Greg Meade

By David

In case you are an unbeliever who holds as suspect anything written on this blog, the photograph below is printed to confirm that I do know the subject of this story. I am second from the right and Greg Meade is third. I think I was sixteen and Greg was one year younger. If that’s true the photograph was taken in 1964. I can’t remember the names of many of the other swimmers except for Rosemary Hewett (third from the left) who was the local doctor’s daughter and who we all held in huge esteem and awe. The last I heard Rosemary was married to a successful lawyer in Christchurch.

 

Back in 1964 Greg was a swimming superstar. The year this photograph was taken, Greg won every race in every stroke over every distance at the Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay Championships and added the senior men’s 400 medley as well. The Gisborne Herald was full of well earned superlatives.

I lived in Wairoa at the time and travelled by railcar to Gisborne every Friday night to attend the Comet club night and train with the club on Saturday and Sunday. Every weekend I stayed at Greg’s home. His mother Beth was the Comet coach and the most influential woman in Gisborne’s swimming history. Greg is now a very successful coach of the same Comet Club. The Olympic pool he uses was built thanks to the fund-raising efforts of his mother.

They were great days. Hot summer afternoons; the tar melting on Gladstone Road; afternoon movies while we waited for training, Howard Morrison concerts on the beach, Friday night fish and chips and a game of golf after morning training – Gisborne was the ideal place to spend ones happy teenage years.

When it came to swimming Comet Club was without peer. It was the largest club in New Zealand and for a decade we won the club provincial championships. I’m pretty sure this next claim is accurate, but a year after this photograph was taken Comet scored more points at the Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay Championships than the combined total of all the other clubs added together. The atmosphere and team unity of Gisborne’s Comet Club were unbelievable. We just loved the sport, loved the training; would not have swapped one minute of our time for anything else.

And the swimming leader and club captain of all that was Greg Meade. He was a terrific swimmer and a good guy. He was one of those gifted swimmers who never lost a close race. The only times, and there were very few of them, I’ve seen him beaten, the margin was several meters. If a race was close Greg somehow found a way of getting to the wall first. I came close to beating him a couple of times; once at the Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay provincial championships and once at the North Island Inter-secondary Championships. Sadly for me, on both occasions, Greg was too good.

He was too good when he beat Selwyn Pohio by inches to win a championship 400 Medley and promptly threw up in the pool. He was too good when he won the New Zealand Championship Age Group medley and butterfly titles. He was too good at every Secondary School Championships. The only place he willingly ceded first place was in training. Here, he gladly relinquished the role of leading the club’s fastest training lane to me. For several thousand kilometres he followed me up and down the McCrae baths. Although he will deny the charge, Greg was never shy about trying to convince me that we had swum 10×100 when I was sure the truth was eight. Any swimmer at Comet training tomorrow has my permission to remind their coach of his dilatory ways.

Actually you can also remind him of the occasion we both got thrown out of the late night movies in Palmerston North for rolling the huge red lollies, they called “gob stoppers”, down the theatre’s polished wooden floor. I wonder if he remembers the afternoon we held a mock wedding in the Napier Cathedral. Greg’s Catholic upbringing made him the perfect vicar and Wendy Fitzgerald and I were the happy couple. To this day I swear he did a better job of the marriage vows than some of the “real” weddings I’ve been to. And, while we are on the subject of Greg’s sinful past ask him if he recalls the time we both fell asleep in the back row at New Year’s eve midnight mass. I suspect our definition of communion wine may have been a touch too liberal.

Actually, one religious event involving Greg did amaze me. Greg was the best swimmer in Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay. But not far behind him when it came to freestyle sprinting was a guy called Jim Westwood. In fact I think Jim may have just broken one of Greg’s Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay records. Anyway on this particular Saturday, in a huge local meet they called the Bodle Shield, Greg and Jim were due to meet over 50 freestyle. I could tell Greg was nervous. Westwood’s coach had made it clear the result of this one race would determine the region’s best swimmer. That was most unfair of course. Freestyle sprinting was Jim Westwood’s favourite event. I even thought Greg was going to struggle. On our way to the pool Greg stopped outside his church and asked me to wait while he went to confession. He said, it may help him in the 50 freestyle. My very strict Open Brethren upbringing rejected the possibility of divine intervention in a swimming race. However I waited while Greg discussed his shortcomings with the local priest. A few hours later Greg and Jim lined up for their 50 freestyle showdown. Jim looked great in the warm up. I was pretty sure the next few seconds would see the end of Greg’s unbeaten record. “Oh ye, of little faith”. Thirty seconds later it was all over and Greg Meade was a winner again. You have no idea how impressed I was with the result of that race. Impressed with Greg’s swimming talent and impressed that, just possibly, Greg Meade had divine support on his side.

I am delighted my old Comet Club is in such good hands.