Girls who put themselves in Dame Val’s shoes – Literally

Olympic Games

As Dame Valerie Adams closes the door to a stellar shot put career, she’s giving her big shoes to a new generation of young throwers, she tells Suzanne McFadden.

These shoes size 14.

Of course, they will be difficult to fill, now that Dame Valerie Adams has untied them and finally set them aside.

But a new pair of shoes from Dame Val will also be the start of at least one young woman’s future.

Now that her remarkable days (22 years, no less) as one of today’s great female competitors in world athletics are over – her ‘heart, soul and body’ telling her he is time – Adams is focused on giving back.

And that means coaching, championing athletes, and giving new pairs of shoes to barefoot kids.

“A pair of shoes from my PE teacher changed my life,” says the 37-year-old shot put legend. “Let me do this for someone else.”

It means a lot to Adams – four-time Olympic medalist, five-time Commonwealth Games medalist, eight-time world champion – to pass on the myriad pairs of Nikes she receives every year. “Because who can really wear 20 pairs of shoes, right?” she says. But there is more than that.

When she started playing shot put at the age of 13 at Southern Cross Campus in Māngere East, Adams did not own a pair of athletic shoes. His family simply couldn’t afford them. She broke her first record at the Counties-Manukau Barefoot Championships.

“Now I send so many pairs of Nike shoes to kids all over New Zealand. It’s me sharing the blessings I’ve received, things I never had when I was little “, she says.

“I have this now, let me do this for you.”

Dame Val Adams wants to put some of her energy into mentoring young female athletes. Photo: Alisha Lovrich.

It’s not just shoes she wears. Adams also shares his knowledge and experience with children up to three times a week during athletic training at Bruce Pulman Park in Papakura.

This is where she trains her sister, Lisa, the reigning Paralympic champion in the F37 shot put. “That’s where I help,” says the elder Adams.

In his impassioned retirement speech, delivered at the edge of the shot put circle at the Millennium AUT on Auckland’s North Shore on Tuesday, Adams called the next generation.

“To anyone who dares to raise the bar — I’m looking at you girl — do so with my blessing.” As it was given to me, so I give it to you. Power and courage. There is the dream – good and true. Take it.”

“It’s important to me to help them through this,” Halberg’s seven-time New Zealand Sportswoman of the Year said afterwards.

“When I came up the ranks, I didn’t really have anyone in my position. It was tough for me, a young girl from South Auckland. I was 15, my mother had just died and I was trying to find myself.

“But I’m very lucky to be in a position now where I can join a lot of athletes; make sure I’m there for them.

An emotional Dame Val Adams tells the media she is retiring. Photo: Alisha Lovrich.

She wants to make sure she helps children in South Auckland, but on their terms. Understand where they come from and what they need.

“I know it’s great here [at AUT Millennium] and they want to put the high performance stuff in there [Bruce Pulman],” she says. “But I told them ‘You have to understand the people there, we do it very differently’. There is a demographic difference, a cultural difference. You need to go deeper than just superficial.

“Because not everyone can afford training equipment. They will show up in school shoes and you have to be prepared for that.

Adams can already see some exciting young female talent emerging. “Do they have what it takes? Only time will tell,” she says. “I send them back with my blessing – and my shoes – and look forward to following their progress.

Four women will throw for the senior women’s shot put title at the national track and field championships in Hawkes Bay on Sunday afternoon, with Maddi Wesche (the Olympic finalist who threw away sunglasses to be sixth in Tokyo) the favorite. Adams was the New Zealand shot put champion 17 times.

Two young women, Tapenisa Havea and Natalia Rankin-Chitar, both threw far enough to compete at the U20 World Championships in Cali, Colombia in August.

Lisa Adams will compete in a field of five for the women’s para shot put title.

Spinning in the Circle: Son Kepaleli shows his shot put legend mother, Dame Val Adams, how it’s done at AUT Millennium. Photo: Suzanne McFadden

Dame Val remained famous in Tokyo after winning Olympic bronze last August and coaching her little sister to Paralympic gold. She can see herself seriously training more athletes in the future once her young children, Kimoana (four) and Kepaleli (nearly three), are older.

“It’s something I’d like to address,” she said. “Right now Lisa is a lot, and I have a lot to do with my babies right now.”

Adams adores his children. She has been open about her fertility issues – both children were born through IVF – and issues managing Kepaleli’s type 1 diabetes, diagnosed during the first nationwide Covid lockdown. She also struggled with the guilt of spending time away from them.

Sister Lisa was there in the background yesterday, helping Adams’ husband Gabriel Price watch the children as they played on the stadium banks with a green Frisbee. It wasn’t her time to talk, she said. “It’s my sister’s moment.”

The transition from athlete to full-time mom/part-time coach won’t be easy, admits Adams. “That’s all I’ve known for 24 years of my life,” she says. But her heart, her soul and especially her body, she was laughing, telling him that it was the right time to end his days of competition (even if it still suffocates him to say it).

She’s already made a significant change: the backseat of her car, once stuffed with athletic equipment, is now filled with stuffed animals.

Adams’ career-long physio, Louise Johnson (otherwise known as “My Louloubelle”) – who knows all too well how broken the shot putter’s body was towards the end of his career – doesn’t doubt that Adams will continue to have “huge influence” on a new generation of young New Zealanders.

“She has a presence that does not depend on her competition. You go south of Auckland, you will see murals of her; she will have a statue one day, I’m sure,” she said. (She will also star in her own feature, due out later this year).

“Why wouldn’t you want to grow up to be Lady Valerie?” »

Dame Val Adams and her trusty physio, Louise Johnson, with Olympic silver at Rio 2016. Photo: Supplied.

Adams will also continue to make his presence felt in world athletics. She is the Vice-Chair of the Athletes’ Commission for World Athletics and chairs the Athletes’ Commissions for Oceania and New Zealand Athletics.

Kereyn Smith, CEO of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, said Adams was at the right stage in his career to speak on behalf of the athletes.

“You will always see with great athletes like Dame Valerie, as their career progresses, they become comfortable in their own shoes. They understand the big picture of the sport. And you can see she’s very aware of what’s going on around her,” Smith says.

“She’s always had interesting things to say, she’s not a scripted athlete so people listen to her perspective. She’s a real serious thought leader and influencer.

Peter Pfitzinger, a two-time Olympic marathoner and now CEO of Athletics NZ, says he has plenty of time for Adams: “She’s a great advocate for athletes, and we talk a lot.

“She is also an icon in the sport. You think of the past 22 years, how she helped throw it mainstream now. For a long time, New Zealand athletics focused on middle distance running and throws are now our strongest group of events.

“We haven’t discussed specifics beyond Lisa, but hopefully she will do more coaching over time.”

But for this Tongan mother, family now comes first. She tearfully thanked Gabriel and her mother, Noma, who helped look after the children when Adams was living and training in Christchurch last year, and when she was competing.

Will she encourage Kimoana and Kepaleli to do athletics? “No. I’ll let them decide what they want to do,” she said.

“I will encourage them to be kind and to serve. Their mom might have done this, that, and the other, and I’m sure they’ll be told that forever, but I want them to be super nice human beings.

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