As a canoe slalom athlete Luuka Jones is courageous, powerful and adventurous. Originally hailing from Tauranga, Luuka is a proud to be a New Zealander and recognises the privilege that comes with representing her country. Already a two time Olympian Luuka is currently in the United Kingdom in the final phase of her preparation for Rio. Luukais an excellent example of a strong woman getting after her dreams and we wish her all the best as she prepares to triumph…..
When did you first want to go to the Olympics?
LJ: Well I was actually going through stuff in my garage the other day and I came across a piece of creative writing that I did in form one at intermediate school which was around the time I started kayaking. I’d written a paragraph about wanting to go to the Olympic Games for New Zealand and win a medal. I guess I’d always known that I wanted to go to the Olympic Games but it was funny to look back on it and realise that in form one (year 7) I’d already set that goal for myself.
What does it mean to you to be an Olympian?
LJ: It is a pretty privileged position to be representing your country. In our sport it’s the pinnacle event and the event that every canoe slalom athlete wants to go to. I’ve recently just watched a lot of brutal selection races as there is only one person allowed to compete in each class in canoe slalom. I’ve watched a lot of really great athletes miss out, so for me it makes it even more special. For canoe slalom the Olympics really raises the profile of the sport and other people get to really see what I do. It is special having everyone back home supporting you.
How do you feel as a female athlete representing New Zealand?
LJ: There are a lot of sports in NZ that a male dominated. Even canoe slalom is a male dominated sport so for me as a women representing NZ at the Olympics in my sport it sends a message as a female athlete you can do what the guys are doing. There shouldn’t be any gender constraints. It’s cool to show young female athletes that they can achieve anything
Describe one of your hardest training sessions in the last six months…
LJ: I was a VO2 session and its one of those sessions that you get really nervous for. You know it’s going to hurt, that you’re probably going to throw up, cry or both. It’s tough. In the session I did 5 sets of a 4 minute effort with equal rest. We start on the flat water and then we paddle up a channel. In Nottingham there’s usually a brutal head wind so you’re paddling into a head wind to start. In slalom boats they’re designed to be on the white water and turning quickly so they don’t actually go that fast on the flat water. You’re pulling really hard up this channel and then you turn around a corner and you go into the white-water course. You’re already 2.5 minutes into a really hard effort and your heart rate is already really high. You’re arms are burning. Then you have to go and do a sequence of gates. You have to be accurate when you’re tired and also slalom is really explosive. You have to summon everything. It can be really frustrating because you’re trying to do things really well but you’re just so tired. Then at the end of each run you feel so sick and you’ve got another one to do. Its obviously a good session but just brutal. By the fifth set you’ve got not much left in the tank.
When you walk out to compete in Rio what will be the last thing you tell yourself?
LJ: Back yourself. You’re out there in a high-pressure environment and it’s the race you’ve been training for the last 4 years. You’ve just done everything for this moment. You’ve just got to back yourself that you’re in the best possible position to do well. In slalom it’s really important to be free on the water. If you’re hesitating then you’re holding back and you end up making mistakes.
What will you have for breakfast before you compete in Rio?
LJ: I always have porridge the morning of the race. It’s good because you don’t really feel like eating too much when you get close to the race itself.
Aside from life as an elite athlete what else makes you get out of bed in the morning?
LJ: I study business and I play the ukulele. It’s funny being an elite athlete because I really enjoy doing other activities, which are other sports. So in the season I have to be really disciplined and not doing too many activities. I really enjoy surfing, mountain biking and just going out and doing cool kiwi stuff. That definitely gets me out of bed in the morning. When I’m in the season over in Europe there are more constraints but I love adventuring and doing sport related activities.
What do you do on your rest day?
LJ: A typical rest day in Nottingham is a Sunday and I’ll go into town to my favourite café and have a coffee. I’ll probably do some study. Then I’ll try and do something touristy that I haven’t done before. I like to do something every week that I’ve not done before – go to a show or a ballet for example.
If you weren’t dominating the canoe slalom world what would you be doing?
LJ: I would probably be trying to get better at some form of sport. Most likely surfing or SUP or mountain biking as I find those sports really interesting.
Finally, If you had the chance to acknowledge someone who has helped you get to this point in your sporting career who would it be and why?
LJ: That’s a really tough one for me because there has been so many people along the way in different phases in my life. There are probably five key people. I’ve had some really good female mentors and as a female athlete its really cool to be surrounded by strong female athlete. There was one lady at the Waiariki Academy of Sport that I was part of, Jane Borren. She was really key in helping me at that stage in my sporting career. At the moment I’ve got a really cool team at HPSNZ. My nutritionist, my performance planner and sports psychologist – they’re all really key in helping me. They’re strong females and they’ve been amazing.