Ashleigh Jeffcoat, the champion teenage bowler formerly from Raglan, has been to her first Commonwealth Youth Games and brought home a gold.
Ashleigh, who recently moved from Raglan to Hamilton with her family, went to the games in Samoa earlier this month to represent New Zealand in the lawn bowls division.
She had to work hard for her gold medal in the women’s singles bowls, she says. Usually dominated by countries like Scotland, England and Australia, there were some “dark horse” competitors this time from Norfolk Island and Samoa.
Hearing the New Zealand anthem and watching the New Zealand flag go up while getting her medal on the podium was “quite cool”.
“I was just really happy to be where I was. I got to look at all the people who had supported me and see my mum in the crowd,” she says.
Ashleigh and her male partner in the mixed pair division got close to a bronze, but finished fourth.
Up to 1000 young athletes aged 14-18 years competed for 107 gold medals in nine sports at the fifth Youth Games. The 27-strong New Zealand team brought home seven gold medals, plus eight silver and five bronze.
“All our players got really hard draws, which was unfortunate.”
Ashleigh says the level of competition was really high and it was interesting to see how other competitors from other countries played bowls differently.
The accommodation at the Samoa Sports Lodge where most of the competitors stayed was good, and close to the dining hall and the bowling venue.
The Year 12 Hamilton Girls’ High School student says meeting the competitors from other countries was a highlight. “I made some really great friends.”
But the days of competition were long, from 8am to 6pm, which made it difficult to go see other sports. Being outside all day in the 30 degree-plus heat was also tiring.
“It was definitely hard conditions for us bowlers,” Ashleigh says.
Now back in Hamilton, she is gearing up for the start of the New Zealand bowling season, with an Under-26 singles championship in Christchurch just a week away.
Ashleigh has now left the Raglan Bowling Club where she learnt the sport and has joined a new club in Hamilton but she says: “I’ll always remember where I started”.