There’d been many aftershocks during our stay so far in Christchurch. It started just like one of the aftershocks. Then there was a distinct point, a massive bang, when it was clear this was far more serious. I was in the cinema at the time and it shook like a tent in a gale. In a matter of seconds if was over but when I replay it in my memory it seems to go on for minutes. Very scary indeed especially as major aftershocks rolled in every 30 minutes or so for the rest of the day and night with regular large aftershocks still rocking the city weeks afterwards. We had a very fitful nights sleep as we heeded requests for no unnecessary travel. The following day we retreated to a friends parents house as our place would have no amenities for weeks. We were lucky to be able to do this, many people just had to stick it out.
Within twenty-four hours we’d established all our friends were OK. The city was in a state and initial thoughts were not about racing Ironman New Zealand but of the devastation. I assumed I wouldn’t be racing in 10 days time. The spirit of the city soon shone through. The night after the earthquake our little triathlon household really bonded. With no power we cooked and chatted by candlelight. It was relaxing and gave a glimpse that a simpler life has some merits.
Residents pulled together to cope and to rebuild. This was inspiring and shone a clear perspective on this Ironman game. That said a big part of coping with things like this is not letting it stop life and I could see that the local triathletes were desperate to carry on, to race and chase their dreams. The triathlon community rallied together to help as much as possible. In the final few days before heading to Taupo we headed to a pool in a town just south of Christchurch. The local squad welcomed us with a lane and an enthusiastic coach including us in the sessions and very quickly sussing out the paces we should go off. Again we found our household bonding more as we all shared a lane despite two distinct paces.
My housemate, Andrew, had gone to work on his TT bike the morning of the quake leaving his bike trapped in the basement of a building opposite the worst hit building in the city and well within the quarantine zone. He had five offers of bikes to race on from local triathletes. The Ironman New Zealand got in touch with all those from Christchurch competing and offered any assistance they could. For Andrew this meant putting him in touch with the Cervelo distributor who set him up with exactly the same frame he’d done all his training on.
Up in Taupo the support was great. At the opening banquet we all had to stand up to be honoured for our determination to get to the race. All the guys from Christchurch were given special race numbers to identify them on the course. This allowed the crowd to give them extra support. Despite the horrendous race day conditions there were great stories of the cheers out on the course and the Cantabrians truly appreciated it.
At the awards they announced that a Ironman New Zealand Charitable trust was being set up to help the Christchurch based athletes recovery from the earthquake. It was started with some very generous donations from The WTC, Taupo Council and the race sponsors. The Kiwi Pro’s then went around the audience with buckets – everyone got to get photos and autographs and chat with them. I feel this would be a great idea at any race to raise a little money for charity and let all the competitors get to meet the big names. The reported sums raised both then and immediately after the race were incredible.
As for the Christchurch athletes racing… 21 of the 22 starting the race completed and I know of two that managed to secure Kona slots. I know my focus for the race was severely shaken following my experience in Christchurch. My hat goes off to the guys that managed to keep their minds on the race and get themselves to the Big Island in what was a very competitive race.