I recently got in contact with Olivia Spencer-Bower, who in 2016, achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a world champion, winning the Canoe Polo World Championships with the New Zealand Paddle Ferns. Not one to shy away from a challenge she's also won the 2-day individual and teams Coast to Coast, undertook Chapter 7 of Godzone down in Fiordland and raced Primal Quest in Canada. Her photography business Project Story specialises in photography and time-lapse of construction projects. Her recently published photo book The Christchurch Town Hall: A Conservation Story won the Supreme award at the 2021 Pride of Print awards. Olivia loves adventuring in the outdoors and is excited to share the natural world with her greatest achievement to date, her baby boy Noah. Last summer they cycled from Lake Ohau to Otematata on the Alps to Ocean Cycle trail with Noah in the bike trailer. This coming summer they're off to tramp the Abel Tasman with some other Mums and bubs and hope to do some more cycle touring adventures including the West Coast Wilderness trail. Olivia lives in Christchurch with her partner Glen, their baby son Noah and little Jack Russel Frankie.
1. What is your favourite strength exercise for canoe polo and/or kayaking and why? I loved lifting heavy in the gym. Back squats were always a favourite. Any sort of squatting for kayaking/canoe polo is fantastic as it's all about generating power from your hips. 2. Who is your biggest inspiration? (Doesn’t have to be an athlete) When I was training for Canoe Polo I was lucky to have some incredible coaches who brought the best out of me. In a sport that is completely athlete funded these guys so generously gave so much of their time and energy to help me succeed. The energy they put in always inspired me to push myself to the next level. Now my biggest inspiration is my baby boy Noah. He inspires me everyday to show up as the best version of myself and live in the moment.
3. Your proudest moment (life or sporting)? Sporting: Winning the 2016 Canoe Polo World Championships in Sicily.
Life: Becoming a mama.
4. What was one of your key nutrition strategies for the 2016 world champs? I'm not a coffee drinker, so caffeine isn't part of my daily nutrition intake. Having been a long time user of flat coke for the sugar and caffeine hit while racing Coast to Coast, I experimented with the effects caffeine could have on the short and sharp dynamics of a Canoe Polo game (It's a 20 min game with two halves). I discovered there was a real performance advantage that caffeine could provide, so I would have a No Doz 30 mins before we played each game. Timing was key so that you weren't too fidgety and in the perfect zone. 5. Favourite food/meal after a big training mission? Leftover roast veggies with chicken and avocado.
6. When and how did you first get into Canoe Polo? I was introduced to Canoe Polo at high school. I'd always had a fascination with kayaking. My folks used to own Woodstock Station on the banks of the Waimak river. Our summer holidays were spent at Hamiltons Flat (or false woodstock as many call it) and I used to love watching the coast to coast kayakers go past.
7. What is your favourite quote that’s resonated with you for life? All champions were once contenders that never gave up.
8. What is something you have learnt about nutrition that had the biggest enhancement for you with your sports performance? Eat more protein and eat more than you think you need. Treat your body like a high end race car. You would never put cheap fuel into an expensive car that you want to perform well, so why would you do the same to your body.
9. When was the moment you knew you wanted to pursue Canoe polo at the next level? I made the NZ U18 canoe polo team when I was at high school and this sparked the flame to want to compete for NZ at the senior level and chase the dream of becoming a world champion.
10. What was your biggest setback in your sporting career and how did you overcome this? In 2013 I was hit really hard with glandular fever and adrenal fatigue. I wonder now if it was actually REDs. I was a blubbering, exhausted mess, was dropped from the NZ team for the 2013 World Games and came very close to quitting the sport. To get help I worked with a number of holistic practitioners to get the support I needed. I had to strip everything back and start from scratch and rebuild. Learning to be kind to myself was key, as well as understanding that I couldn't keep burning the candle at both ends. I had to become much more in-tune with myself and learn where my edge was so I didn't keep falling off it. Most importantly I had to stop the roller coaster ride of feeling great, going too hard, crashing, picking myself back up, feeling great, crashing again. Rest, mental health work and good nutrition were key factors in my recovery.
11. If you didn’t pursue Canoe polo, what do you think you would have pursued instead? I possibly would have concentrated on Multisport more seriously.
12. Your favourite meal choice at your favourite local? Pork Belly and apple crumble
13. What’s been your favourite sporting event of all time and why? The 2016 World Champs. Being held in Sicily was out of this world. It was such an amazing venue, with incredible weather, the people were so friendly and the food was perfecto. I had my 30th birthday on the day of the opening ceremony and winning was a dream come true. The celebrations went all night long!
14. Would you consider doing C2C again, and if you do, what might you do differently from this year? I'd love to give the longest day a crack one day. The last time I raced solo was 2015 when I won the 2-day women's individual. This year was pretty neat being asked to join Hannah Romano in her 2-person team as the kayaker. Noah was only 8 or 9 months old when she asked me. I'd had a C-section so my core muscles had literally been cut in half. But I was so excited to be back in the fold after a 6 year hiatus that I totally underestimated what it would take to get back into a skinny race boat (I paddle a Phantom). My stability was shot, I ended up swimming in one of the Classic River Race prologue races. Only the second time I've ever swum on the Waimak. So I paired everything back to basics. I worked with a women's health physio, as well as with Fiona Dowling doing some pilates to safely build my strength back up. I did lots of skills work on the lower Waimak in my Phantom and slowly built my time up in the gorge in a more stable boat until I was ready to finally get back into the Phantom on the full river. I then surprised myself by winning the Classic River Race.
15. If you could go back in time, what would be one thing you would tell your teenage self, knowing what you know now? Be ok with playing the long game, often at times things really worth achieving take time. Strive to be the best version of yourself but don't burn yourself out with such perfectionist tendencies. Consistency is key. Keep showing up and keep doing the work, the rewards will follow.