Living a career highlight: graduate to make Paris debut

Tuesday 25 June 2024

Bachelor of Sport and Exercise alumnus and canoe slalom athlete Finn Butcher is gearing up for the biggest highlight of his career to date, having qualified for his premiere performance in Paris next month.

Currently based in France to train and prepare, Finn is still coming to terms with the fact that he’s living out a long-held dream.

“It’s really special because it’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid, and to have it come true feels unreal. I’m proud to be able to represent my country and community on the biggest sporting stage there is. Being in Paris and seeing they’re already starting to set everything up for July is making that excitement build.”

In his hometown of Alexandra, Finn had his first experience with canoe slalom when family friends invited him to a novice race on the local river. Attending with a group of friends, Finn says they all immediately fell in love with the sport.

“We all knew we wanted to continue, so I’ve been on many great trips with those same people and they’re all still my super close friends. It progressed naturally from there, starting on an irrigation dam once a week and building to training every day when I was about 15. Our club is pretty holistic around paddling. It’s not only about competing and winning, but also about building skills, having fun and using those skills to go on different adventures and trips to compete around New Zealand.”

Finn says he loves the challenge of the sport.

“I love how every day is a learning opportunity to master new skills, find the fastest way to negotiate a gate sequence and find a sense of flow in the highest pressure moments to perform when it really matters. I also really like the purest part of it – the feeling of freedom when I’m on the water, especially when paddling with people who are important to me.

“There are always challenges, missing out on selection for the Tokyo Games was a big one, but through it I rediscovered why I love the sport so much.”

Now having the opportunity to compete in the Paris Games, Finn says he’s throwing everything into his training.

“A lot of my time is spent preparing for sessions or reviewing them. After the selections, we had a big planning phase to ensure we’re best prepared when the Games roll around. It really is a full time job! As a small sport, we don’t often get to race in front of big crowds, so I’m really looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere of the Games and the energy that comes from that. I’m also excited to have a few of my friends and family watching in the stands.”

Finn says it’s important to practice adaptability on the water, as competitors don’t get to practice the setup of the gates until they race on them.

“We spend time on the river and the course, but the gates get set the afternoon before the race. Instead, we have to analyse and visualise the course in our minds to figure out how we want to approach it.”

The 29-year-old began tertiary education while in Otago, but after two years he felt he needed to choose between an athletic career or studying. Knowing he wanted to commit to his paddling and pursue his dreams of attending the World Championships and Olympic Games, he decided to take a year off to optimise his training and compete in a full European season.

He says he found it hard not having anything outside of training to focus on, which led him to enrol with Massey.

“The distance study opportunities offered by Massey made it an obvious choice for combining study with training. I always wanted to get into sport equipment development and design, so studying a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise after doing industrial design at Otago fit nicely. I really appreciate the flexibility of Massey’s distance offering, as I’m often overseas, so having understanding and accommodating staff who help me fit my study around my races and provide ways for me to do my exams even while travelling is great.”

Finn says to be both athlete and student, it all comes down to time management.

“It’s something I had to work on a lot and having study to do helped me get better at it. My advice is to plan your weeks to make sure you have time to give both avenues what they need. Keep in mind that lecturers want to help you, but you need to ask! Look ahead in the year and start conversations early with Massey staff so they can help you fit everything around important competitions and training requirements.”

When Finn manages some downtime, coffee with friends is his go-to for a way to feel reenergised.

“It’s a great way to connect and as we get to go to some pretty cool places around the world, we get to discover different coffee spots which is always fun. I do think New Zealand still tops the coffee charts in general! I’ve also been getting into golf, so I try to get out once a week for a wander around the course and to lose some golf balls.”

When asked what he’s learned about himself throughout his academic and athletic career, Finn says, “I work best when I’m having fun! I have found things that I enjoy doing, so they’re never a burden!”

As he continues to prepare for the Games, his goal is to stay focused and positive.

“My hope is to arrive at the start line fresh, healthy and happy and let myself compete the way I know I can. The biggest hurdle in performance is often getting in your own way, so if I can let myself enjoy the moment and let it go, I know I’ll be in the mix for some medals.”

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