I spent a week in the middle of March in the South Island, where I attended the Maadi Cup for Secondary School Rowing, which is in fact the biggest sporting event for secondary schools in the Southern Hemisphere. There were some 2300 rowers, countless coaches and managers and several thousand parents, grandparents and supporters. Where the heck they packed everyone within the tiny town of Twizel, I do not know, but it seemed to work. Every time I went to the 4 Square shop to buy supplies, it was packed full of visitors, bumping trolleys together to replenish their supplies for their various houses, motor homes, camp grounds, motels, air BNB’s, rented houses and maybe even in the back seat of their cars.
It was a splendid event, wonderfully run by the organisers even through the adverse weather conditions that made it hazardous for the rowers, one day was virtually written off due to weather conditions, when it got down to two degrees, with a wind chill factor of minus five. For a soft boy from Devonport, I found it quite invigorating. I was told by experts prior to travelling down there that the conditions would be extremely warm, with long balmy evenings. Hence I took shorts and jandals, and a couple of Hawaiian shirts. Boy, was I caught out, it was absolutely bitter for several of the days.
It was an absolute privilege to be among so many young New Zealand athletes, striving to reach the pinnacle of their sporting prowess and have a gold medal around their neck. An experience they will take for the rest of their lives, to be able to tell people they won a gold medal at the Maadi Cup; or in fact any medal, as I didn’t realise how hard it was to achieve this.
While I was down there, I received a telephone call from a dear friend. From the elation of watching all these young people achieve their goals, to in a minute, absolute heartbreak. I heard that one of my close friends had chosen to end his life. Wow, that stopped me instantly in my tracks. Tears poured and I found somewhere to go, far from the madding crowds, amongst the pine trees that bordered the rowing facility to gather my thoughts as I realised the gravity of the situation. The hopelessness of being unable to do anything, the sheer pain, wondering what was going on in his mind prior to the event and wishing that he had put his hand up, spoken to a friend, his brother, or any of his family – somebody, just to be able to share his load and make him realise that his situation was not that bad. We New Zealand males are hopeless at this, we must do something about it. I got back on the Sunday and had to attend the funeral on the Wednesday at the Holy Trinity Church in Devonport. The scene of so many funerals, weddings, christenings over the last 100 years. Not many funerals were as sad as this one, a huge crowd that spilled out of the Church and onto the surrounding footpaths. Lots of hugs, tears, laughter, hand shaking, back slapping along with the absolute disbelief as to why we were all there.
One of the eulogy speakers made a very special comment,
“If you are out swimming and you get into trouble, what do you do? You put your hand up, and the surf life savers will come and help you.”
That’s the way we have always been taught in New Zealand, over many years. We must use this example for our everyday lives. If we feel as though we are in trouble, or struggling to cope, please put your hand up and somebody will always come to help you. A problem shared, is a problem halved, we should all remember that.