Taking on the world

Southland woman Melanie Ryding will represent New Zealand in the Waka Ama World Sprint Championships in London in August. Photo: Supplied

LESS than two years ago, Southland woman Melanie Ryding was unqualified to compete in any paralympic event.

But weeks after having a partial leg amputation, the gutsy sportswoman was standing at the starting line of a middle distance triathlon ready to compete against able-bodied competitors.

‘‘I don’t mess around. There’s too much life to be lived.’’

Ryding has been selected to represent New Zealand in the Waka Ama World Sprint Championships in London in August — providing all the ducks line up and she raises  enough funds to get there.

The opportunity to compete in the outrigger canoe sport in London wearing the silver fern of the country she adopted nine years ago, has the go-getter very excited.

English by birth, Ryding is no stranger to international competitions, initially representing Great Britain in Age Group Triathlons.

Her leg was amputated after eight failed attempts to save it after a medical misadventure.

‘‘Sport and exercise has alway been my therapy. My surgeon also knew how important exercise was to me, so in between each [surgery] he was wrapping me up in plastic and allowing me to go swimming.’’

Just weeks after the amputation, she was back in the pool again.

The sporting powerhouse refused to succumb to her circumstances.

‘‘When I finally got back up standing… I was looking for a sport to go back to.’’

The Wanaka Triathlon goal had helped to keep her focused on what she was still able to do.

The first race without her leg proved to be a challenge as she learned to adapt to the different way her body was performing and worked out its new logistics.

Ryding attempted cycling but discovered she lacked the power she needed from her legs to achieve the success she was hungry for.

‘‘I don’t have enough use in the remainder of my leg to be competitive. And it’s the same for running.’’

Trying to reconstruct her life as it was before proved to be a bad choice for her and the realisation made her look at alternatives.

While still looking for a sporting outlet for her energy, she stumbled across a Waka Ama give-it-a-go on the shores of Lake Te Anau at Waitangi Weekend.

‘‘It’s worked out great.

‘‘The bench seat in a canoe doesn’t move, you don’t actually need legs.

‘‘I feel like an equal with other able-bodied people when I’m sitting in the boat. My disability doesn’t matter any more for a while.’’

A friend had suggested she should register herself for selection in the national waka ama team, but considered herself too inexperienced to qualify in the code.

However, a stint at a selection camp made her realise she had more to offer a team than she initially believed.

‘‘I got selected to represent New Zealand in the Elite Para Team for the Waka Ama Worlds in London.’’

Holding the competitions in her native country has added an extra shine to the occasion, as it was normally hosted in Tahiti.

With the trip partly funded Ryding still had to raise $7000 for the trip.

She had started a a give-a-little page in the hope of overcoming her latest challenge.

Elite Athlete sponsorship advertising regulations had forced her to think outside the box yet again.

‘‘I’ve got restrictions on what I can promise to who. I’m not allowed to wear logos on clothing that would clash with existing sponsors.’’

As an experienced public and motivational speaker, she has been asking local businesses if they would be interested in engaging her for events.