Kristen Froude back in elite rowing ranks after seven-year hiatus

Southland's Kristen Froude is back in New Zealand rowing's elite ranks after a seven-year hiatus.

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Southland’s Kristen Froude is back in New Zealand rowing’s elite ranks after a seven-year hiatus.

resilient. persistent. Perhaps stubborn.

Whatever way you put it, Southlander Kristen Froude is back in New Zealand rowing’s elite ranks after the best part of seven years on the outer and she couldn’t be happier.

“I always have to take the hard road. I would say (I’m) stubborn, more than resilient but I guess they come hand in hand,” Froude said.

“Giving up isn’t really my thing.”

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Athletes very rarely make it back into an elite program in any sport after a seven-year break, let alone a code as demanding as rowing.

It would have been easy for Froude to walk away from her rowing dreams at any point since 2015 after a brilliant start.

She won back-to-back junior world championship bronze medals in the New Zealand under 23 women’s four and was quickly promoted to the elite programme, but then things went well and truly off script.

The next summer she suffered a prolapsed disc in her back. Her form and results inevitably suffered while she tried to row her way through the injury and she got dropped.

She returned to Invercargill, had surgery, took a year off and when she got back in the boat she picked up more injuries. Then the first lockdown further stymied hopes of a comeback.

A shift to the regional program in Christchurch didn’t pan out.

“I didn’t do very well with sweeping and I was thinking maybe it was my time to call it. I was still enjoying it but the selectors weren’t having a bar of me and I wasn’t performing. I was getting all my PBs last summer, so I was improving (but) I just wasn’t fast on water so the selectors gave me a few things to work on.”

After talking with Academy Southland manager Jason McKenzie and Tyson Huia, who at the time was the Mike Piper Training Center strength and conditioning coach, Froude decided to knuckle down in Invercargill and focus on her training over the 2021 winter.

There were many, many hours spent on the Oreti River – often in the dark, often in the rain and often alone – before and after her day job working in a pet store.

Froude was hoping to get selected for a development squad which sits above the new tier system adopted by Rowing New Zealand, but then had a trial canceled in the second lockdown.

She finally impressed at a regatta in December and got a phone call inviting her to move up to RNZ’s Cambridge base as part of the development squad at the start of 2022.

“I remember it quite clearly. They asked how I felt about moving up and I was like ‘do you even have to ask that question? yes One hundred percent yes’. It was very cool, I was out in the car park just doing a wee dance, probably looking ridiculous.”

Froude has quickly progressed, recently included in a five-strong sculls team for two World Cup events and the Royal Henley regatta in Europe.

The quad finished 8th and 7th in their World Cup meets and were knocked out by a powerful Chinese team at Henley, however the potential was obvious as they look ahead to world championship qualifying and the big goal of the 2024 Olympics.

But Froude isn’t done with challenges just yet.

“Funny story, during the winter I just started noticing the same sort of pain (in my back). I got a scan and I’d prolapsed the same disc, but worse this time, so I’m currently dealing with that. You just kind of get used to it, as weird as that sounds.”

Froude is grateful for McKenzie’s mental skills assistance; the other resources Academy Southland has offered her and the support of her parents while she was out of the elite ranks.

“There was still a desire to see how far I could go, because injury had stopped me from getting to that next level. Now that I’m back in there I want to see how far I can go.”

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