Above: Lucy Sheat had an outstanding meet at the NZ Secondary Schools in Hastings. Photo byAlisha Lovrich / Temposhot.
Star turn at the recent New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships, Lucy Sheat tells Steve Landells how parental support, coaching acumen and a bout in the boxing gym have all played a part in her rise to the top.
Parents often play a priceless behind-the-scenes role in the success of any athlete and this is very true of sprint ace Lucy Sheat.
Driving their daughter in their lead up to big events at least once or twice a week on a three hour-round trip from their Blenheim home to Nelson for training requires a herculean effort on the part of mum, Jane, and dad, Stephen.
Which makes moments like earlier this month when Lucy Sheat blitzed to the senior girls 100m and 200m double at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships all the sweeter.
“I’m incredibly lucky to have their support,” explains Lucy, of the selfless role her parents play. They have been dedicated at taking me ‘over the hill’ and I couldn’t do it without them.”
Introduced to the sport through her three older siblings, Lucy was always quick but her talent has been allowed to flourished thanks to her Nelson-based coach, Dennis Kale, who has guided her since the age of 14.
In 2014 she secured silver in the junior girls’ 100m and 200m at the New Zealand Secondary Schools Champs before winning more sprint silvers (100m and 200m) in the U18 division at the 2015 New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington to earn selection for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa later that year.
Aged just 16 at the time, the Marlborough Girls College student acquitted herself with pride on her international debut, claiming fourth in both the 100m and 200m and posting a PB of 11.83 in the former event.
“It was a great trip and I was pretty happy with two fourth places,” she says. “I learned so much, how to keep composed under pressure of being around team-mates from other sports. It was a cool to be so young and exposed to an event like that.”
More success continued the following year as the long-striding sprinter blitzed to new 100m PB of 11.68 at the Potts Classic and within the course of the year lowered her 200m by more than half a second down to 23.75. The South Islander also secured the national U20 200m crown and crucially bagged a qualification spot in the 100m and 4x100m relay at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz.
The experience of being at a major global championship for the first time proved bittersweet for the Marlborough Athletics athlete. She failed to advance from her heat of the 100m recording 11.85 and was left frustrated as the relay quartet were disqualified in their 4x100m heat.
“I wanted a PB, so I was bit disappointed,” she says of her performance in the 100m where she finished fourth and only missed a qualification spot by 0.07. “It was a pretty intense experience. I was drawn in the same heat as Candace Hill (the highly-rated American who went on to win the final in a stunning 11.07).”
Nonetheless, the teenager believes she was much richer for the experience in Poland.
“It was overwhelming, but a good overwhelming,” she insists of her first global championship experience. “On a packed warm up track I had to share half a lane to warm up, to be around the best in the world taught me so much.”
Her 2016-17 campaign did not quite touch the heights of the previous season as she missed out on lowering her PB’s – but she was once again dominant. At the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Auckland she proved the sprint queen winning 100m and 200m gold before securing the same double in the U20 events at the New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Hamilton.
Running anywhere between three to five times a week under the coaching regime of Dennis, a man she describes as “incredibly dedicated” has demanded an iron discipline from the 18-year-old sprinter.
Carrying out most of her training on a grass track in Blenheim – or hockey turf if the track becomes too boggy – is not perhaps the perfect training environment but for Lucy the set-up has so far worked wonders.
With a yoga session already a key part of her weekly training diet, this winter Dennis suggested mixing up her fitness work to include boxing sessions every week out of the Warrior Warren Boxing Club in her home city.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” she insists. “Boxing training in general is pretty tough. It adds strength and is definitely a cardio work out.”
Stronger than ever Lucy came into her final New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships in Hastings earlier this month looking to sign off her time as a Marlborough Girls College student in style and did not disappoint.
In the 100m final she recorded a blistering personal best of 11.59 to retain her senior girls title and erase Kim Robertson’s 44-year-old championship record by 0.07. Then in the 200m she enjoyed a winning margin of more than a second to stop the clock in 23.42 – albeit ineligible for a championship record due to a following wind of 3.3m/s.
“I wanted to go for titles and try to qualify for the worlds, but I was mainly focused on the 200m and I didn’t really have the 100m on my radar,” explains Lucy whose favourite event is the 200m. “I was unaware I’d broken the championship record until Dennis told me. It was pretty cool."
With the 100m selection standard for July’s World Junior Championships in Finland already in the bag her next goal is to secure the 200m standard of 24.20 – a mark surely within her realm.
Opting to take a gap year in 2018 she plans to move to Nelson in the New Year to be with her coach full-time in order to maximise her athletics potential.
With her most immediate goal the North Island Championships, she hopes to target the Classic Series and then the New Zealand Championships before she heads to Tampere in Finland for her second World Junior Championships.
“I know the World Juniors can be an overwhelming experience so it is good that I have had one under my belt,” she explains. “I know what I am facing, which will make it easier.
So once there, what does the “Blenheim Bullet” want to achieve?
“I’d really like to make it through the heats and set PB’s, that’s all I can ask,” she insists.
And, beyond that?
“My ultimate goal would be to compete at the Olympics Games,” she adds. “I really just want to represent my country more and more.”