special people,” O’Connell said.

Her next challenges include training for the New Zealand Masters Games in Dunedin next year, and bringing the next group of children through the rowing club.