Cairns makes the most of Olympic second chance

In Samoa you have look very hard to try and find a kayak anywhere.

The way Anne Cairns tells it, you should save your time. There are no kayaks anywhere in Samoa.

But Samoa has a paddler competing in the canoe sprint competition in Rio, her name is Anne Cairns, and she made her debut on the opening day of competition.

It should be pointed out Cairns calls New Zealand home these days. Her mother is Samoan and Cairns tries to get back there as often as possible.

But not to train. That would be impossible.

"There’s just no kayaks in Samoa,” Cairns said.

“There are a couple of old surf skis, an old, old surf ski at the club I paddle at, and that’s what I’m limited to using.

“That’s why I have to stay based in New Zealand, just so I can paddle.”

At 35 Cairns made her Olympic debut in the women’s K1 200m on the opening day of competition.

She finished last in her heat and did not progress to the semi-finals, but it didn’t dent her enthusiasm post-race.

“This time last year I was completely on my own in Milan for the World Championships,” Cairns said.

“I was the coach, the athlete and the manager.

“That was the first tick in the box, to try and qualify. I self-funded the trip, I work full time, I train on my own because of where I am based, so it’s definitely not been easy.

“Nobody’s journey to the Olympics is easy, but I guess mine is a bit different. But I’ve got here, and I’m really happy to have got this far.”

Cairns owes her Olympic debut to some very persistent paddlers in New Zealand, who convinced her to help out in a K4 boat that was short a paddler at the national championships.

From there she got nominated for individual events, and then joined a New Zealand development program.

Cairns and her K4 teammates tried to qualify for Beijing in 2008, but were denied because of injury and residency issues.

A dejected Cairns walked away from the sport, but was inspired to make a comeback after the London Olympics.

And while for many, 35 would be the twilight years of their career, Cairns started in the sport so late she believes she still has lots of improvement in front of her.

“This experience has totally motivated me to keep going,” she said.

“I was a really late starter to paddling in flatwater, the age that Lisa Carrington is now is the age that I started paddling flatwater.

I’m a firefighter in New Zealand, and all the guys on night shift will have been watching. All their support has helped me so much, because I’m on my own mostly, with just an e-mail coach.”

The Olympics are not over for Cairns, who still has the K1 500m to come.

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