Vesna Aroha Radonich is a New Zealander of Croatian and Maori descent who is a world class champion Waka Ama paddler (outrigger canoe racing) in both marathons and sprints.
After being told she was un-coachable, she developed a 'can do' attitude and determination that has taken her to the top of her sport nationally and internationally.
Vesna was born hearing impaired but was undiagnosed until she was five, and also assumed she had ADHD. She struggled with self-esteem, shelf worth and depression in which lead her to contemplated suicide and substance addiction.
"I was addicted to drugs and alcohol, which included heroin, cocaine and that gave me the confidence that I needed due to my low self-esteem”
A friend recommended she try waka ama - which turned out to be a perfect fit.
"I fell in love with it instantly”. I told my coach 'I can't hear - I can't wear my hearing aids when I'm paddling, is that a problem?', and they said 'no, that's fine'. Here was a person who didn't see my disability or stop me participating in the sport.
She says it gave her an adrenalin rush to match any she'd had from drugs. And as her confidence grew, so did her talent.
In 2005 she began her journey to becoming an NZQA Qualified Personal Trainier.
She then moved to Tahiti, in 2010, to learn from the best paddlers.
By 2012 she was a world champion, the first New Zealand woman to win the elite title.
"My advice is just go for it, believe in yourself and know that you can."