Chainsaw Lionel

By David

If you ever want a water-feature in your back yard, Iain Trousdell is the person for you. I’m not sure of how Iain’s endeavours in flowform water technology work. He is now a Director of the Healing Water Foundation in the United Kingdom. And that’s fitting. He’s very good at what he does. You should see his impressive water arrangement in the Hasting’s town centre. But that’s not the only water flowform Iain is good at. He has a special understanding of flow and form as a master’s swimmer. I coached him for a couple of years and added nothing to his appreciation of the environment. At best the challenge of this aquatic heretic may have stimulated even further his profound spiritual appreciation of water. Very few swimmers have Iain Trousdell’s deep understanding of what it means to work and flow through water. Certainly the results weren’t bad. Iain won several Master’s National titles and, I’m pretty sure broke one National master’s record. He was best at the freestyle and backstroke sprints.

The Master’s National Championship I remember best was held in Rotorua. I decided to travel from Napier very early, in time to catch Iain’s first heat swim. At 4.30am I was on my way traveling along one of my favourite roads – the Napier-Taupo highway. New Zealand has a stunning variety of scenery. The diversity of South Island mountains, Waikato dairy farms, Auckland and Wellington cities and Canterbury plains is impossible in such a small country. But New Zealand does it all. The Napier-Taupo road is a constant reminder of how big this little place can be; rising and falling through a massive green landscape of farms, winding along beside streams through dense native bush, past mile after mile of man planted pine forests and emerging finally at New Zealand’s largest lake, the dormant volcano known as Lake Taupo.

In those days, my car was a bit of a wreck. Jane christened it the Blue Beast. Actually the Blue Beast became quite famous when Basil Dynan, the President of the Hawke’s Bay Poverty Bay Swimming Centre maliciously told the police it was an abandoned wreck left in the Onekawa Pool parking lot. The Sunday Star Times published the story. With good cause Dynan looked like an idiot. The senior swimmers in our club had t-shirts printed showing a picture of Jane with the Blue Beast and the word “Abandoned” on the front. They also sent one of the t-shirts to Basil Dynan. The picture used on the t-shirt is shown with this story.

Anyway early on a Saturday morning I was happily heading towards Iain’s swim meet in Rotorua along one of the windy bits of the Napier-Taupo road, “beside a stream through dense native bush”. My good humour vanished with a loud bang and a loss of steering control. And before you say, “Well just change the tyre” I have to tell you – cars like the Blue Beast don’t have spare tyres. The four that kept it on the road were all there was.

Worse than that in this part of the Napier-Taupo road there is no cell phone connection, no AA and at five in the morning the road is deserted of passing traffic. Well, possibly not entirely deserted. I was still inspecting the Blue Beast’s shredded tyre when a smart black Holden Commodore pulled alongside. A young Maori chap got out and quietly asked if I needed help. I explained that with no spare, I needed to take the wheel into Taupo for repair. After checking to see whether the Commodore’s spare would fit the Blue Beast – it didn’t – my Good Samaritan removed my wheel, blocked the Blue Beast’s axle and loaded the wheel and me into his car.

It was an interesting ride into Taupo. Lionel was on his way to Tokoroa to the New Zealand National Woodfest Championships. Was he taking part, I asked? Yes, he was going to have a shot at the chainsaw speed events. Half an hour later Lionel left me sitting outside Beaurepaires, waiting for them to open for work. Shortly after eight the tyre was repaired and the Taupo AA service vehicle returned me to the Blue Beast. It was only then I realized I had left my briefcase in the back of Lionel’s Commodore.

There was no option, before going to Rotorua, I would have to go to Tokoroa, find Lionel and retrieve my belongings. At about nine thirty I drove up to the Woodfest car park wondering how on earth I was going to find someone from Napier, called Lionel, who may be competing in a chainsaw event. I decided to start with the car park attendant. My explanation had barely begun when he said, “Oh you’re after “Chainsaw Lionel”. You’ll find him down the far aisle. He will be warming up for the chainsaw events. They are due to begin soon.”

“Is Lionel any good?” I asked. With obvious awe in his voice and some disquiet that anyone would need to ask such a silly question, the car park attendant said, “Lionel, with a chainsaw, he’s the best in New Zealand.” Down the far aisle I found Lionel working on his high tech chainsaw. “I wondered how I was going to get your bag back” he said. “It’s over there beside my other saw.”

I decided to stay and watch Lionel’s preliminary heat. I must tell you what happened next was breath taking. Lionel’s chainsaw was no domestic STIHL 160 C special. His saw was called “hot” for good reason. This was a jet fuel powered monster. In Lionel’s hands it sliced down and up, down and up though a 70 centimetre diameter log. He won his heat with such style I excitedly told a couple sitting next to me that, yes I knew Lionel. He was my friend. I decided to abandon Iain’s swimming and stay and watch Lionel’s final. He won of course. The car park attendant was right; Lionel was the best in New Zealand. Who would have thought it? The country’s best chainsaw competitor has rescued me on the Napier-Taupo road.

Two hours later I arrived in Rotorua in time to see Iain add the 50 backstroke championship to the 50 freestyle title he had won earlier in the day. Iain was hugely good at his sport. For his age the best in New Zealand. But the sporting highlight that day belonged to “Chainsaw Lionel”; a top athlete and a quiet, gentle and kind man from Napier.