SOUTHLAND sporting heroes Shakira Mirfin and Corbin Strong took out the top titles at this year’s Southland Sports Awards.
During the last two nights of the online awards held last week, Strong’s outstanding first year as an elite cyclist was recognised with the ILT Senior Sportsperson of the Year award.
The awards week was presented by Sport Southland on behalf of the Southland Amateur Sports Trust.
Strong became the first New Zealander to win an elite points race title at the world track cycling championships in Berlin in March, following on from a silver medal with the men’s pursuit team at the same event.
It was an extraordinary accomplishment for a 19-year-old still making his way as a professional bike rider.
“It’s something I’d dreamed of since I fell in love with the sport,” Strong said.
“For it to happen when I was 19 was very special. I originally thought I’d be able to do it as a junior and I went to junior worlds twice and finished fourth in my individual races, so to do it in my first year as an elite was really special.”
The former Southland Boys’ High School pupil also won a stack of medals at World Cup level, young rider honours on the road in two UCI-ranked tours in Asia, and the national elite men’s omnium and Oceania points race titles.
Strong thanked his parents, wider family and friends, long-standing sponsor Paul Adams, from Stabicraft, Cycling Southland and Academy Southland for their backing.
“I’m super lucky in that regard and super humbled to grow up in a place like Southland and such a supportive community. So many people have helped me to get to where I am now.”
Having no shortage of role models had given Strong the confidence that he could achieve in cycling, he said.
“It really makes you believe, coming from a small place like Southland, or a small country like New Zealand, that we can get to the top of these big sports over in Europe.”
“Watching Regan Gough win the junior points race when I was 14 really inspired me and watching Tom Scully get second in the elite points race was another inspiring moment that really made me believe.”
Currently training in Cambridge, Strong hopes to join his team mates on the Dutch-based SEG Racing Academy in Europe this month ahead of a possible start to the racing season in August, but is waiting to see how the pandemic situation unfolds.
Mirfin claimed her second award, named Vodafone Junior Sportsperson of the Year which came after her earlier win of Academy Southland’s Mike Piper Trophy on Monday last week.
Mirfin was a member of the New Zealand quadruple sculls crew which won gold at the world junior rowing championships in Tokyo last August.
She also won the women’s senior single at the national rowing championships and was building for another strong season with wins in the South Island under-18 single and double, with Sarah Stewart, before the pandemic brought a premature end to the season.
Southland Rowing co-ordinator David Galbraith said Mirfin had been a dominant single sculler during the past season.
“Shakira is held in high regard by all members of the Southland Rowing Association, and amongst her club mates and rival clubs. She’s a pleasant, determined young lady who is easy to talk to.”
Mirfin said the quality of coaching was a big reason for her success in the sport.
“For me, coming from the Invercargill Rowing Club, the coaching has been amazing. I’m very lucky to have Jack Allan as my coach, he’s got an insane amount of experience.”
Meanwhile, world record-breaking shearer Megan Whitehead dominated the voting in the Southland Times Story of the Year category, winning more than 50% of the public vote.
Whitehead’s new women’s nine-hour world four-stand lamb shearing record in January.
“I was the second-last female called up for the team and I had no idea. I thought I would do a record, but not for another three or four years, so it was sprung on me quite early and I just decided to give it a go.”
Whitehead worked with a personal trainer, joined a gym for the first time and focused strongly on her nutrition in order to give herself the best chance of being in record-breaking form.
“I blew myself away, but all that preparation I did, and all the support I had behind me, it’s all worked out.”
Whitehead, who travels the world as a professional shearer, would chase a new nine-hour solo record in December.
Angee Shand was recognised for her contributions to netball with the final Sport Southland Services to Sport award of 2020.
Beginning as a player with the St Mary’s Club in 2000, Shand quickly made her mark with two player of the year titles in the space of three years.
She progressed through the grades, eventually settling in the All Stars team she currently plays for and manages.
But it’s off the court where Shand has made her greatest contributions.
A club captain from 2013 to 2018 and honoured with life membership in 2013, Shand’s organisational abilities were recognised with her work with Southland’s Lois Muir team, the Southland A team, the Southern Steel and the New Zealand Men’s team.
Shand has also been a stats caller for Sky Sport for most Southern Steel and Silver Ferns games held in Invercargill.
At a governance level, Shand served on the Southland men’s and mixed Committee, and was a key player in the successful hosting of the men’s national championships in Invercargill in 2017.
Shand currently serves on the Netball South board and spent several years on the New Zealand men’s board, a highlight of which was her role in supporting the New Zealand men’s team as they took on the Silver Ferns in historic televised matches last year.
Sport Southland chief executive Brendon McDermott said hosting the awards online had been a success in the face of the ongoing issues presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“While we are able to enjoy the benefits of stamping out Covid-19 around the country, the economic impact continues to effect most areas of society and that challenged us to think differently about how we celebrated a fantastic year of sporting achievement,
This year’s winners and award recipients were:
ILT SENIOR SPORTSPERSON OF THE YEAR: Corbin Strong (cycling)
VODAFONE JUNIOR SPORTSPERSON OF THE YEAR: Shakira Mirfin (rowing)
SOUTHLAND KIA TEAM OF THE YEAR: Southland elite men’s team sprint (Nick Kergozou, Tom Sexton, Conor Shearing)
NZME MASTERS ACHIEVEMENT: Dwight Grieve (athletics)
RICOH SOUTH COACH OF THE YEAR: Chris Knight (athletics)
CREATION SIGNS OFFICIAL OF THE YEAR: Karl McDonald (rugby and sevens)
BDO ADMINISTRATOR OF THE YEAR: Phil Hartley (athletics)
MIKE PIPER TROPHY: Shakira Mirfin
SPORT SOUTHLAND SERVICES TO SPORT: Leicester Rutledge (rugby), Jeff Walker (football), Peter White (tennis), Angee Shand (Netball).