I just can't imagine my life without sport. Really....I just can't even comprehend how things would be for me right now if I hadn't made sports such a part of my life. If you are reading this, then you probably share my love of competition, achievement and a challenge, so read on! I'm going to briefly take you through my little journey through this crazy, wonderful thing called sport. This issue I will focus on sport through the eyes of a youngster, up to late teens. Hopefully by the end of it, or along the way, you might stop and reflect on your own journey.
When I was younger, I wanted to win at pretty much everything I did. My older brother and I had a tennis court next door at Mr & Mrs Tams place which had seen better days but was perfect as a footy ground/cricket pitch. Their son was my mate so we would play up there till dark most nights. I learnt to kick/catch/hit a ball, ride a bike, jump from a height, run for my life and talk my way out of a sticky situation on that old field. It must have been a good thing for us because my brother was a HB Football Rep for 3 years and I played Schoolboy Rep Cricket and was a regular trialist for HB rep football (but I never quite got in the team, which was an early lesson for me that you are often not as good as you think you are...at the time though, I thought that is was the coaches that didn’t realise I was as good as what I actually was....) The ‘82 World Cup in Spain had a huge influence on me and many of those games were replayed over again on the Tams field. I would imagine I was Paulo Rossi carving up the evil West Germans (my brother would be Karl-Heinz Rumminegger.) As the younger brother I learnt nearly every day that winning is something to be celebrated (as victories were few). Lance Cairns and Richard Hadlee were favorites in the summer also. Looking back we were lucky to have such great players as heros at that time. I can’t even think of those years without that old tennis court. I saw Mr Tam a year ago for the first time in about 20 years and thanked him sincerely for letting us play there for those years. I’d wanted to thank him for a long time and I couldn’t believe it when I saw him at the Napier Mega 10. It felt great to be able to talk to him as an adult, not the young boy who always had bruised and muddy legs as he would remember. Up to about age 11-12, I think sport taught me that I enjoyed winning, hated losing, (but had to accept it) and loved to test my skills against anyone...(especially older kids).
As a teenager I was still keen on winning. Dad and I got into motor racing as he raced for years and was keen to get back into the scene. We did quite well, winning 2 X NZ Kart Racing Championship Titles and 2 X runner-ups and twice getting runner-up in the NZ SCANZ Sports Car Championship. We travelled the country from Auckland to Christchurch and really had the best fun. There were triumphs and tears, friends and foes. In karts, I raced with (and usually got the better of) future champion drivers Greg Murphy, Ashley Stitchbury, Craig Baird and Mark Pederson who were all great guys to race with, and hang out with. There was this one dude though called Brent. I often struggled to beat him. He was fast...real fast, but a little bit erratic. He was my biggest foe on the track but my closest ally off it. I remember asking him at the 86 Nationals that if it came down to the final of the NZ Champs and we were both battling for the title, would he put the race before our friendship and take me out if he needed to, to win. He said “no way....I would be happy if you won and we if had a close race.” I told him I wasnt so sure and probably would if the title was on the line. (I was winding him up to a degree but it got me thinking if thats what I would do....) I end up winning that meeting and my 1st NZ Title. and Brent Well life through sport has a funny way of coming back at you and that was the very situation that presented itself to both of us at the NZ Champs in 1987. I was the defending NZ Champion and Brent was in front in the final race and I was right on his bumper for the whole race. There were only about 3-4 times during the race that I saw an opportunity to challenge him but each time I pulled alongside him, my mind rewound to that conversation a year or two earlier and I would lose my nerve. I had totally psyched myself out and became paranoid of my brash prophecy and Brents noble response. Brent won and took my title...it hurt a lot but funnily enough I was actually happy that my good friend won. He deserved it. After the race I was sure that if I hadnt said those stupid comments to him that day I would have been much more focused on the race as it happened. A wonderful lesson in humility courtesy of Mr Sport!
We raced a Ralt RT4 in the Peter Jackson Formula Atlantic series a few years later. I say “we” as Dad and I were always a team. He never told me how to race, and I never told him how to fix the car. When I raced the Formula Atlantic however, I had an ex-F1 mechanic working on the car and Dad was relegated to checking the tyre pressures and polishing the paintwork. I hated it...I found it wasnt at all what I was racing for, and I kinda realised that “the fun in it came from the family in it.” I lost interest in motor racing a little bit after that.
On my OE to Canada and England, (I was 19) I played Rugby Union for Knottingley in the Yorkshire Championships, seeing many wonderful new places and meeting some great people. My neighbor Paul, who got me into the Knottingley club announced to the team before my first game...”you know this guy played for NZ Under 19s!” Well I could have belted him...I learnt then the respect that NZ rugby players had in England as half the team believed him! If you were a Kiwi, they just expected you to be the star player. My 1st game was a nightmare in basically cyclone conditions and a pool of mud, I could even run without slipping over and playing at fullback, I let in try after try...I felt that I had let all NZ players down. I worked hard at my game though and by the end of the season, had a couple of newspaper clippings (mentioning my name and that I had played well) as keepsakes.
On return to the Shire, Dad and I had another lash at the motor racing. We built our own race car from the ground up. It went great but a measly clutch spring failure cost us a NZ Title...another runner up! Motor racing (and sport in general) is such an excellent way to learn to accept what the hand of fate deals at ya! But through these sports and events I was able to visit many new and exciting places and meet lots of cool people. Some of whom I still have contact with today. This is what I think I took most out of playing sport as a youngster… meeting people, making friends, traveling to new places and generally learning about life. What a great way to learn!