Whether she's paddling in the ocean as one of the world's top surf ski racers or protecting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as part of her security detail, Rachel Clarke is a human dynamo who leads a life that's exhausting to even think about!
As her oars slice through the harbour on her way to racking up 100km each week, this high-achieving Auckland woman says putting in the hard yards is a necessary sacrifice to make her dreams come true.
"I'm very motivated and have many goals," explains Rachel, 29.
"I plan my training around my work and just have to stick to that plan. I do what I need to, but I also find the time to rest."
Born and raised in Red Beach on Auckland's Hibiscus Coast, Rachel describes herself as a "water baby" from the very moment her parents introduced her to surf lifesaving as a five-year-old nipper.
Quickly developing into a skilled surf lifesaver and boasting a fiercely competitive spirit, she also went on to win national age-group medals as a swimmer.
She was even snapped up by High Performance Sport New Zealand after she took up kayaking, but racing in a surf ski – a longer, thinner version of a kayak – won out in the end.
"I'm more endurance-based than sprint and after doing some local races of 10-15km, I found I really enjoyed being among the waves and in the ocean," explains Rachel, who found her calling after claiming both King and Queen of the Harbour titles at the country's top surf ski event. She has since proved an unstoppable force, winning the crown every year since 2013.
In 2014, Rachel's career reached a new high when she won the sport's iconic race, the 52km Molokai Challenge in Hawaii, across one of the world's most dangerous channels and retained the title three years later.
Training up to 100km a week on the Waitemata Harbour and nearby Lake Pupuke, Rachel also fits in three runs, weekly Pilates and gym sessions around her busy work schedule.
Her days can sometimes be long and her work hours unsocial, so it helps her fiancé Sam Mayhew – also one of New Zealand's leading surf ski paddlers – has a full appreciation for the demands of her sport.
"It's important we share the same passion. We train together and he is always there to support me both on and off the water," shares Rachel, who was recently "happily shocked" to receive a marriage proposal from Sam during a break in Queenstown.
"He went down on one knee on the rock wharf by the lake," she gushes. "I had no idea."
Away from her life on the ocean, her professional life involves shielding dignitaries.
After joining the police at 22 and serving six years as a frontline constable, Rachel sought a fresh challenge and applied to join the Diplomatic Protection Service, which involved a harrowing four-day trial in Wellington, designed to test mental and physical resolve.
"It was intense," she recalls. "Each candidate is given a maximum of four-and-a-half hours sleep a night, and then you do a series of tasks to see how you cope under stress.
"We'd be taken on a four-hour pack march, given a 12-minute running test and challenged with various work scenarios to see how we coped. I definitely think my experiences as a paddler – learning how to deal with both pressure and nerves – assisted me."
Required to carry out a range of roles in her day job, from advance route familiarisation and venue security to dealing with motorcades and walking escorts, her job is high pressure but never dull.
"It is a very different world, but I wanted to do something which helped me progress as a person," she explains. "Our role is to reduce the risk to the people we are protecting and I also really like the fact I am part of a team environment."
But it's the pull of the ocean and her next big challenge that has the international surf ski racer all excited.
"It is a cool sport which has allowed me to travel the world and meet so many different people," says Rachel, who in September is targeting her first world title in France.
"When you are riding a swell in the sun, there's no better feeling."
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