Kayla Baker might not consider herself a prestigious person, but one of the world’s most prestigious universities disagrees.
The 18-year-old Nelson rower has been accepted into Harvard University in Massachusetts, an Ivy League school which boasts an alumni that includes Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
She was one of only eight rowers from around the globe offered a place at the institution.
“I still don’t believe it,” she says. “I have always joked about wanting to go to Harvard, but now it’s actually happening.”
In mid-January, Kayla was at a rowing training when she saw she had three missed calls from an American number.
Kayla kept playing phone tag with Harvard until she waited up until 2.30am and finally got hold of them, waking the household with the news.
“I just started yelling and screaming, ‘I got in, I got in!’”
Kayla’s S.A.T exam score saw her in the top 4 per cent of those who took the test, with her maths results landing her in the top two.
Her visit to the campus was her first trip overseas. She admits she will need to make some cultural adjustments, such as Americans driving on the other side of the road.
She says she is relishing the idea of competing in the Ivy League and the traditional rowing rivalry with Yale University – not to mention the world-class training facilities.
“The boathouse was just incredible.”
She plans to study environmental engineering when her semester starts on August 27.
Kayla’s rowing journey only began a few years ago. Originally a swimmer, a shoulder injury forced her out of the pool and into the boat.
“I just went to the Nelson Rowing Club and asked if I could join.”
Her rowing resume already includes gold at the 2017 Maadi Cup. She was also recently selected in the New Zealand junior rowing team to compete at the world championships in the Czech Republic from August 12-17.
With Harvard ticked off her list, Kayla has reassessed her goals which now includes winning gold at the world champs.
She hopes to replicate the success of the New Zealand women’s team who won gold in 2010.