28 Sep 2019

Dame Val helps put little sister on the podium

5:29 pm on 28 September 2019

The story was originally published on the Newsroom website.

By Sarah Cowley Ross

Two years ago, Lisa Adams was given the chance to overhaul her life, when she was handed a shot put and urged to give it a go.

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Lisa Adams (right) with her older sister Dame Valerie Adams. Photo: Photosport

"When I first started, I was a smoker, a bad eater and I was running on about four hours sleep a night," Adams admits.

Now the 28-year-old, who was born with cerebral palsy, is a Para athletics world record holder, aiming for gold at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

She's training five days a week, and is coached by her older sister - double Olympic champion and four times world champion Dame Valerie Adams.

"Shot put and athletics were always Val's thing. But I was given an opportunity and I have to take it," Lisa Adams said.

The opportunity came about when Raylene Bates, New Zealand's lead Para athletics coach, spotted a newspaper article on Adams in her first year playing rugby. The 1.87m tall lock helped the Waikite women win the 2017 Rotorua local championship.

Although Adams has hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy affecting the limbs on the left side of her body, it had never stopped her from playing netball and basketball.

When Bates saw the story, she thought: "If she's an Adams, she's going to be tall and have amazing levers".

Bates made a call to Adam's big sister Val to sound her out about offering Lisa a chance to try throwing. They knew each other well, from Bates' time as the Athletics New Zealand team manager from 2006 to 2012.

Dame Val was immediately supportive of her sister, Bates said, recognising some of the opportunities Lisa would be afforded in high performance sport.

New Zealand's Valerie Adams won silver in the women's shot at the Rio Olymics.

New Zealand's Valerie Adams won silver in the women's shot at the Rio Olymics. Photo: Photosport

A few months after the initial call, Adams was classified as a T37 athlete, with two limbs affected by her cerebral palsy. Her disability, she explains, affects her strength, range of motion and speed of movement on her left side.

"I went down to Hastings to get classified and then they gave me a shot put and discus and said 'try this'. I threw, and then I asked the classifier and the team physiotherapist, Jarrod Scott: 'Am I shit'?" she said.

Adams simply didn't want to go all in, if there was no hope for her as she knew it would be a huge commitment.

Their answer was a definite 'no'.

"It was very obvious when she first picked up the shot that she had the potential to go a long way," Bates said.

A few months later, in March 2018, Adams won her first national shot put title in Hamilton. She then broke the world record in her class at the national championships in Christchurch earlier this year.

"I was so emotional, breaking the world record in Christchurch. I ran over to Val to give her a hug and realised I was crying," Adams said.

She's broken the record several times since, and most recently set a new personal best of 15.21m to win the Oceania area championships in Townsville in July.

Adams' motivation lies with her six-year-old son, Hikairo. She wants to show him that he too can give something a go and work hard to achieve his goals.

"We train hard. Val's hard on me, but I like it. We're pretty honest with each other and she's just been amazing," Adams said.

Family is hugely important to the Adams family and Lisa admits she can't imagine being coached by anyone else.

For Dame Val, seeing her sister exposed to the sport that has provided so much in her own life has been a blessing.

"I'm so proud of Lisa - the amount of training she's doing, the choices that she's making and how organised she is. This has been life-changing for her - she's done a 180 on her life," Dame Val said.

Coaching her sister has been great for their relationship, too. As a coach, Val has had to be more adaptable to meet her sister's needs as a Para athlete, at times modifying exercises.

"I love the fact that she's so driven. At training we have a coach/athlete relationship, but when we're not at training we're just two sisters. It's awesome," Dame Val said.

The Adams family have never treated Lisa differently because of her cerebral palsy - she played able-bodied sport growing up and was never given an easier option.

"My Dad made her do everything we all did. She's had to fend for herself to keep up, and she has kept up," Dame Val said.

Together the sisters are a "package deal", said Bates. The fact they are both mothers juggling a lot means they "get each other" and understand the level of organisation required to balance training, work and their families.

"Lisa has become a high performance athlete and to see her grow as a person has been amazing," admits Bates. "It's also been awesome to see Val blossom as a coach. They're a great team."

The pair are now preparing for the Para athletics world championships in Dubai, in November.

Lisa Adams commutes between Auckland - training at AUT Millennium - and her home in Rotorua, where her old school, Rotorua Lakes High, has installed a shot put stop board for her to train on.

She hopes the choices she's made to be a better athlete, powered by the motivation to help her son, will take her to the top of the podium in Dubai and Tokyo.

"I'm 28," she said. "If I'm not going to do this now, I'll probably never do it."