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Annelise Diamond webAnnelise Diamond was leading the Kiwi OE dream working at Walt Disney World until earlier this month. Photo supplied.Ashburton’s Annelise Diamond is playing a waiting game in America as she works out when she might be able to get home.

The 21-year-old was caught out this month as countries around the world rapidly responded to Covid-19 erupting into a deadly pandemic.

Diamond had been living the Kiwi OE dream, working as a character performer in the entertainment department at Walt Disney World, Florida.

It was a job she loved, getting to hang out with the likes of Mickey Mouse and Goofy, making the dreams of children and adults alike come true as they interacted with the characters they idolised.

That was until March 14, when she and fellow workers got an email saying the parks were closing.

There had been whispers just an hour or so prior, but Diamond was not sure whether to believe them.

She was among about 8000 workers from overseas and interstate on an internship-style “college programme” who got the email, giving them just two days’ notice. They would then have a further two days to get out of their accommodation complexes provided as part of the programme.

“My whole world came crashing down,” she said.

Diamond considered coming home, but with not enough funds to immediately book an airfare and a fear she could somehow have picked up the virus from her job and then be a risk to others, she decided to stay put for at least a few days.

But then New Zealand shut its borders, making Diamond one of what is believed to be thousands of Kiwis sheltering overseas.

She plans to come home as soon as she can, but in the meantime she is grateful to be staying with boyfriend James and his family in Kentucky.

She has study planned for the University of Canterbury beginning in July, undertaking a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Music and Maori and minoring in history.

If she cannot get back prior to that, she hopes she can study long-distance.

Diamond is in America on a J1 cultural exchange visa, which means she can work while reporting on a cultural activity she undertakes.

But losing her job means she has lost her J1 status, and legally she shoud only be in the country for 30 days from when she was last working.

She has been in touch with consulate and immigration departments and is in the process of applying for an extension to her visa, knowing she will not be able to leave the country even if she doesn’t get it.

James is also planning on studying in New Zealand, and the couple hope they can somehow get back here by July.

“Once we get into New Zealand we are a hell of a lot safer than we are here,” Diamond said.

She said it was frustrating in America where the country had not taken the strong leadership which had been shown in New Zealand.

The way president Donald Trump had handled the pandemic crisis made her feel unsafe, although the states, of which Kentucky was one of the better ones, were doing what they could.

The advice was to stay at home if you can and practise social distancing.

“Which nobody is doing,” she said.

She had recently gone to the hardware store to buy paint brushes for painting a room. However, only a handful of people there in the checkout queue were obeying signs to stand two metres apart.

The tough lockdown procedures introduced in New Zealand were a far more effective way to deal with it.

“It’s made me so proud to be where I’m from,” she said.

By Susan Sandys © The Ashburton Guardian - 31 March 2020

Taonga web1Taonga Mbambo has had his first year at university in the United States cut short by the coronavirus outbreak. Photo suppliedWhile an injury might have de-railed his rookie cross country season in the United States, runner Taonga Mbambo could have never expected a global pandemic would bring it to an early end.

The former Ashburton College student has been on an academic and athletic scholarship to La Salle University in Philadelphia.

Mbambo arrived back in New Zealand last week and has been in self-isolation since then.

“It has been pretty boring self-isolating since Sunday and not being allowed to leave my room,” he said.

He first left for the United States in August and returned over Christmas and headed back across the Pacific at the start of this year.

The first semester consisted of the cross country season, which after a promising start came to an early end after Mbambo was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his shin less than a week out from their conference championships.

“My team went on to win the conference championships so that was disappointing not to be able to be a part of that,” he said.

One of Mbambo’s best results was finishing 32nd at an event in New York which showed just how much higher the level of competition is in the United States.

“I finished second out of the freshman in the event and if I ran that time at the New Zealand Champs for my age grade I would’ve won which is crazy that I only finished 32nd,” he said.

Mbambo said the cross country courses were fairly similar to those in New Zealand, with most races being run on golf courses in the United States.

Based in the north-east of the country, he competed in events in New York, Rhode Island, Virginia.

“We do travel round a bit and there are lots of opportunities,” he said.

“Some athletes in our programme got to go to North Carolina and Boston to compete and we were going to get the opportunity to go to Florida for an event but the virus stopped that.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the second semester, which consists of indoor track events followed by outdoor track events.

The 19-year-old said he feels he is strongest competing in cross country at the moment, with limited experience in the other two area, especially indoor racing.

“We have no indoor tracks here in New Zealand and it is a completely different experience,” he said.

“You can’t breathe and the track is 200m shorter than outdoors so the racing is a lot more tactical so I’ve got a bit of learning to do there.”

With La Salle University closed like most colleges in the United States, Mbambo is finishing the rest of the semester online, and all going well will return to Philadelphia for his second year.

“Since I got injured in the cross country season in my first year and can get medically excused and so while I’ll be a year older and in my second year I will still be able to race as a rookie,” Mbambo said.

“Hopefully I will be able to win rookie of year for my conference and the team can win the conference championships again.”

Each college has a team of 10 runners, with the best seven finishing runners from each team getting points for their team based on where they finished.

From the conference finals they move the regional finals before progressing to the nationals.

Mbambo said he would love to qualify for the nationals at least once in his time at La Salle.

Mbambo was born in Zambia and moved to New Zealand with his family when he was seven years old.

The family lived in Dunedin for the first seven years and moved to Ashburton around five years ago.

By Jaime Pitt-MacKay © The Ashburton Guardian - 30 March 2020

Ged Wall Rower webGed Wall. Photo supplied.Ashburton rowers Ged and Isabel Wall have finished the season on a high.Although the rowing season has come to an abrupt and premature end, the Ashburton College pupils should feel pleased with how the season panned out regardless.

Isabel (13) clinched a gold medal in the open para double sculls at the New Zealand Rowing Championships at Lake Karapiro, Cambridge last month.

Meanwhile older brother Ged (16) finished fourth in the A Final Men’s club double skulls, followed by second place finishes in the B Final Men’s Club Coxless Quad Skulls and Club Single Skulls.

“My expectations were probably lower than what I actually did,” Ged said.

Isabel echoed these sentiments as she approached the national regatta with a low-key approach.

“I wasn’t expecting much, but I’m glad I got a medal.”

She did admit that the nerves kicked in prior to racing, which was nothing unusual for her.

“But when I did it I was relieved and realise there wasn’t much to be nervous about.”

Ged backed up his national regatta efforts with a second place in the Boys’ Under-17 Single Skulls A Final and a fourth place in the Under-18 singles, rowing for AshColl at the South Island Secondary School Rowing Championships in Twizel a fortnight ago.

The pair were set to compete in next month’s Maadi Cup in what would have been their season finale, however the event was ultimately called off due to the Covid-19 crisis.

Although the brother and sister combination preferred to do their own thing as rowers, Ged remained generous in providing pointers for his younger sister

“She just tells me to go away,” he laughed.

Isabel Wall webIsabel Wall. Photo supplied.Both will be ones to watch once the rowing season (hopefully) reconvenes later in the year.

By Adam Burns © The Ashburton Guardian - 27 March 2020