A former dentistry student who followed her passion for theatre and an elite endurance swimmer who is now giving back to the sport through coaching are the Sir Edmund Hillary Medallists for 2020.
The awards are given each year to two high-achieving graduates from the Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship programme – one for sports and one for the creative and performing arts. Worth $1500 each, the medals recognise the students’ all-round excellence: top performances, outstanding academic achievement and exceptional leadership.
This year’s winners are former Sacred Heart Girls’ College student, Bachelor of Health Sport and Human Performance graduate, Claudia Ashby and former Matamata College student, Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science graduate Kelly Petersen.
Claudia had been a competitive swimmer for 10 years before entering the Hillary Scholarship Programme at the University of Waikato three years ago.
“It’s such a big honour to receive this award. I remember on my first day of the programme seeing the people that have won this award before and thinking to myself I’ll never be in the same league as them.”
While an unexplained shoulder injury has put an end for the time being to her own open water competitive swimming career, Claudia has continued to coach some of New Zealand’s best junior swimmers at the Hamilton Aquatics Club, while she has been studying.
“They haven’t been able to work out what is wrong with my shoulder, but I just couldn’t stay away from the pool so I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity the Hamilton Aquatics Club as given me to be the lead junior coach.”
Graduating with a Bachelor of Health Sport and Human Performance, Claudia will start her Masters’ programme this year and says she’d eventually like to work in the field of endurance sport.
Claudia says winning the Hillary medal solidifies the hard work she has put in over the three years to her studies, her sport and the programme.
Former Matamata College student Kelly Petersen, from Tirau says she had initially enrolled to study dentistry at the University of Otago before she applied for the Hillary Scholarship Programme.
“I’ve always love theatre and I thought to myself, what am I doing here so I applied for the programme and it was the best decision I have made.”
Performing theatre all through her school years, her passion for Shakespeare was born when she was given the opportunity to travel to The Globe Theatre in London as a part of the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand Young Shakespeare Company 2015.
“I love that theatre lets me try on other people’s lives without any of the ramifications of actually living them,” says Kelly.
She completed a double degree at the University of Waikato majoring in theatre and biochemistry and says while it may sound like an unusual combination, her goal is to eventually teach maths and science to dyslexic children through dance and drama.
Kelly who is currently employed by Excite! Music and Arts Academy plans to work for a year before beginning her Masters’ study.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunities I have been given through the Hillary Programme and this medal acknowledges that I’ve taken those opportunities and made the most of them. I feel like I have a real direction to head in now.”
University of Waikato High Performance Student Scholarship Manager Greg O’Carroll said Kelly and Claudia took nothing for granted during their time on the scholarship programme.
“Not only have they both worked exceptionally hard towards their own development they always sought opportunities for ways in which they can give back, not just to the Hillary Programme but through the wider communities that they are involved in,” he said.
“They have made a genuine impact and I couldn't be happier for them both,” he said.