A broken elbow nearly spelled the end of Amaka Gessler’s Olympic dreams. But this steely swimmer and Massey psychology student refused to give up. And later this year, Gessler will compete for gold in London, part of a formidable squad of 28 Massey student athletes within the Kiwi Olympic team.
It could so easily have gone the other way. In November 2011 Gessler was biking to training when, as she crossed a road, her wheel jammed on the kerb. She flew over the handlebars, crashed face-first into the footpath and was knocked unconscious. But when she woke her first thought was that she must get up, and get to training.
Onlookers had called an ambulance, but Gessler shrugged off the fuss and instead asked for a ride to the pool.
Once there, the shock set in. Her face and knee were bloodied, she had chipped a tooth, and her eyes rolled and she shook uncontrollably as a lifeguard cleaned her wounds.
Another ambulance was called and she was taken to hospital, but, ever the optimist, she believed she would be fine.
Twelve hours later a doctor delivered the news with an, “oh-oh”.
“As soon as he said ‘oh-oh’ my stomach lurched. The next day I was due to fly to Arizona for a three-week altitude training camp,” Gessler says.
Her right elbow was fractured and ligaments in her left wrist damaged. “It was one of the worst feelings ever. I thought my Olympic dream was over.”
But the 22-year-old, who won a silver and bronze medal at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in the 200-metre and 100-metre relays, was spurred on by her coach. Bluntly she was informed that she had that day to feel sorry for herself, and the next she had to move on.
So she did. While her teammates were in the United States, she pushed herself at the gym until she could get back in the pool. “They literally had to hold me back,” she says.
Gessler also used what she had been taught to speed up her recovery. “I used mental imagery and visualisation to help. It was a way to make me mentally stronger.”
In March she qualified third fastest for the women’s 4x200m relay at the Olympic trials.
She was so happy to be London bound that she “jumped for joy” and hugged the first person in sight. Among her relay teammates are fellow Massey students Penelope Marshall and Natasha Hind.
“Our team has so much potential, we’re young, we just need to bring it,” Gessler says.
Another star on the rise is kayaker Lisa Carrington.
Unranked when she won the K1 200m world title in Hungary last year, Carrington is one of the country’s top gold medal contenders.
Carrington, 22, a Maori studies and politics student, will also pair with Erin Taylor in the women’s K2 500m event and they’re gunning for glory.
“You don’t go to the Olympics just to compete,” Taylor told 3News.