Shake Hands With An Old Face

By David

I met Selwyn Pohio at the West Wave pool in Auckland this morning. I am certain most readers will be aware of the name. However, there may be some who are new to the sport and have not caught up with the significant events that forged this nation’s proud swimming history. For those unfortunates let me tell you about Selwyn Pohio.

Through the late 1960s and 1970s Selwyn and I competed together in Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay swimming. He came from the flash and pretty exclusive village of Havelock North in Hawke’s Bay. He was coached by John Beaumont and swam for the Trojan’s Swim Team. I came from Gisborne and swam for the Comet Swimming Club. I was coached by the most dominant personality and hardest worker I have met in swimming, Beth Meade. Her son Greg swam at the same time and is coach of the Comet Club today.

Actually, I lived just outside of Wairoa. Each Friday, after school, I travelled 100 kilometres by train to, what for me was the huge city of Gisborne. They were great days. Greg would meet me at the train. He was a good Catholic boy and was under orders to eat only fish on a Friday so, on the way to the pool, we called in at Gisborne’s fish and chips shop to collect our standing order of two pieces of fish and a scoop of chips. Then on to the Comet club night and Beth’s standing order of eight handicap races. The cold nights were made bearable by blankets shared with Rosemary Hewitt, Wendy Fitzgerald and Caroline Adie.

I don’t want you to think the warm blankets were any excuse to misbehave. Our evenings were closely monitored by “old-man Shaw”. He punished any miscreant with half an hour spent sitting in the unheated learner’s pool. Unfortunately, I need to confess to several cold half hour sessions in the McCrae bath’s learner’s pool. Once, I even managed two periods of confinement on the same night. Greg, of course, was far worse than me. He just didn’t get caught as often; bloody cunning bugger that Greg.

After club night, I spent the weekend at Beth’s place, training on Saturday and catching the train back to Wairoa on Sunday afternoon. Two hundred kilometres a week to get to club night, that must be some sort of record. Training during the week in Wairoa was also a bit difficult. There was no pool in those days so I training in the tranquil Hangaroa River. I’m actually quite pleased to have won provincial championships and swum in the national championships with no coach and just a river for company.

Anyway, enough of all that. The purpose of this story was to tell you about Selwyn Pohio. As I said he came from the high-brow community of Havelock North. Us, Poverty Bay sorts thought that was very posh. I guess it’s a bit like the relationship between WAQ westies and North Shore today. Looks like I’m destined to always swim on the wrong side of the tracks. I’m not saying Selwyn had it easy. The Havelock North pool, in those days, wasn’t heated. Selwyn tells me the pool opened for the summer at the end of October. One opening day there was still snow on TeMata peak behind the pool. Coach Beaumont urged his two best swimmers, including Selwyn, into action. Selwyn managed one length before retreating to the warmth of his parent’s car.

Selwyn Pohio, though, was a bloody good swimmer. I’m not sure whether he ever won an Age Group or Open Nationals. I do know he got medals in those competitions. In Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay he was a super star. The Championship, I remember most, was held in Gisborne. Selwyn was in his first year as a senior swimmer. Greg and I lay in wait, determined to teach this brash city kid a swimming lesson. The pain of the lesson he taught us, stays with me still. Selwyn Pohio went back to Havelock North with five championship gold medals. The city kid had come, had seen and had conquered.

However, as is the way with sport, the race I remember most from that year, is one that Greg won; the 440 yards individual medley. My backstroke was too bad for me to ever feature in a race between the Meade and Pohio giants. I spent most of the race swimming along with my head up watching the battle unfold; Greg ahead in the butterfly, but caught and passed in the backstroke and Greg drawing level in the breaststroke, before holding on by inches in the freestyle to win the title. I swam into the finish in third place just in time to watch Greg throw up his fish and chip dinner in the lane beside me. I was hugely impressed. They had to stop the Championship for half an hour to clean up the evidence of Greg’s effort.

Pohio and Meade were the titans of that Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay era. And here, today Selwyn Pohio wandered into the West Wave pool for a swim. He even asked if he could use one of the West Auckland Aquatic lanes. Could Selwyn Pohio swim in one of our lanes? You’d better believe it. And while he cruised up and down, as relaxed and smooth as ever, I explained to WAQ’s swimmers they were sharing their lane with swimming royalty. Maybe a few kilograms heavier than forty years ago; maybe not quite as fast, but Selwyn Pohio was right at home and most welcome.

After his swim Selwyn and I sat and reminisced. Did he, did I, remember Quinton Todd, Alan Cristie, Sandra Whitleston, Johnny Palmer and a dozen others. Perhaps it’s true. The older you get the better you were. I don’t know. Certainly the more fun, the better the times were. In fact, on the strength of Selwyn’s visit, I think I’ll pop out and pick up a meal of two fish and a scoop of chips. Thank you Greg Meade. Thank you Selwyn Pohio.

  • TM

    Fantastic story David. Ask Greg about cooking bacon & eggs on his deck dressed in his jockey “Y” fronts. I have flashbacks of horror whenever I see a bar-b-q. Hope you & your team have a great Nationals next week.

  • J

    :-) the joys of youth and nostalgia! My memories of David are that he was always winning by at least half a length (OK, maybe a third of the length?) in the school swimming sports and that number one spot on the dias was his alone as he steadily broke every record in the year book. Te Reinga (and Wairoa College) breeds them tough.

    Luckily I am too young to be able to tell tales about him out of the pool; we angelic third formers were left to imagine what the big kids got up to!

  • David Wright

    I’m not at all sure who “J” is. I think the initial is a ploy to lead us in the wrong direction. If “J” is who I think she might be then I could tell a story or two about those third form members. But better not – Swimwatch is restricted to swimming matters and family content.