The Goodwin siblings – Christopher and Kayla - snagged an impressive haul of seven medals between them at last month’s New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Championships in Auckland. Steve Landells chats to the gifted pair about their athletics journey.
Athletics has been a part of the life of Christopher and Kayla Goodwin for as long as the pair can remember.
Some of Christopher’s formative recollections were watching his father, John, coach teenage club athletes down at Porritt Stadium. Athletics it would seem is in the Goodwins blood.
“When I was four or five, after watching athletics meets with dad, I would come home and re-enact running over little wooden hurdles and practise starting from wooden starting blocks,” says Christopher of those early memories.
Yet those experiences were to later be put to more practical use. “I think it must have helped me. I am a visual learner, so when I eventually started athletics I picked it (the technique) up quickly. I loved all the events; sprints, throws and jumps. I dabbled in hurdles, but long jump has always been my favourite.”
Formally introduced to athletics aged seven when joining Fairfield Amateur Athletics Club, Christopher’s technical acumen enabled him to excel. He won successive long jump gold medals at the Colgate Games aged ten and 11. Yet Christopher was not the only Goodwin to make a mark as his younger sister by three years, Kayla, also showed a natural aptitude for athletics by consistently winning a slew of red ribbons for first place at local ribbon days.
“It wasn’t until I got to the age of nine when someone would start to beat me in the throwing event and it was, oh my gosh, I no longer have just red ribbons,” recalls Kayla, now aged 15.
Yet any athletics journey is not without its challenges and Christopher struggled to maintain his high levels of success as his lack of physical development for several seasons saw him drop from the head of the pack.
Yet as a year ten student at Hamilton Boys’ High School he re-emerged as a top performer at the 2013 New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Championships on home ground at Porritt Stadium.
After placing a disappointing fifth in the long jump he went on to deliver a special performance in the high jump – his secondary event.
“That day I added 13cm to my PB and won gold with 1.93m,” he explains. “It was awesome because all my friends and family were there to support. It was one of the highlights of my athletics career.”
At the 2015 New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Championships in Timaru, the Goodwins took three medals between them with Christopher winning senior boys’ long jump silver and high jump bronze and Kayla taking second spot in the junior girls’ long jump.
Last year the Hamilton City Hawks duo claimed even more success. Christopher winning junior and senior high jump silver medals at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Dunedin while the pair also excelled at the Oceania Regional Championships in Tahiti with older brother taking high jump and long jump gold and younger sister securing triple jump gold, long jump silver and high jump bronze.
For Kayla, in particular, it proved an unforgettable experience.
“It was the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” adds Kayla, who is also a member of the New Zealand football talent academy.
Both coached by their father – although Christopher is also given technical high jump assistance from 2.11m high jumper Regan Standing – the siblings insist the coach-athlete recipe has proved key to their athletics development.
Kayla, who attends Sacred Heart Girls’ College, cites her father’s patience and ability to keep her relaxed as two of his best qualities while Christopher is also effusive in his praise of the key role his father and coach – a former top eight finisher at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships – has played in his athletics journey.
“He never pushed us too hard as youngsters and always made sure we enjoyed the sport,” says Christopher. “He has always let us decide how we wanted to train. We get along very well and because he is my dad I’ve never been afraid to give my input in terms of training.”
Which brings us to last month’s New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Championships at Waitakere. There is little doubt the pre-event expectation was high for the Goodwins and after Kayla secured the first of her three gold medals in the long jump not to be outdone Christopher – revealing a hint of sibling rivalry - responded by exceeding expectations in the triple jump.
“After I won the long jump, he (Christopher) said, ‘that’s so unfair, it sucks, I’ll have to do well in the triple jump’ even though he rarely competes in the triple jump,” says Kayla with a smile.
Christopher responded by bounding out to strike gold with a PB of 14.26m to gain what he terms “a great buzz” from victory. In a tactical high jump competition, he jumped 1.96m, but he had to concede gold to Wellington College’s Isaac Miller-Jose (1.99m). He then went straight into his favourite event – the long jump – and leapt 7.14m but had to settle for second behind Thomas Rawstrom of Tauranga Boys (7.26m).
Yet for family bragging rights nothing could stop Kayla who followed up gold in the junior girls’ long jump with top spot in the 80m hurdles (11.91) and triple jump (11.50m) as well as silver in a rare outing in the 300m hurdles.
“It was a big mental challenge (for Kayla),” admits father and coach John. “As she had the 300m hurdles in the middle of the final of the triple jump and also had her semi of the 80m hurdles in the middle of her long jump final.”
The athletes were both “over the moon” with their respective efforts yet perhaps the pair had an additional motivation to perform to their peak as their father is currently undergoing chemotherapy in a personal battle with cancer.
“We are just both very proud and thankful for what he has done for us,” says Christopher of his father. “He’s had a battle with his health over the last year, so to give him a reward for his efforts is pretty cool.”
Now on his second round of chemotherapy and following two major ops – the cancer initially struck in the bowel but has since ‘jumped’ to the liver – has been far from easy. However, he insists that they are winning this battle and it’s been a good distraction and watching the development and success of Christopher and Kayla.
“We love sport and watching the kids perform,” he says. “My wife (Annette) and I are very proud.”
In the short-term the pair hope to continue their magnificent start to the summer with further success. Christopher, who graduated from Hamilton Boys’ High School last month, hopes to target success at both the New Zealand and Australian Championships.
Meanwhile, Kayla, who won a national youth silver medal in heptathlon with a score of 4268pts last year - is keen on developing as a multi-eventer and plans to have a tilt at the New Zealand Combined Events Championships in Dunedin next month.
In the future, Christopher, 18, is keen to land a scholarship for a US University but adds: “I don’t really have any great expectations, I just want to keep on working hard, enjoy the sport and see how far I can go. I see my main events as long jump and triple jump in future because I think (because of my physical stature) I will plateau in high jump. I have much more room for improvement (in the horizontal jumps), especially because I think I can significantly improve my speed.”
As for younger sister Kayla: “I just wanted to continue to try hard and see how far I can go. I have some big goals, I set my standards high and I hope I can achieve them.”
So, has older brother proved an inspiration to Kayla?
“I guess I always look up to him,” she admits. “Everything he does I want to do as well.”
“She has learned from my stuff ups and wants to do better than me,” Christopher interjects. “It is annoying, but true.”