Above: Maddison Wesche in action at the Sola Power throws event in Lower Hutt.
Shot putter Maddi Wesche could be one of New Zealand’s stand out performers at the World U20 Championships in July. Steve Landells chats to the modest Aucklander about her development and future ambitions.
Boasting a shot put factory which few other countries in the world can match, New Zealand, with the likes of world champion Tom Walsh, two-time Olympic gold medallist Dame Valerie Adams and former World U20 gold medallist Jacko Gill, is currently riding an incredible high in the power event.
Yet the next generation of potential shot put talent is not looking too bad either with Maddison-Lee (Maddi) Wesche – pronounced wish-ee – also quietly going about her business and steadily earning a growing reputation within the sport.
The 18-year-old Auckland-based thrower has dominated the domestic age-group scene for several years and after enjoying a series of mighty throws this year – and currently ranked number three in the world – she is poised to make her mark internationally at the World U20 Championships in Finland in July.
The middle of three sisters and with her family immersed in sport – her mum, Renee, was an ex-hockey players and dad, Hans, played basketball – Maddi also quickly developed a passion (for sport).
She tried netball for a couple of years, but preferring individual sports she started out as sprinter with the Glen Eden club before discovering the shot by accident aged 12 while attending an open day at the Pt Chevalier Athletics Club.
“I didn’t have any expectations, I just thought I would give it a go,” she said.
In that first flirtation with the shot, Maddi finished top three and was hooked.
“I liked the thrill of it, I liked doing well and throwing far,” she explains. “I was the strongest girl in the class and I really liked to put that strength into practise.”
Maddi quickly developed into a leading performer. During the 2013-14 season, she was crowned national secondary schools champion and also national junior and youth champion before her world was rocked after contracting bacterial pneumonia. Fluid rapid filled the majority of her lungs and because of an allergy to the antibiotics containing penicillin, it was, as Maddi describes, a “pretty scary” time.
The teenage shot putter has vague memories of the illness, but mum Renee says it was “touch and go” whether Maddi would live.
“Maddi contracted the bacteria orally, which got into the bloodstream and then lungs,” said Renee. “Maddi has a very high pain threshold. When in pain rather than complaining she just goes quiet.
We visited the doctors and she was rushed off to Starship Hospital. Because of the allergy to the antibiotics she had to take an alternative and from that point on it was a little bit like taking the long road. We had to play the waiting game and the recovery process took about three times longer than it would have done (with the penicillin). It took a long time to get our Maddi back.”
After several weeks in hospital she had dropped a significant amount of weight and muscle, although despite being very weak such was her passion for the sport, her first night out of hospital she was determined to see her friends at Waitakere AC.
It was a long journey back. Initially told she could not participate PE for four to six months at Lynfield College took a toll psychologically. Physically the damage to her lungs was significant and it took a full year to completely recover.
Key to her rehabilitation was her coach - Walter Gill, father of Jacko Gill - who has guided her since the age of 12. Adopting a patient but encouraging approach, Maddi gradually increased her training load to include gym work for the first time.
“Walter’s amazing,” admits Maddi. “We have a laugh and a joke, but when it comes to throwing it is serious and if I have a question, he’ll always have an answer. Our communication is very good. I get Walter and he gets me. He’s a great coach.”
Fully recovered and training harder than at any point, during the 2014-2015 season she made a huge leap forward with a personal best of 15.70m – her previous best prior to the 2014-15 season was 14.59m - and earned qualification for the World U18 Championships in Cali, Colombia.
After retaining her national youth and junior titles she went on to compete in Colombia, where she hurled the shot out to 15.23m – about half a metre shy of her best - to place 17th in qualification to miss out on the final.
The young Kiwi – who was aged only 16 at the time – enjoyed the experience, but more importantly learned some valuable lessons.
“It was definitely eye-opening,” said Maddi. “It gave me a taste of what life would be like, if I pursued shot put. Many of the girls (in Colombia) were taller and stronger than me, but it taught me the importance about being in a good mental space and to focus on the competition. I tried to be positive and have fun in all my competitions.”
In 2016 she faced a fresh challenge of adapting to compete from the 3kg to the 4kg shot – a process which took time. She once again secured the national U18 and U20 titles – the former with the 3kg and the latter competition with the 4kg implement.
She then went into to the 2016 World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland but, unfortunately, did not quite meet her ambitions – a best throw of 13.79m was good enough for 20th in the qualification.
“I wasn’t too sure what to expect,” she explains. “I had never competed internationally at that level with a 4kg shot. I enjoyed the experience, even though I didn’t do as well I would have liked. It taught me to be a little more focused on the technical aspects during pre-camp rather than worry about heavy lifting.”
She enjoyed more progress in 2017 bettering her PB out to 15.62m (with the 4kg shot) and experienced the most enjoyable season of her career so far, which crystallised a belief that shot put was something she wanted to pursue seriously in the future.
For the first time last year she competed against Dame Valerie – a moment she described as “pretty cool” – but of perhaps greater significance was the fact in late-May (2017) she teamed up with strength and conditioning coach Mike Schofield, which has acted a huge boost.
“He is a biomechanics and strength and conditioning expert who has been able to look at that area a lot closer,” says Maddi, who next month celebrates her 19th birthday. “He helps Walter and I a lot with the technical aspects and I’m in the gym every second day now. Because of this work it has helped me to flow through the circle better and improve my speed.”
Training five days a week and now purely concentrating on athletics since leaving school last December she has made a big impression this season.
In February, she launched the shot out to a mighty 16.94m – when placing second behind Dame Valerie at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships – a mark which currently puts her third on the World U20 lists.
“Since leaving school and focusing on athletics has allowed me to live, breathe and eat athletics,” explains Maddi, who hopes to start a psychology degree at university next year. “This has made a big difference to my training and performance, and it has made me enjoy it a lot more.”
Boasting powerful legs – arguably her biggest athletic asset – her preparations have so far gone well for the 2018 World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland.
“Our aim is for the gold but I’m not expecting it,” she says. “First I have to make top 12 and then top eight – and then gold is the aim.”
With a quality coaching set up, new levels of belief and from a country with a formidable shot put reputation, anything is possible.