Dame Lisa Carrington, world champion kayaker and New Zealand’s most decorated Olympian of all time, played netball growing up and dreamed of being a Silver Fern.
She is a six-time Olympic medallist, having won five gold medals and one bronze in three consecutive Olympics. In addition, she has collected 14 gold, 5 silver, and 2 bronze World championship medals. She also won the Lonsdale Cup three times.
Paddling to the Olympics
Carrington, from Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki and Ngāti Porou and European descent, was born on 23 June 1989 in Tauranga and raised in Ōhope Beach. She attended Whakatane High School and Massey University in Albany. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Politics and Māori Studies, as well as a Graduate Diploma in Psychology, and is studying for a Masters in Psychology.
A typical Kiwi kid, Dame Lisa played netball in winter and surf-lifesaving in summer. She was good at netball and won national surf life-saving medals. “I wanted to be a Silver Fern,” Carrington told Sport New Zealand during an interview. “If you play a sport, you want to be the best.”
Her first experience of rowing was paddling a surf ski. Her mother Glynnis told Sport Illustrated, how much time the young Lisa spent in the waves practicing on her surf ski. “It was just that drive to be out there and practice.” The practice paid off when she won a national surf ski race at age 16.
Her father, Pat, encouraged her to try canoeing. He signed her up for a kayaking camp on a lake near Ōhope. One of the coaches, four-time gold medallist Ian Fergusson, later said she was a natural. The future Olympian entered the national championships in Auckland later that same year (2007)—borrowing a kayak from a fellow racer.
Dame Lisa won her first Olympic gold in the K1 – 200m Women’s event at the London Olympics in 2012. Since then she added gold to her Olympic tally for this event at both the Rio Olympics (2016) and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. She also won Olympic gold for K1 – 500m Women (2020) and K2 – 500m Women in 2020.
Honours, Awards, and a Damehood
Described by Sports Illustrated as “quietly humble, yet furiously driven”, she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2013 and Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to canoe racing, in 2022.
She was named Halberg Sportswoman of the year 5 times (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022), Halberg Sportswoman of the Decade: 2021, and received the Halberg Supreme Award in 2016 and 2022.
In 2021 she was named the most influential Māori Sports Personality of the past 30 years. Previously she was awarded Māori Sportswoman of the Year 6 times and Overall Māori Sportsperson of the Year 6 times.
Dame Lisa currently lives in Auckland with her husband Michael and their dog, Colin.