Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Howick College Olympic champion receives Yale award 

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Howick College alum Dan Williamson (middle) poses with his gold medal won at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in the men’s eight rowing event.

Howick College’s first ever rower-turned-Olympic-champion has been honoured with one of the most prestigious awards at Yale University’s graduation ceremony.

Daniel Williamson, 23, was awarded Yale’s William Neely Mallory Award in May for his efforts in rowing during his time at the esteemed university.

“This was a special one, a very special one. A place like Yale is a very academic-heavy institution and there are numerous prizes for academics but only two for sport, so to be one of two people representing all the athletes of Yale was a very proud moment,” says Williamson.

The William Neely Mallory Award is presented to a senior man who, on the field of play and in his life at Yale, best represents the highest ideals of American sportsmanship and Yale tradition.

“For his tremendous athletic accomplishment on one of the greatest Yale rowing teams of all time, his relentlessly hard work, and his excellence as a person and a teammate on a team that requires that every man pull hard at the oar, Yale takes great pride in awarding the William Neely Mallory Award to Dan Williamson,” said a spokesperson for Yale University.

Williamson attended Howick College for three years. During that time, he played a raft of different sports but “struggled with all of them,” he says.

It wasn’t until year 10 when a childhood friend of Williamson asked if he wanted to give rowing a try. Intrigued, Williamson went out to the Counties Manukau shed at Mercer one Saturday and jumped in a boat with his friend and his friend’s mum, who was also a rower.

“That was it really. I just kept going back each weekend, then started to do more sessions on the rowing machine during the week, and then, all of a sudden, I found myself doing it full time. I never looked back,” he says.

And thus sparked the beginning of rowing at Howick College. Williamson was the school’s flag bearer at the Maadi Cup regatta in his first year of rowing, not to mention their only competitor.

Williamson was recently awarded one of the most prestigious awards at Yale University’s graduation ceremony.

Williamson says it was his then coach, Raechel Cummins, who got his rowing career off the ground.

Cummins lent Williamson her own boat and oars, allowed him to train on her rowing machine in her garage and would pick him up each morning for practice at whichever boat club was happy to have them.

“It was a pretty small and personal operation and I will forever be grateful to Raechel for her dedication toward me,” Williamson says.

Fast forward seven years, Williamson says “it is pretty cool to see plenty of Howick coloured oars out at the big regattas mixing it up with some of the most competitive programmes in the country”.

Williamson completed his final two years of high school at Kings College, where he and his crew mates earned four gold and two bronze medals at the Aon Maadi Cup, including gold in the coveted U18 Pair while Williamson and his partner were only 16-years-old.

At the 2018 Rocket Foods New Zealand Rowing Championships, Williamson won the U20 Pair, U22 Pair, and U22 Coxless Four in dominant fashion, leading him to forgo his World Rowing Junior Championship eligibility and be selected straight into the New Zealand team, to compete at the 2018 World Rowing U23 Championships in Poland. His crew of four took home bronze.

Williamson departed New Zealand to the US to study at Yale where he was the first first-year oarsmen at Yale ever to sit in the stroke seat of the winning Varsity 8. He was a member of the 2019 and 2022 IRA national championship crew.

As Covid-19 struck and the Yale rowing season subsequently cancelled, Williamson found himself taking a year off his studies to return to New Zealand with nothing to do but row.

With the 2020 Summer Olympics also being postponed due to Covid, Williamson found himself as part of the rebuild for the NZ Men’s 8 squad and, before long, was on the plane to compete in Tokyo at only 21.

Alongside other esteemed Kiwi rowers Hamish Bond, Thomas Mackintosh, Tom Murray, Michael Brake, Phillip Wilson, Shaun Kirkham, Matt Macdonald and Sam Bosworth, Williamson won the gold medal.

“Going to the Tokyo Olympics – never mind winning a medal, or a gold medal – was not supposed to happen for me. It was never a part of my plan. It actually took many months for me to fully understand and accept that it had happened, I was almost in denial for a while,” Williamson says.

There was no rest after that for Williamson, who returned to Yale straight after the Olympics to complete his studies in an astronomy major and row the university to another IRA national championship in 2022.

“It took me a year to get back to New Zealand and celebrate the Olympic win with my family,” he says.

Williamson’s athletic achievement has been called “close to incomprehensible” by his Yale coach, Steve Gladstone, who is recognised as one of the greatest rowing coaches of all time.

As for what’s next, Williamson has his sights set on winning another medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics and will spend his New Zealand summer training at Lake Karapiro.

In May next year, Williamson and his crew head to Europe for four months to prepare for the Olympics. During that time, they will compete in two world cups in Poland and Switzerland as part of their preparation and have training camps in Italy and Belgium.

“We train two to three times a day for six days a week, and when our day off rolls around, you are usually too tired to get out and do anything. So, not quite the touristy European summer most people would expect we have,” Williamson says.

Howick College says Williamson is a young man who works hard to achieve all he sets out to.

“He is an inspiration to all young people, proving that if you set yourself clear goals, work hard and believe in yourself, doors that at first appeared closed will open to you.”

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