Archive for March, 2008

Six Degrees of Separation

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

By David

Have you ever heard of the game called “Six Degrees of Separation?” You play it by working out how far removed you are from the world’s famous people, or from anyone, for that matter. For example, I am one degree of separation removed from President Kennedy. One of our Masters swimmers spent his working life managing the affairs of various US Consulates around the world and he met President Kennedy. Thanks to Stuart, I am also only one degree of separation removed from Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson. Fortunately Stuart never met the current President. I also have just one degree of separation from the New Zealand Prime Minister. Evan, a university mate of mine, works in her office.

It is amazing how few steps are required for most of us to be associated with everyone else. Several studies estimate that each person is an average of just six steps away from every other person on the earth. I never thought I’d have any association with the World Trade Center terrorists. However, in my apartment block in Delray Beach, Florida I live on the third floor. On the fifth and top floor, in apartment 1504, Mohammed Attar plotted the events of September 11, 2001. That’s not the kind of close separation I like.

New Zealand is such a small place that it seems I’ve never met another New Zealander who does not know at least one person that I also know. In fact, New Zealanders must be among the world’s most nomadic people. They turn up everywhere. It could be looked on as an awful condemnation of their home country. Thousands of us can’t wait to get away from the place. But I don’t think so. Instead I think it’s a huge compliment that so many of us are out around the world exploring life elsewhere, confident that our home is a pretty good place to go back to should we ever feel the need. There can’t be much wrong with a nation that breeds such a determined group of independent explorers. Compare that to the thousands in Kansas or Ohio who have never ventured more than a hundred miles or so from where they were born and tell me which one suggests a problem.

Here in Delray Beach, I know one other New Zealander, Kevin, whom Barry Crump would certainly consider a “Good Keen Man.” He is one of a long line of talented and able Kiwi yachties who race expensive sail boats for rich foreign owners. One of his boats made the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald when it struck a rock in Sydney Harbour and sank. He will probably never talk to me again unless I mention that he was not steering at the time.

Eventually, Kevin arrived in the United States, married a very understanding American girl and settled in Delray Beach. Today, Kevin runs a successful home improvement business. His son knows as much about the All Blacks as he does about the NFL. Their home regularly wins the “best lit house in the county” prize at Christmas. But best of all, Kevin remembers the needs of his countrymen. Occasionally he has work to do in the Bahamas. There is a shop there that sells tins of New Zealand’s Anchor butter. Each time Kevin makes the trip he brings me back a tin, knowing that just opening it will bring back all the smells and sights of Taranaki and the Waikato, of guys in Swandris milking a hundred cows before dawn, of muddy gumboots and spotless cow sheds. We’re both here but we haven’t forgotten back there either.

In fact I’m told Kevin was not all that pleased at my lack of concern for New Zealand’s loss to France in the World Rugby Cup. Of course I wanted New Zealand to win but the coach, Graham Henry is not a winning coach; the New Zealander Robbie Deans is a winner, but he coaches the Australians. If that coaching combination stays the same through to the next World Cup, Australia will win; sorry Kevin.

Kevin’s neighbors are members of the Aqua Crest swim team. How’s that for degrees of separation? Their daughter is a very good eleven year old who one day will be good enough to fly off and swim in Europe and other places we like to go. She’s a tough, hard worker and as I’ve told her, she has the advantage of having a New Zealander as her neighbor. Jane, Toni and Nichola each competed for New Zealand in about twenty different countries in their swimming careers. I’m picking that Kevin’s eleven year old neighbor will one day become just like them.

This year, two of the Aqua Crest team are going to the Mare Nostrum series in Monaco, Spain and France. Joe is an ex-USC swimmer and has worked hard to get back into shape after one year away from the sport. Andrew has been doing a Lydiard program for two years and has won a Florida High School Championship and been fourth on three other occasions. They are good guys and I think will enjoy joining that nomadic band of swimmers who, “have suit; will travel.”