Young girl overcomes illness to compete at Waka Ama Nationals

The Intermediate and J16 sections were on the water today at Karāpiro for the Waka Ama Nationals and the winners for both sections in the W12 500 metre, the W6 500 metre and W6 1000 metre races were found.

It's been a superb standard in the youth sections today. The finals were close and a real spectacle for the spectators.

Apart from the success on the lake today though, Te Kāea found an inspirational paddler whose success story is just to make it to the Nationals.

Seven months ago Tomairangi Pihema Brown was learning to walk again. Today she's competing at the Waka Ama Nationals.

“It's awesome, you can hang out with your friends when we're not racing and it's a team sport, everyone working together,” says Pihema Brown.

The eleven-year-old from Gisborne suffers from severe asthma and bronchiectasis and last May she had a life threatening asthma attack, an event that shattered her whanau, making her return to waka ama even more significant.

Her mother, Sharon Pihema says, "She spent about three months last year doing rehab and learning how to write and learning how to walk so she's come a long way and we're really proud that she's able to get out there."

While Tomairangi has had asthma from an early age it has got worse in the last three years. Her mum Sharon says Waka Ama has given Tomairangi a focus.

“It's been her goal to get here to Nats and we've had to take it week by week because some days she 'll be in hospital and miss out on training and then next day back out on the boat so it's given her a focus,” Sharon Pihema explains.

Tomairangi has paddled for three years with the Mareikura Club and her team Ngā Parirau o Mareikura is competing in the Intermediate girls section this week.

“My friends know I'm sick and help me when I'm not feeling well. My parents take me to the hospital when I'm unwell and help me unconditionally,” says Pihema Brown.

“You're always proud when you see your babies out on the boat. You just want them to have fun!” says Pihema.

Success comes in all forms in sport and Tomairangi Pihema Brown is a true inspiration to all.