Waikato Para cyclist Nikita Howarth has traded one black line for another in the next step of a remarkable sporting career.
Howarth, who became New Zealand’s youngest Paralympian at the age of 13 when she represented her country in the pool at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in London, won swimming gold and bronze at the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
After a five month break she found her passion for swimming had ebbed, deciding to pursue an interest in Para cycling that had first been stoked during a school visit by world, Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion cyclist Sarah Ulmer when Howarth was just eight years old.
Howarth was born with a congenital bilateral arm deficiency, with no right hand and her left arm ending below the elbow.
Despite hopping back in the pool after a five-month break, chasing the black line on the bottom had lost its appeal after the highs of the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
“I did a development cycling camp a few months after Rio and I loved it and I was like, ‘you know what, I’m going to switch’. I didn’t think there was going to be a little black line in cycling, but there is that one that goes around the bottom that you follow.”
Howarth has been selected in a nine-strong New Zealand team for the UCI Para Cycling Track World Championships, which will take her back to Rio in March, with the velodrome alongside the pool where she starred in 2016.
A heavy training load at Invercargill’s SIT Velodrome in and around this week’s Vantage Doors and Windows Elite and Under 19 Track National Championships has been a new experience for Howarth, who picked up bronze medals in the 500m time trial and 3000m individual pursuit as part of the Para cycling programme.
“I didn’t expect to get this far. To get to Worlds 18 months after I finished swimming is pretty extreme for me. I just want to prove that I’m a good Para athlete, doing two Para sports is an achievement in itself I think, and a medal or two wouldn’t hurt, but that’s long term stuff.”
Meanwhile, Tasman’s Finn Fisher-Black broke the New Zealand championship record set by Regan Gough in 2014 on the way to winning the under-19 men’s 3000m individual pursuit on the second night of the championships.
Fisher-Black overcame Bailey O’Donnell (Canterbury) in the final, with Waikato-Bay of Plenty’s George Jackson beating team mate Kiaan Watts in the bronze medal ride.
Aaron Wyllie (Auckland) took out the points race to claim the elite men’s omnium title, with teammate Harry Waine second and Hugo Jones (Canterbury) third.
The elite sprint titles were hotly contested, with Sam Dakin (Auckland) beating Callum Saunders (Wai-BOP) over two rides and Tess Young (Wai-BOP) needing three rides to get past Auckland’s Olivia Ray.
The championships continue on Friday with the elite men’s and women’s keirin titles and under-19 men’s and women’s sprints and omniums.
Results Vantage Windows and Doors Elite and Under-19 track national championships, Day two:
Women 3000m individual pursuit final: Jessie Hodges (Wai-BOP) 3:40.094 1; Elyse Fraser (Canterbury) 3:40.806 2; Nicole Shields (Southland) 3:41.636 3.
Women sprint: Tess Young (Wai-BOP) 1; Olivia Ray (Auckland) 2; Jaymie King (Wai-BOP) 3.
Men sprint: Sam Dakin (Auckland) 1; Callum Saunders (Wai-BOP) 2; Lee Evans (Wellington) 3.
Men 3000m individual pursuit final: Finn Fisher-Black (Tasman) 3:18.732 1; Bailey O’Donnell (Canterbury) 3:25.782 2; George Jackson (Wai-BOP) 3:24.859 3.
Women C1-5 3000m individual pursuit final: Nicole Murray (Wai-BOP) 3:58.673 1; Sarah Ellington (Auckland) 4:32.120 2; Nikita Howarth (Wai-BOP) 4:25.041 3.
Men C1-3 3000m individual pursuit final: Nau Puriri (Northland) 4:38.576 1.
Men C4-5 4000m individual pursuit final: Byron Raubenheimer (Auckland) 5:08.551 1.
Women tandem 3000m individual pursuit final: Amanda Cameron/Hannah van Kampen (Wai-BOP) 3:38.333 1; Hannah Pascoe/Nina Wollaston (Southland) 3:48.560 2.
CAPTION: Rio 2016 Paralympic Games gold medallist Nikita Howarth in action, as she swaps swimming for cycling to compete in the Vantage elite and under 19 track national championships at Invercargill’s SIT Velodrome. (Credit: Dianne Manson)