Sarah Cowley’s always been up for a challenge.
Whether it’s hurling her lean, muscular body high as possible over a high jump bar or throwing a javelin further and running faster than she has before, the multi-talented sports star and Olympian will give pretty much anything a go, and she generally excels at whatever she puts her mind to.
It’s no different when the Weekly catches up with high jumper and heptathlete Sarah on one of Auckland’s wildest winter days yet.
She’s just had her thick, curly hair smoothed and straightened, donned a floaty yellow frock and, with her six-month-old son perched on her hip, is preparing to brave the howling wind and rain for her photoshoot at the Millennium Institute.
Wild weather, a six-month-old and a photoshoot sounds like a recipe for disaster, but true to form, Sarah rises to the challenge – and nails it.
“A little wind and rain never hurt anyone,” she laughs. “Of course. it helps that Max is such a chilled dude.”
Having retired from athletics at the end of 2014, Sarah’s focus these days is being a mum to the blue-eyed babe whose dad is her husband and fellow athlete Angus Ross.
She and Angus – who has represented New Zealand in three winter Olympics in bobsleigh – married in March last year, and Sarah fell pregnant with Max soon after.
“He is really the coolest little kid,” gushes Sarah, as Max gurgles away happily. “I love being a mum – it’s challenging at times but he’s a really happy little boy and I think we’re lucky we got a good one.”
The 32-year-old first represented New Zealand at 16 and went on to compete for the country at the 2006 and 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the 2012 London Olympics. She says retiring from elite sport hasn’t been easy, but having Max helped.
“When you’ve been doing it for half your life, it’s really difficult to transition out of being an athlete – I don’t think you ever really do,” says Sarah, who decided it was time to move on after the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where she placed ninth in the high jump.
“People say to me, ‘I bet you don’t miss all that training,’ but man, I loved it.”
And while she no longer needs to train six days a week for hours on end, sport remains a big part of her life. Sarah is still involved with the New Zealand Olympic Committee as an Olympic School Ambassador, and with the International Olympic Committees Athlete Career programme in the Oceania region.
This sees her travel around the Pacific helping other athletes with the transition. She’s also mentoring some of the Kiwi athletes who are competing in Rio.
“A part of me would love to be joining them because I love sport and I love the feeling of challenging yourself and your body, so it is a bit tough, but at the same time, it’s rewarding using my experience to help them,” she tells.
“I think it’s really important to give back – sport has given me so much and we’re a small nation, so we really need to look after each other.”
She’s also one paper away from a Communications degree, which she’s been studying towards since 2002 in the hopes of becoming a sports journalist.“It’s been the world’s longest degree,” laughs Sarah, who is also a qualified physiotherapist. “Basically, my goal is to promote sport and, in particular, women in sport - I’ve done a lot of work around figuring out what’s important to me and if I find something that aligns with my purpose, then I’ll go after it.”
For now, though, Max is her top priority and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Although I do have moments when I miss the thrill of competing, I wouldn’t change what I’m doing. I’ve got Max and I’m still involved in sports, so it’s like I’ve got the best of both worlds,” she says.
“I want to be a good role model for him in terms of the opportunities that sport can give you, not only for your health but for life as well.”
And sport will likely play a big part in his life. With two athletes for parents, this little guy has some seriously promising genes.
“Every time we bump into an athlete or someone involved in sport, it’s like, ‘Oh, what’s Max going to do?’” she laughs, while he looks up at his mum adoringly and blissfully unaware.
“He’ll probably end up playing the violin or something – but he does love swimming and he’s already moving around a lot for a little guy.
“Or maybe he’ll be a model?” she adds, laughing. “He certainly knows how to work a camera!”
One thing’s for sure, though – if he’s anything like his high-achieving mum, this chubby-cheeked cherub has a bright future ahead of him.
Words: Ellen Dorset
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