NATIONAL CHAMPION: Grace Watson, right, with her St Paul’s Rowing Club teammate Ali Mills, who she won the under-20 coxless pairs with at the national champs. Photo supplied

OPOTIKI’S Grace Watson remains hopeful that she will be able to row for New Zealand this year.

The 19-year-old is part of the under-23 women’s fours and pairs preparing for a world cup in Slovenia later this year.

Six have been named for the two boats, so she will be in either the four, or the pair, at the competition on Lake Bled.

“I hope it is a four, I would much rather the four than the pair, but we will just have to wait and see what one I make.”

Watson is a talented rower who picked up an oar for the first time as a year 11 student at

St Paul’s College in Cambridge where students had to do a summer sport.

With netball taking priority in winter, it was either athletics or rowing and she’s pleased the headmaster pushed her the rowing way.

“I didn’t think I would get as far as I have with it. Looking back, I am really pleased the headmaster pushed me that way.”

Watson is itching to get into things.

“Training starts on Monday. I can’t wait to get stuck in and work towards Slovenia later in the year,” she said from her parents’ farm, just inland from Opotiki.

“I love coming home when I get the chance. It’s nice to see family but also relax. I didn’t have to go to the shed this morning, I got to sleep in which was nice.”

She’s been incredibly happily with her rowing season to date.

“I am still rowing with the St Paul’s Club. I find it’s a nice way of giving back because they helped me get into it.

“We won the under-20 and under-22 pairs, that was nice, and got annihilated in the premier fours, but that was to be expected, as there were some very good teams in the race.”

Watson was also a talented netballer but once she made the New Zealand junior rowing squad in her second year, netball went on the backburner.

“Rowing was quickly the focus and has become a big part of things now.”

She was also part of the under-23 squad last year and wants to better their efforts.

“We finished eighth in the world, which looking back isn’t too bad, but we were second in a B final and honestly it sucked because I had never been in a B final before.”

“I want higher this year. We are a good group and I know we can do well.”

The regatta in Bled will be a big affair with the New Zealand junior team and elite crew who didn’t make the Olympic squad also competing.

“When they have the Olympics, they hold the rest of us together so it’s a pretty big event.

“I have heard from some of the elite that it’s an amazing spot to row – their favourite – so

I cannot wait to get that chance over there, if we get it.”

Paris 2024 is Watson’s ultimate goal and she is willing to do whatever it takes to get there even if it involves countless hours of training.

“I want to row at the Olympics that’s my focus and I am targeting Paris.”

One thing on Watson’s side is her age and being one of the younger ones in the crew doesn’t faze her.

“I am in the second seat now and talking a lot more. It’s a new role for me but I am really enjoying the challenge of it.”

A couple of her crew were in their last year at under-23 level so it would be nice to do well for them, she said.

If they don’t get overseas then it isn’t the end of the world as health is paramount for Watson, who fortunately has at least another two under-23 campaigns in front of her being the youngest in the team, and has already been to places like Lithuania, Budapest, and the United States to name a few.

Her best friends are her mates she formed while playing netball but if you asked her what sport she would choose again, rowing would win.

“Rowing’s taken me to some awesome places.”

Mum Lynette is proud of how well her eldest daughter has done.

“She’s done incredibly well. She’s worked hard and we are super proud of her.’’