Promising 18 year old North Shore pole vaulter Olivia McTaggart and her brother Cameron (20) both competed for New Zealand at the recent Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Cameron competed in the 77kg weightlifting class. It was quite an achievement for the brother and sister to be chosen for the New Zealand Commonwealth Games team. As with most high achieving sportspeople they have strong support in behind them. This is certainly the case with the McTaggarts. Parents Amanda and John were on hand at the Gold Coast to watch Olivia and Cameron compete. Aidan Bennett caught up with Olivia and Cameron when they returned to New Zealand after their Commonwealth Games adventure, and thought it appropriate to also involve mum Amanda for our May cover feature, as this is the month we celebrate our fantastic mums on Mother’s Day, Sunday May 13th.
I just love publishing this magazine and talking about all the good things happening in our North Shore community. I happen to love Mother’s Day as well. So to put together a feature with the high achieving McTaggarts and their mum was a real thrill. I met them for a chat at AUT Millennium.
It only takes a very short time to understand why Olivia and Cameron McTaggart have gone so far in their respective sports in such a short time. They are clearly outstanding young people who have one of the very best support systems around them in mother Amanda, father John and high achieving brother Nathaniel, who just happens to be a biomedical engineer (a degree with Honours from Massey University) who is working at Auckland Hospital.
I started the chat with Olivia and Cameron about the thrill of being chosen to compete for New Zealand at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
“For me it was a long time coming,” explained Cameron. “From the moment I started lifting it was a target and it was great to realise it. The fact that Olivia was there was great as well.”
“It was an ambition for me from a pretty young age,” added Olivia. “From when I was eight years old. Back then it was going to be in gymnastics. The day before I was selected for the team I actually found an old training diary from 2013 that also had the Comm Games in 2018 as my goal. So it was special to achieve that goal set so long ago.”
“The experience was unreal. It was my first time competing for New Zealand and to do it in front of such a massive crowd was unreal. It was a sold-out stadium and it felt like both the Kiwis and Aussies were cheering me on.”
For Cameron the crowd watching the weightlifting was not quite as big, but there were still a few thousand watching him lift.
“Having my first lift in front of the big crowd was unbelievable, and I could see friends and family and I heard mum say ‘you’ve got this Cam’ which really inspired me. I loved the big crowds and the experience of being the centre of attention in such a big competition realised a dream I have had for a long time. I want more, so the next Olympics can’t come soon enough!”
Olivia says she also gained a great deal from her games experience.
“A big thing was experiencing how to deal with the pressure of a big time competition. It was my first time representing New Zealand on a big stage so I learnt a lot about myself mentally. I loved the big crowd and it taught me about staying focused.”
An added factor was that Olivia and Cameron were both born on the Gold Coast and lived there for some years as youngsters, so it was a bit like coming home. Their father John is Australian.
“It felt a bit like a home crowd for both of us,” explained Olivia. “Competing just five minutes away from our home when we lived in Australia.”
You sense that the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games was just the start of an adventure for the McTaggarts. When asked what the next four years look like, they both mentioned the Olympics in Tokyo and the next Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Birmingham, England. For Olivia the next big international event is the World Champs in Doha (Qatar) in 2019 with a total focus on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. Cameron’s pathway to the Olympics starts with trying to qualify in November this year at the World Weightlifting Champs in Turkmenistan.
So what are their passions away from the sporting arenas and stages?
Amanda says that Olivia loves adventure, and that is apparently a “pole vaulter's thing”. She has a passion for filming her adventures that include such things as bungy jumping and she’s set on sky diving in the near future. Olivia has also gained sponsorship deals with adidas and Toyota which has opened up other connections for her as well.
“Due to the publicity around her back problems the Toyota adverts have led to Olivia being invited to speak with other young people who have had spinal fractures,” explained Amanda. “In fact later this week Olivia is going to visit a youngster in Auckland Hospital.”
As well as being a very focused athlete, Cameron works full time for The Drug Detection Agency (TDDA) on the North Shore. He’s done a couple of semesters of a sport and recreation degree at university, but that is now on hold due to weightlifting and work. He says life at the moment is all about “work, training, eating and sleeping”.
Olivia has plans to head to university one day to do something like sports management, but at the moment her pole vaulting career takes priority. For a second year in a row she will be heading off to train and compete in Europe during our winter. The training base is in Leverkusen, Germany, near the cities of Cologne and Düsseldorf. It is the pole vaulting hub of Europe and there is an amazing training facility there. Last year Olivia met the Olympic gold medalist and world champion, who were both training there.
So what about mum Amanda? How does she fit in?
“No matter what happens mum is always there to support us through all our ups and downs,” says Olivia. “And there have been a few of those over the years. She never stops believing and is never too busy for us.”
Amanda is dedicated to her family and says that the psychology degree she completed has meant she can help Olivia and Cameron with the mental focus needed to train and compete at the highest levels.
“Stopping gymnastics was a big thing for me and mum supported that decision,” adds Cameron. “It was her that suggested I get into weightlifting when she saw Richie [Patterson] competing and she suggested him as my coach from day one.
“Mum has always encouraged us to pursue our passions and believes we can do anything. She tells us we must enjoy it while we are doing it. We weren’t enjoying the gymnastics in the end so we changed.”
“We are hugely proud of our three kids,” adds Amanda. “They have all achieved a great deal. Olivia’s strengths are perseverance and consistency. She always puts a hundred percent into what she does. She totally understands the concept of hard work and dedication and building on the hard yards to get results. She’s very self-driven. Cameron has a real belief in himself and a fierce determination. A strong core belief that he can achieve his goals and lift his weights.
“When I am watching them compete I can tell what’s happening from a distance. I have a real sense of whether they are in the right zone to do well.”
So how do the McTaggart kids spoil their mum on mother’s day?
“Mum loves Mother’s Day and we love spoiling her,” says Olivia. “That includes breakfast in bed and presents and cards. Mum loves trees and parks, so we will also go to one of her favourite parks for some family time. Cornwall Park is one of those favourites.”
Amanda loves the attention on Mother’s Day. “I love being spoilt and I particularly enjoy the cards from the kids. I appreciate getting those special written messages that come on Mother’s Day. I can’t imagine life without Nathaniel, Cameron and Olivia. They have helped me grow as a person. They have taught me about life and learning and are my outlet for understanding about life and how rewarding the experiences can be.”
To complete our Mother’s Day feature I asked Cameron and Olivia why they couldn’t do without their mum…
Cameron: “… because she is always there whenever I need her.”
Olivia: “… because she’s my rock through everything and always knows best. She really does, even though I might not think so at the time!”