Para-athlete on road to Rio

17 August 2015
Photo of Charlotte Hoonhout and her horse - on track to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics.
Bachelor of Commerce student, Charlotte Hoonhout, is on track to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics.

For Paralympic equestrian hopeful, Charlotte Hoonhout, balancing her studies at the University of Auckland with an intense training schedule has been a challenging, but rewarding experience.

Born with spastic diplegia Cerebral Palsy, which affects her lower body, hands and overall muscle control, she fell in love with equestrian through Riding for the Disabled as a child.

“My muscles are in a constant state of contraction, so they are constantly tense. When I was younger, the only time my posture was ever correct was when I was on a horse,” she says.

She started riding competitively four years ago on her current horse, Rosie (or Amarante when competing).

Charlotte’s physical limitations mean she has to put a lot of extra work into preparing her body to compete.

“I wouldn’t have been able to cope without the work I’ve been doing with my Pilates coach and swim coach. Swimming makes a huge difference for my fitness and strength. I can control my body better after being in the pool – my involuntary movements are gone – and Pilates has improved my range of motion drastically.”

Charlotte, who is in her third year of a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in information systems and international business, studies at the University part-time to allow for her packed athletic schedule.

“My Dad was quite firm about me studying part-time because of the physical and mental pressures of the sport. I’m doing three papers per semester and try to arrange my schedule so that all my classes are in the morning to allow time for my sports.”

As part of the High Performance Student Support Programme, Charlotte has free access to the University Recreation Centre as well as support with juggling her studies while still working towards her sporting goals.

“I’m very fortunate to be in the High Performance Student Support Programme. It’s really helped me balance my studies and I’m coping surprisingly well with the workload. It took me two weeks to get my schedule right, but now it’s like clockwork.”

Also part of the 360° Leadership Programme in 2013, Charlotte embraced the opportunity to expand her mind and learn effective techniques which she can apply to all areas of her life.

“It changed my overall mindset in a way I can’t explain. I didn’t think I’d get in, but now I look at things as an opportunity to create an experience rather than just thinking about the final outcomes. I met some amazing people and it makes you think in a really abstract way and helps you to see ways you can overcome challenges.”

One of those challenges is qualifying for the 2016 Paralympics, which she’s on track for.

“My goals at the beginning of the year were to retain my titles, which I’ve done, but more than getting the titles, it’s about the scores. I’ve turned out two personal bests this year, which is well above what’s required to qualify for Rio.”

The University’s High Performance Student Support Programme (HPSSP) helps students with the challenges of juggling tertiary study with the commitments associated with their chosen sport or activity. Elite athletes or students who perform in the arts and culture sphere at a high level are offered support juggling their studies, a free gym membership, and are eligible to apply to the Sports Support Fund and Vice-Chancellor’s Student Support Fund.