Above: Veronica Torr (203) taking bronze in the 100m hurdles at the 2015 NZ Track & Field Champs in Wellington. Photo by Alan McDonald Macspeed.
Following a massive new PB heptathlete Veronica Torr finally appears to be fulfilling her undoubted potential. Steve Landells spoke to the Auckland-based multi-eventer to discover the secret of her giant step forward.
Veronica Torr has never been the sort of person to let the grass grow under her feet. From entrepreneur to university chemistry major to Guinness Book of Records world record holder and gifted athlete the 28-year-old has lived a rich and full life in fifth gear.
Yet up until very recently she felt unfulfilled as an athlete. Her potential repeatedly sabotaged by the curse of injury.
Last year her medical woes resurfaced again. She picked up stress fractures in the back, but despite the huge inconvenience she opted to compete at the World University Games in Korea. There she surprised herself with how she “emotionally” coped with the competition to place a respectable sixth in the heptathlon with 5665pts (at the time her joint second best score of her career), but perhaps more significantly in Gwangju she came in close communication with Athletics NZ throws coach Matt Dallow.
“I enjoyed his influence,” admits Veronica, who impressed by his scientific approach to the sport forged an instant connection.
On her return to New Zealand the pair formalised a coach-athlete relationship and since that point the North Harbour Bays athlete has been totally reconstructed as an athlete.
“Nothing has been left unchanged,” she explains. “We worked on technique, the way I ran, even the way I walked to switch on and use the correct muscles.”
The fruits of their labour together were then confirmed at the Queensland Combined Event Championships in Brisbane earlier this month when the Kiwi put together the best two days of her athletics career to add a massive 214pts to her lifetime best with a total score of 6051pts to climb to fifth on the all-time New Zealand rankings for the event.
Her level of performance in Australia came as a huge shock.
“I didn’t expect it to come together in that way and think the best part was I wasn’t expecting it,” explains Veronica, who can look forward with excitement and enthusiasm to her athletics future.
Born in Blenheim and raised in Feilding it was while attending St Peters College as an intermediate student she was first introduced to athletics aged “11 or 12” by her PE teacher, Tara Smith, a former New Zealand Junior 200m champion.
As a former gymnast with “good co-ordination and flexibility” she adapted quickly to her new sport achieving quick success in the hurdles and the long jump. Veronica went on to enjoy an outstanding schoolgirl career topped with an impressive quadruple gold medal haul in 80m hurdles, 100m, 300m hurdles and long jump at the 2002 National Secondary Schools Championships in Inglewood.
She later moved to live and study at the University of Auckland and after coming under the influence of Russian-born coach Elena Vinogradova she was persuaded to move into the multi-events to further her international ambitions. It was during this time of her life, she was invited to attempt the Guinness Book of Records mark for running the 100m hurdles in flippers and showed her resourcefulness to shatter the previous time recording 19.278.
“It was supposed to be James Mortimer (the two-time New Zealand 400m hurdles champion and reigning national 200m title holder) who should have attempted the record but he had an Achilles injury, so I attempted it,” explains Veronica, who has twice more donned the flippers for record attempts for Chinese and Japanese TV shows.
Following graduation she decided to head out to live and train in Australia alongside her good friend Andrea Miller, the 2010 Commonwealth Games 100m hurdles bronze medallist, in an effort to further her athletics ambitions.
While based on the Gold Coast she came under the influence of several leading coaches including Sharon Hannon, ex-coach to 2012 Olympic 100m hurdles champion Sally Pearson, Glynis Nunn, the 1984 Olympic heptathlon champion and multi-events coach Eric Brown yet it proved a frustrating period of her career as injuries curtailed her development.
“I had some ups and downs (in Australia) and couldn’t quite put it together,” she admits of her three-year period across the Tasman. “I felt like I kept getting injured before a big championship. I kept falling apart at the last moment. I was not listening to my body.”
After suffering a stress fracture in the countdown to the London Olympics she decided to walk away from the sport and re-set her focus. Veronica took up kick boxing and boxing and competed with some success in the sport of cross-fit but after rupturing an ACL following a kick to the knee in the sport of jiu-jitsu, she faced more time on the sidelines.
After undergoing a total knee reconstruction in late 2012/early 2013 the road to recovery was long and slow but after gradually reintroducing running into exercise programme she was tempted once more by a return to athletics and re-started training under Vinogradova.
Last February in her first heptathlon for three years she secured gold at the New Zealand Combined Events Championships with a total score of 5435pts.
Yet the real trigger for her success has been the strong influence of Dallow – a man Torr credits for transforming her career.
“For me, Matt is the ultimate coach in that he is good with injuries, he is good with how the body works and also on technique,” he says. “I have felt comfortable with him from day one. We are on the same page.
“Matt explains why we are doing things so well and as I come from a science background I like that. He is detailed and he makes sure I understand everything we are doing. By breaking down the movement patterns he gets a better buy in from me.”
Training six days a week and dividing her time between AUT Millennium and Mt Smart Stadium she carries out the majority of sessions on her own with Matt. She trains in five-hour spells on an afternoon “I don’t tend to split it” to focus on her morning to her business interests, which up until recently had included her own fitness business.
Their time together has yielded a spectacular results as not only has she improved her heptathlon PB by more 200 pts she has set PB’s in both the long jump and javelin – by more than four metres to 43.85m – and been at or close to her absolute best in all other heptathlon disciplines.
After surprising herself with her level of performance at the Queensland Combined Events Championships, Veronica’s next target is the New Zealand Combined Events Championships in Wanganui next month before moving on to Aussie Nationals in March.
Just 149pts shy of the Olympic A qualification standard Rio is in her sights and she is confident there is room for improvement.
“In Brisbane I was down by about a metre on my shot,” she says. “I think there is quite a bit more there in the 800m and I thought the long jump was an average performance.”
“The Olympic Games are only 150pts, so why not?”