Thanks Chris for all your nice “fibs.”
Now I have a chance to even the score. And I will start, Chris, by thanking your wife, on your behalf for her years of support for you…and more! Anyway, I look forward to discussing them all with you later.
Told to expect an award, I had no idea that this would be a Life-time Achievement Award like this. I anticipated a piece of paper, but this heavy silver platter, and the priority accorded it, has blown me away.
In response to the award, I would have told you about a journey, but that will take far too long so I will confine my comments tonight to the early sixties.
There is no time to add my tribute to Phil Rush, and to many, many others here tonight, nor relate my later swim adventures in Australia, Canada and England.
This story begins in the 1950’s. I recall sitting on the beach at Napier, looking out to Cape Kidnappers and telling myself that I would one day swim from there to Napier, and then the English Channel. I did.
Our NZ history of ultra-open-water or marathon swimming is built on two persons. First a legendary Wahine, held captive on Kapiti Island by Te Rauparaha. She is said to have swum or drifted all the way from Kapiti to D’Urville Island – more than 50 nautical miles – straight line. If true, that is one hell of a long and technically difficult swim.
Our - that is New Zealand’s -first major authenticated achievements involved General Lord Bernard Freyberg – the first, at Gallipoli where he earned the VC, and then in England where he missed the Channel by about 6 hundred yards. In 1965 I had the pleasure of meeting Lady Freyberg in London following my channel swim.
In the early 1960s, NZ Ultra marathon Open Water Swimming was centred on 3 or 4 Wellington Surf Lifesaving Clubs - Worser Bay (Barrie Devenport), Lyall Bay (Blakeley, Griffin, Mike Harvey et al) , Maranui (Bill Penny and Brian Crowder) and Island Bay, where I drew the short straw.
While Bill Penny captivated the nation, he fell just short. But Barrie Devenport crossed the Strait first with all the deserved plaudits and recognition.
At that point interest became truly nation-wide. Barrie deserved to be awarded the magnificent statue provided by old-time Wellington hotelier, Tom Coltman.
1956-1958, Hawkes Bay Heavyweight Amateur Wrestling champion;
1957, NZ Heavyweight Wrestling champion;
1963, Cape Kidnappers to Napier inaugural swim April;
1964, 7 Feb - Cook Strait crossing North to South in 9hr 34mins Record stood for 13 years;
1965, Aug - English Chanel Crossing – 1st New Zealander, France to England 15 hrs 33 mins
Photo, Keith in 1964 before his Cook Strait Crossing, age 25 years
Now let me tell you briefly about some of the movers and shakers. Foremost among them were the coaches – Ken Mitchell, Tony Keenan, Paul Krause, Morrie Doidge, Hilton Brown, Duncan Laing, Pic Parkhouse and Bert Cotterill. But there was also the unforgettable Ongley circus.
A long since deceased medical practitioner, Montague Ongley and his wife, Florrie, the Court Jester, sought to control every swim team via his claimed skills as a (circa 1959 -60) “sports doctor”. Ongley specialised in 4 things – Vitamin B12 injections weekly, Digitalis tabs, (Heart), a weight loss tab, and Nicotinic acid to improve circulation in the capillaries. Florrie ran her ice baths – in an old house-hold cold bath full of ice, water and swimmer - for growing periods of time.
The names of would be swimmers and the rumours circulating were numerous and almost all wrong. While this all relates to Cook Strait, many were already thinking of other challenges - like Taupo, Foveaux Strait and the English Channel.
We in Island Bay set Cook Strait in a much faster time as our initial goal. But first, Cape Kidnappers to Napier was covered in just under 11 hours.
My coach was the legendary Tony Keenan – an ex British Army PTI. Tony’s view of any contest was: “There is only one way to the top -over the top of the bugger in front of you. “
A quick anecdote relating to Cook Strait and a well-known Wellington Maori family, the Loves. As most everyone here knows the human head, give or take a few ounces, weighs about 14 lbs. Imagine that is on the end of a broom stick. Keeping that above the water while swimming for 8 or 9 hours places severe strain on the small of the back.
Two days prior to the 7th Feb 1964, a close friend of mine, Lesley Jordan, was taken by a White Pointer shark at St Clair beach, Dunedin. His death was the first authenticated shark death for about a century. And that caused our team to panic. Three police marksmen were along for my swim. Tiny Love, who was in the close support boat, also had his .303 rifle. By late afternoon my back was screaming and the only way of relieving the pain was to bend over, grip around the knees and stretch my back. But the fear was that I was going to sleep.
At that point I heard three rifle shots, looked up and around , and yelled: “Shark, shark. Where’s the shark ?” The response was: “Shark be buggered. If you don’t get your head down and swim the next one will be up your ……..” South Island took just 30 more minutes – 9 Hrs 34 minutes a record that stood for 13 years.
Keith Hancox - Amateur Wrestler and Ultra Swimmer
Let me conclude by thanking everyone for their support, including Tony Keenan, my hard driving coach. Tony threatened, cajoled and rowed his hands raw. He was the foundation upon which my success was built. His commitment, with the support of his wife Hilary, could not have been greater. Thank you, Tony.
Then there is my ever supportive and loving wife of 53 years, Carole. Without her support I could not later have achieved important goals in other fields. Thank you, Beadle. Looking back, I believe I have long since atoned for my stupidity in a way that provided substantial societal benefits.
Finally, there is an old saying that was a favourite of friends like business leaders Sir Douglas Myers and Baron Ralph Von Kohorn : “Business with friends is friendship at risk. But friendship through business is friendship indeed.” I am proud to record that both Douglas and Ralph were and remained – through thick and thin - two true, and lasting friends.
That business /friendship adage is important. It is an adage that certainly applies to all Open Water Ultra marathon swimmers, their coaches and their goals.
So, as the end of my 80th year is near, thank you everyone for your friendship as we all strive to achieve future goals.
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