1978 WRCH W8

There’s an iconic photo of Stephanie Foster sitting in her boat, dressed in the distinctive black and white of New Zealand’s row suit, proudly holding up a World Rowing Championship medal, a stuffed kiwi bird at her feet. The photo is etched into the minds of all New Zealand sports fans.

“Gosh it’s a long time ago,” says Foster when thinking back to her stand out memory. “It has to be 1986 at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburg, I did the single and double and got gold in both. It wasn’t so much the medals, but the response from the Kiwis there. I then went on to the World Champs and got third in the world.”

These memories signified a bunch of firsts that saw Foster become one of New Zealand’s most famous rowers. The Commonwealth golds were the first time a New Zealand woman rower had medalled at the Commonwealth Games. The World Championship medal was also a first for women and then her rowing at the 1984 Olympic Games, again a first for New Zealand women.

Now 63 years old, with a well-established business, married and two grown sons, Foster looks back at her rowing life with the respect it deserves.

Foster started her rowing career off with a bang. The tall, slender high school student was made for rowing. She went from being a novice to winning a New Zealand title in just five months and from then on rowing took over her life.

“It was non-stop every year. Summer season, training camps, preparing for the European summer, competing, coming home and starting all over again. Non-stop.

“In the single I was training twice a day, six days a week and then more with aerobic training.”

This continued for ten years before Foster quit.

Retirement came easily. “I decided I’d had enough. I went home and told my now husband, Brett and he said, ‘just do one more year’. I tried but didn’t like it. My heart wasn’t in it. Then on the way to Twizel (for the National Championships) we had a motorbike accident.

“I was sitting in bed in hospital thinking, ‘this is great, it’s all over!’ I felt so relieved.

“When the time comes, it is obvious.”

Foster says that the best part after retirement was seeing all the women that were coming through in the sport. “When you’re on your own it’s very lonely – being in the single and being the only woman around (Foster was the only woman on the New Zealand team that went to the LA Olympics). There’s also loneliness as when you’re good people shy away from you.”

After retirement Foster did other sports for fun; squash and hockey. She also did some coaching and went into sports administration roles including the NZ drug agency and the NZ sports commission and a number of Boards.

“I wanted to give back by doing this for all of the people who had supported me.”

The oars remain firmly hanging and dry.

“I rowed at a masters regatta a few years ago. I nearly killed myself! You have a standard that you remember yourself and you still see yourself as you were.”

With her husband, they built up a property management and investment business. “We’ve worked very hard. We’ve had it rough. We’ve gone through careful financial times and we’re out the other side. Now we’re trying to kick back.”

Not one that takes to relaxing very easily, Foster says, “It’s difficult to get up in the morning and not fly out the door.

“I’m very motivated and I’ve got no intention of stopping, but I’m trying to slow down.”

Of the lesson learned from rowing Foster says with a laugh, humility. “Humility, grace, patience. I always say we’ve all got things that we want to achieve, they’re just at different levels. I did a lot of talking in schools. I did that because children need to be encouraged. We need to explain that things are achievable, even the basic things.

“You’ve got to have a goal. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is. Put a time limit on it and then work from where you are now and put rungs in the ladder. Then one by one, mark them off.”

And does rowing come up very often in conversation these days?

“Not if I can help it, says Foster. And quickly adds, “Not in a bad way. I’ve been there, done it, but I do take note of what’s going on.”

She is still recognised. “People look sideways and say ‘I know you’ and I say ‘you’re not old enough!”

From her rural home in Central Otago surrounded by nature’s beauty of tussocks and pristine, rolling hills, Foster knows what’s important.

“I’m a good wife, mum and great friend. I love life.”