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Three weeks ago, Baker Tilly Staples Rodway intermediate accountant Hazel Ouwehand was poolside in Auckland, hoping to qualify for the Commonwealth Games later this year. The event was the New Zealand Swimming Championships and her pre-competition ritual, as always, included a stint with her headphones. She slipped them into position before each race, put on her "Get Pumped" music playlist to drown out the busy scenes around her, and thought about what she needed to do.
Pre-race nerves are part of competition and before Hazel’s final race – the 50 metre backstroke – her nervousness and excitement were so pronounced that she had pins and needles.
"In both the heat and the final, I absolutely went for it," she says. "Before both the races I was so nervous and excited, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. It was only one length – just a splash and dash – but my whole body had pins and needles and I could barely feel myself. It’s crazy what power the mind has. All your skin cells are alert."
The championship week was a triumph – she won gold in the women’s 50 metre butterfly and women’s 50m backstroke. Furthermore, she got silver in the women’s 100m butterfly and 100m backstroke, and qualified (across
all of those events) for the prestigious Mare Nostrum series in Europe next month.
She missed out on qualifying for the Commonwealths by less than a second and, feeling "gutted" by the disappointment, stayed with her parents for a week to have a mini-break from the sport.
But there’s another way to qualify for the Games and that’s to be ranked within the top six Commonwealth swimmers. Swimming New Zealand soon emailed to say Hazel ranked fifth, following her best 50m butterfly time within the qualifying period. "I ran to my Mum in the laundry, tears in my eyes, and started reading the email, then ran to my Dad in his office and was trying to read the email to him, barely able to see the screen through my tears. It was surreal. We all started jumping up and down and having a good cry."
Hazel, who works on the Business Advisory Services team in our Auckland office, has been swimming since the age of five and started competing about a year later. Her Mum was a Learn to Swim coach but outsourced that coaching for her three daughters. The girls were all keen athletes, but there came a time when they needed to select one sport and they all chose swimming.
Natural talent gets you so far, says Hazel, then there comes a time when you must commit. For her that means swimming six days a week, from 90 minutes to two hours per session, and trying to get to the gym at least three times a week.
And she doesn’t just like swimming, she loves it – everything from the feel of the water and “jamming out to tunes” in her head, to the feeling of seeing her name first on the scoreboard at the end of a race.
There’s so much Hazel is looking forward to, including the return to events when spectators are going crazy from the stands or sidelines. She says it gives the athletes an extra "oomph" and she knows the Commonwealth Games atmosphere will be incredible. She’ll have plenty of time to soak it up because she’s competing in the women’s 50m butterfly, women’s 50m backstroke, women’s 100m backstroke and women’s 100m butterfly.
Hazel has represented New Zealand before, but this will be her first time as an "AquaBlack". She’s also excited by the prospect of watching other sports, once her events are over, and being around athletes whose drive and passion matches her own. Although swimming is an individual sport, she says it really is a team event, and when the New Zealand contingent are at the Games, they’ll all share any success. Until then, it’s all about refocusing her mind, resetting her preparation, and putting in the hours in the pool and at work.
People sometimes express surprise that she’s an accountant, rather than seeking a more sporty role, but she likes the contrast. "I want to do my physical exercise at either end of the day and then during the day I want to exercise my brain. Switch it up."
And her last word is for those around her by day and night: "I’m just very appreciative of Baker Tilly’s support for allowing me to pursue my passion of swimming alongside my dream career in accounting. Because I love my job and I love my swimming, and I wouldn’t want to give up either. And to friends and family, thank you for supporting me and being there for the lows and the highs."
The "new" trophy in Audit and Assurance director David Goodall’s home is a source of amusement to his visitors. It’s an abnormally large testimony to his high-speed ride in the annual Round the Mountain Cycle Classic in Taranaki this month.
David, who’s the youngest director at Baker Tilly Staples Rodway Taranaki, averaged a whisker under 40 kilometres per hour across the 127km race, coming home in three hours and 17 minutes as the first Taranaki rider and "B Grade" cyclist across the line, and fourth rider overall.
It’s a handicap race and David is quick, so his group began a mere eight minutes before the top-tier "A Grade" riders. Once those pursuers caught up, they charged along together for about 30 kilometres before the final burst to the finish line.
"It can be quite wild during a sprint – your heartrate is at 180 beats a minute, you’re watching wheels, watching riders, all while putting maximum power through your pedals to get a good placement," says David. "It’s good fun. It’s an adrenaline kick. You’re basically going at 60kmph at that point and your bike’s swinging all over the place. You see a few accidents."
David has been an avid athlete over the years. He’s competed nationally and internationally in CrossFit and is an aspiring Ironman. He and his wife both completed a Half-Ironman before having a baby in January 2021. Next up, he has plans for more bike races and, of course, there’s the elusive Ironman that’s thus far been delayed due to COVID-19.
Some of his competition traits also transition into his working life – things like discipline, personal accountability, embracing challenges and getting outside of your comfort zone in order to grow. "Resilience would definitely be one; continuing to focus on training when events keep getting cancelled or during a cycling event when you’re going up a steep hill and your heart rate is at 185bpm, but you’ve got to push an extra 10 seconds to stay on someone’s wheel," he says.
"Cycling is a good way to see parts of the country that you wouldn’t ordinarily see. Obviously to do Ironman you’ve got to do a lot of base miles. We’ve all got different methods of switching off and I like going for a four-hour bike ride in the middle of nowhere."
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