Fit & Fab: Allison Haworth West

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 January, 2013, 10:14am

Towering above her peers, Allison Haworth West was a naturally gifted athlete who spent her childhood collecting medals in every sport imaginable. But a severe back injury cut short her dreams when she was told she would never play sport again.

Two decades later, the 44-year-old from Australia is back skiing, and is taking up tennis lessons and contemplating golf. Her secret? Stand-up paddling (SUP).

"SUP has done so much for me, physically, building up my core and putting a lot more structural integrity in my body," she says.

Her new sports passion almost didn't happen - twice. She immediately dismissed it as a celebrity craze when discovering it in a "trashy gossip magazine" several years ago.

"I thought it looked boring," she says. When she finally decided to try the sport, she never made it to the water, as she injured her back picking up the oversized board.

Thankfully, curiosity got the better of her and, after recovering, she tried again. Since those first reluctant strokes 18 months ago, she hasn't stopped. She paddles several mornings a week in the south of Hong Kong Island.

"Now, I love it," she says. "Being a windsurfer, I really like that feeling of being out on the water; and being a skier, I like the sensation of gliding. Being a boating person, I understand the sea. So SUP brings together all those different things."

Haworth West's working life is as varied as her sporting interests. She runs her family business, Captain Cook Cruises, in Fiji; has her own children's clothing company, Kuki Kids; and is a Hong Kong representative for Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) Heli-skiing. Like most working mums, her biggest challenge is fitting it all in.

"I try to have a good balance, but my kids are the most important thing and provide the pivot point around which everything else operates," she says.

Back in form and with a revived lust for sport, she says her latest struggle is moderating her aspirations. "It's hard, as by nature I want to do as much as possible of everything."

What's one thing people don't know about you?

I got in early before extreme skiing really got big; but I was the first ever New South Wales, Australia female extreme skiing champion in 1992 and the Telemark champion in the same year.

What's one sport you've still yet to master?

Golf. I started playing as a child and then got back into it as an adult. Because I learned it at such a young age, the swing was very natural to me; but just when I decided to get into it, I did my back in. Now I'm stronger, it's next on my list.

You've had a successful professional career and a full sporting career. Do you think you've just been lucky or have you created your own path?

I think it's a bit of both. You could say I've been unlucky in some ways, as I've had so many injuries. I think it's more about making your own life. When my back went and my life changed, I didn't sit around and whinge about it. I said: "What's the next thing I'm going to do?" And for me that was going to yoga every Saturday morning and barely being able to lift my head off the ground lying on my stomach. I didn't get frustrated. It is what it is and I tried to make the most of it.

What are your most memorable sporting moments?

Jumping out of a helicopter at the top of the Canadian mountains and heli-skiing. Standing there as the chopper took off and being left in silence among all this snow in the mountains was incredible. And a ski run I did last year in Niseko, Japan, where there was so much snow I could barely see. That feeling of weightlessness as I bounced around through powder, snow-filled gullies. For someone who was told they would never be able to ski again, it was pretty amazing.

With such a sporting pedigree, what's your hope for your children?

I grew up with my mother telling me to try and do my best at everything, but to not do anything to excess. She was very wise and seemed to know my temperament, and tried to protect me from hurting myself. It didn't work, but it left a mark for sure. I feel the same way for my kids: I want them to try their best and enjoy sport. Whatever it is that they like, I want them to do it. My daughter is fanatical about karate right now, which is surprising, but I'm very happy for her.

Do you think you could have achieved more sporting success as a child if you had been given the opportunity?

As a girl I dreamed of winning a gold medal at track and field. I like doing things well and learning how things work. I'm a perfectionist. But there wasn't any training. I've often reflected on what could have been, but at the end of the day I don't think I had the body. Instead, I think I've led a richer life and had more experiences, with some sprinkling of sport along the way.