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Top rower’s deeds recognised in TGS lounge renaming

Flagstaff Team

Room with a view… Juliette Drysdale with husband Mahé Drysdale and children (from left) Frankie (2) Bronte (7) and Boston (5) at the opening of a lounge in her honour.

She was known amongst Takapuna Grammar School (TGS) teachers as the girl who often forgot her shoes. But Juliette Haigh later became famous for much more impressive reasons – as a world-champion rower and Olympic medallist.

Now known as Juliette Drysdale, running a photography business and living with her husband, fellow former rowing star Mahé Drysdale, and their three young children on a lifestyle block near Cambridge, she returned to her old school last week with her family and parents John and Penny Haigh for the formal opening of the Juliette Drysdale Lounge, which has been renamed in honour of her achievements.

Formerly the Bert Sutcliffe lounge, the room overlooking the school’s sports fields has been renamed due to the cricketing great’s name having been attached to a new cricket pavilion.

TGS principal Mary Nixon said in deciding on a name the school had considered former pupils who embodied its values. “Juliette quickly rose to the top.”

Nixon joked that looking through the former Juliette Haigh’s school files for weaknesses she could only find a note that she was known to teachers as a girl who forgot her shoes and had even once worn slippers to school.

Intelligent, hard working, posting excellent results, and being appointed a deputy head girl, she had taken every opportunity offered by the school, playing in jazz and concert bands, and competing in numerous sports, including netball and basketball and of course rowing, Nixon said.

In the coxless pair, she won gold medals at two world championships and five world rowing cup events, and represented New Zealand at three Olympic Games, winning bronze in London in 2012.

Drysdale said having the room named after her was a huge honour. “I’m still getting my head around the fact you thought of me.”

She was grateful for the opportunities TGS gave her, early rowing coaches such as Rachel Heeney, and the support of teachers and then-principal Paul Daley, who would send messages to her throughout her racing career.

Drysdale was particularly influenced by a visit to TGS by Olympic rower Rob Waddell. “We weren’t allowed to touch his medals, but seeing them set a light off in me that I desperately wanted to get to the Olympics.”

She fulfilled her Olympic dream, but had to persevere to win a medal. Drysdale clocked up a sixth and a fifth in Olympic finals before taking bronze in London.

She recalled the final stages of the London race, putting her head down and giving it everything. “When I lifted my head we had won bronze,” she said.

“I hope the Juliette Drysdale – JD – Lounge will have many after-match functions and events in years ahead.”

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