Todd Muller, ex-man of the week, has not been one of my heroes. He probably hasn’t been leader of his party long enough to be anyone else’s hero either. Anyhow, most of my heroes have been women. This could be sexist of me, but that’s the way it is. I thought that today I would tell you about some of them.
Erin Baker is considered an all time triathlete great. She grew up in Kaiapoi, just outside of Christchurch. When I returned to New Zealand from Europe in 1989, Erin had completed a year of winning multiple international triathlons. I started doing local triathlons in which she also competed and was a role model for aspiring triathletes. Erin won both short distance triathlons and Ironmen – that’s like an Olympic sprinter also winning the marathon. Erin stood up for womens’ rights, including protesting when the Hawaii Ironman prize for the winning man was a car, and the prize for the winning woman was…nothing. Erin played a significant role in New Zealand in driving equity in sports prizes. When I lived in Sumner, Erin lived there also and continued to run at a pace that was impressive, despite retiring from triathlons in 1994. She turned her formidable focus to community wellbeing, including serving as a Christchurch City Councillor. I never saw Erin put a foot wrong publicly, and she put many feet in the right places.
Margaret Clark is a New Zealand mountaineer and, less famously, cycle tourer. The internet yields relatively little information about Margaret but does highlight her being made a life member of the NZ Alpine Club in 2016. Margaret travelled and climbed overseas, including North America and India. In 1992, Women Climbing’s first international expedition of eight members was led by Margaret and spent two months climbing and trekking in the Pindar region of the Indian Himalayas. One of Margaret’s influences in NZ climbing was to open the Canterbury Mountaineering Club up to women, and take Lydia Bradey under her wing. Lydia went on to be the first woman to climb Everest without oxygen. Margaret’s significant influence on me is that she took up long distance cycle touring when she retired from teaching in her 50s. When I met her last, Margaret was closing on 80 and her partner was over 80 and they were still undertaking 3 month long cycle tours in far flung parts of the world. When Chris, Sarah and I thought we were intrepid in Laos, Margaret and Roy were cycling Myanmar, dealing with the repressive regime’s restrictions on tourists. When I thought I was daring in my 1500km of travels across Madagascar, Margaret and Ray circumnavigated the entire country (going 3x the distance and time). Margaret gave me the aspiration of being an avid cycle tourer into old age; we all need goal posts to age towards.
Frederika Ek circumnavigated much of the globe solo on a bicycle 2 years ago, aged 26-27. Her blog caught my eye as she traversed Tajikstan, where Chris and I had cycled. I then watched her online presence expand as she developed amazing photography skills, particularly from the point of view that she featured in most of her own photos, together with locals, having become an expert in taking pictures remotely. Reading her blog made me wish I had been more intrepid at a younger age – I travelled, but nothing like her exploits through the Australian desert, a month cycling into a head wind in Patagonia, traversing the west coast of Africa and up through the Sahara desert (another two weeks of head winds) to Morocco. I wondered what challenges one might face following such a trip if you were aged 27 and still finding your profession. Sadly, what has happened is that Frederika has suffered from, and published about, her debilitating mental illness. When she comes through the other side she will be even more my hero.
Dulkara Martig is a 29 year old New Zealand outdoor athlete and instructor. She has a killer grin and an infectious attitude of enthusiasm about life and the outdoors. I saw her speak at the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival and reckoned she is something special. Dulkara combines pack rafting with skiing, hiking and biking to go lots of exciting places, in New Zealand and around the world. Dulkara makes me wish that pack rafting had existed when I was a kayaker – there seems so much more point to travelling with your bike on a pack raft as opposed to paddling down a river and then requiring a car shuttle back. Many of Dulkara’s adventures are in teams and she has a love of communicating her outdoors passion to youth. Dulkara also verbally and visually champions the cause of women being able to do anything, anywhere and looking however they want to look.
I amuse myself that my heroes are universally oriented around physical activity in the outdoors, travel, and inspiring women to do more of the same. There are many life challenges to which one might aspire, but the heroes that my brain chooses involuntarily tell me that my fundamental values include freedom, the ability of women to do anything at any age, and a mission to inspire others to achieve through example.