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Olympic paddler Luuka Jones showed a keen interest in whitewater from an early age; there were also signs that the world of business might one day beckon as well. When, at the age of ten, Jones moved next door to the Waimarino Adventure Park on the banks of the Wairoa River, it wasn’t long before she put her negotiation skills to work, offering to do odd jobs in return for kakaking lessons.
“Yeah, I was always doing deals as a kid,” the now 27-year-old Olympian and Massey University business student says.
On the eve of departing her base in the United Kingdom for her third Olympics in Rio, Jones says she’s feeling confident, if she performs at her best, that she can finish in the top five in the women’s canoe slalom. It’s a little-known sport in New Zealand; in fact, when she qualified for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, at just 19, Jones became our first female canoe slalom Olympian.
She says it’s also a male-dominated sport, but she likes the technical and physical challenge of navigating a canoe with precision through river rapids.
“There are three men’s categories at the Olympics and only one women’s category,” she says. “In New Zealand we have a few more girls getting into it, but it’s still a majority of guys. It’s very rare for me to have a female training partner.”
Jones is only four papers shy of completing her Bachelor of Business Studies which, like many elite athletes, she is tackling via Massey’s distance learning programme. She is majoring in communication – a skill she says has already been useful in her sporting career.
“In sport there is so much communicating that you have to do. I have a pretty big team – coach, psychologist, sponsors. It is like a little business where everyone has to work together, using their expertise in different areas. Communication is huge in making sure we’re all on the same page.”
Unlike many other student-athletes, Jones has maintained her study workload this year, despite preparing to compete at the Olympic Games.
“I think it’s really good to be studying as an athlete because, even in Olympic year, you have a lot of down time between training sessions. It’s good to have something productive to focus on that’s completely different. It’s been really useful to me; I see it as an important part of athlete life.”
So, while distance learning has had its challenges, the flexibility of Massey’s programme has made it possible to study while travelling and competing.
“I’ve sat quite a few exams overseas, usually in World Cup week,” she laughs. “This year it was like, do a race, do an exam.
“But all the lecturers are really helpful and supportive and while you have to be good with your time management, I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Jones says being a veteran of two previous Olympic Games will help her prepare mentally for her 2016 campaign. She’s no longer the wide-eyed 19-year-old overwhelmed by the scale of the event and the media attention.
“Knowing what it’s like when you’re sitting on the start line in front of those massive crowds definitely helps,” she says.
“My first Olympics was so surreal that I don’t really remember a lot of it. But I do remember crying when it was over because I didn’t want to leave, it was just such a cool experience.”
While Jones intends to continue paddling competitively after Rio, she says she does think about her post-sports career. Her plan is to test the waters by putting some of her business studies into practice.
“One of my sponsors is a Tauranga company called Just Avocados and I have been speaking to them about doing a bit of work experience at some stage. Sky Next is another sponsor so it would be great to also spend some time with Sky to see what happens in their business and explore my options a bit.”
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Created: 28/07/2016 | Last updated: 28/07/2016
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