One Of New Zealand’s Best

I spent this morning at the North Shore Swimming Club’s Golden Homes swim meet. I’ve said before that I like the way the club run this meet; a million swimmers crashing through a hundred events. It is all go from dawn to past dusk. Brilliant. Eyad has had two swims so far; the 50 butterfly and 50 freestyle. They were his first two races of the 2019 winter season. I was not expecting anything too extraordinary. In the end Eyad did better than I expected. For example his 50 freestyle PB is 24.47 and this morning he swam 24.65. That was fast enough to win his heat. It was also close to his PB in his first competition and after only two weeks of the speed period of training; a good sign for the future.

And so all is well on the Eyad front. But another event lifted my spirits this morning. I was sitting in the Wholefood Café with Eyad and Shannon eating potato wedges and drinking green tea. I have to be careful these days to keep my wedges away from Eyad. He is convinced the salt is bad for my health and has been known to bin what’s left of the bowl when it’s still half full. Another enjoyable feature of my life being slowly denied.

However this morning I was enjoying hearing about Shannon’s interesting start to life – born in Australia, early years in China and the United States before arriving in New Zealand – when a lady about the same age as me came up to our table and said, “Hello David, how are you?”

I looked closely, “Who was this?” I thought. And then it was clear and she looked the same as fifty years ago. But before I tell you her name let me reveal her swimming resume. Because here is a New Zealander that really could swim a bit.

Her Wikipedia page barely does her career credit. This is what it says.

 She is a former swimming representative from New Zealand.

At the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games she won the bronze medal in the women’s 220 yards backstroke. During the Games she competed in a variety of events including the 110 yards backstroke, 440 yards freestyle and 440 yards medley relay.

She competed at the previous British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth where she came 7th in both the 110 and 220 yards backstroke.

But I remember her as far more than those inadequate few lines. I remember her winning countless New Zealand Championships. I remember her at an after-meet party at my first “big” competition, the North Island Championships in New Plymouth. She was the life of the party and surrendered the spotlight to huge applause after performing a dance on the top of a dining room table. I was in awe. “My God”, I thought, “This is clearly what it takes to be one of the world’s best swimmers.” I remember her training in the Freyberg Pool in Wellington. Tough? Believe me as tough as anyone before or since. And without a shred of mercy for any of us who gave signs of training weakness.

This is in the decade when Dave Gerrard was swimming and winning 200 butterfly events; when Ballie, Halberg and Snell were running around the Waitakere Ranges; when Colin Meads was becoming the World’s best and toughest rugby player; when Fred Allan – “the Needle”, was moulding the All Blacks, when Barrie Devenport became the first to swim Cook Strait and when Rusty Robertson coached a New Zealand coxed four to win an Olympic Gold medal in Mexico City. To be tough in the 60s meant being really, really tough. Well this lady fits right in with that list of names.

And here she was saying hello this morning – lovely, quiet, unassuming and at the meet to watch her grandchildren swim. Her name? Margaret Macrae.

It is men and women like Margaret Macrae and Judith Wright and Lincoln Hurring and Dave Gerrard that gave swimming in New Zealand its character. Long before the jackasses that populate Miskimmin’s corporate world today, these men and women gifted us a sport to be proud of – a sport that today we cannot match.

We all owe them plenty. So thank you Margaret for saying hello. I was in awe in New Plymouth. I still am.

0 responses. Leave a Reply

  1. Swimwatch


    Be the first to leave a comment!

Comments are closed.