Nathan Jones wasn't about to let a few earthquakes or a torn hamstring distract him from helping to save his favourite multisport event.
The Woodend accountant overcame all manner of setbacks, including a seven-minute overnight deficit, to take out the Speight's Coast to Coast two-day multisport event at Sumner Beach yesterday.
After three previous appearances in the 243km cycle/run/kayak across the South Island, Jones (34) was ready to cry enough after the quakes that devastated Christchurch and its environs almost 12 months ago. He had just finished seventh in the 20011 one-day dash, but when Mother Nature struck, he was ready to pull the pin on his racing career.
"I was pretty rocked by the earthquake," he reflected after crossing the finish line. "When it happened, I got pretty busy at work - we were in a 20-storey building in the CBD, but now we're out by the airport - things got moved around and it got pretty difficult to train.
"There was no way I could do the one-day and I wasn't going to race at all, but in early December I got the fever again and decided I didn't want to miss out. I also wanted to give something back to the race, because I knew numbers would be down and I didn't want to see this iconic race fall over. It's the best multisport race in New Zealand, I reckon."
Race entries have flagged recently, down 30 per cent over the past two years. While the economy has doubtlessly contributed, earthquakes have unquestionably eroded the event's biggest geographical market of Canterbury.
"We're so buggered here in Christchurch, everyone just wants to go home and go to bed," laments race organiser Robin Judkins. "You wake up in the morning more tired than when you went to sleep, so no one wants to go out for a run or a cycle. But it's a bit like this race - sometimes you just have to hang in there, mate."
Jones couldn't agree more: "I do think you need some distractions and the people of Canterbury need to get back to a normal life if they're committed to staying here. It's been good to take my mind off things, to get back in the hills and back to some normality."
Jones' strength is his running, but wasn't going to help him much after he tore a hamstring three weeks out from the big weekend.
"The physios have done wonders just getting me to the start. I had a fairly good bike yesterday morning, but the run was hard and I wasn't able to stride out. To be fair I was happy to only be seven minutes down and third overnight. The paddle is my weakness, but I gave it everything - I knew I had something catch up."
Given the nature of the two-day finish, there was still an anxious wait at the finish line to determine whether he had made up enough ground on the early leaders. Trailing off the first bike stage, Christchurch rookie Nathan Bell (21) had swept into the overnight lead with a 3hr 24m 04s 33km mountain run, edging Mark Beesley of Rotorua by less than a minute at the Klondyke Corner halfway point.
But Bell fell while picking his way along the river bed, taking huge chunks of flesh out of both hands - hardly a good omen with 67km of kayaking to come.
As it happened, neither could resist Jones' second-day heroics as he finished 26 minutes clear in 12hr 20m.
Among the women, North Shore youngster Toni Keeling (20) seemed full of beans as she emerged from the mountains in 21st overall and 2m 26s ahead of her nearest challenger, Koleighne Ford of Christchurch. Already a veteran of three previous Coast to Coast outings, Keeling kept up a family tradition in the event - mother Christine was in the one-day field - and held on in a final time of 14hours 20min 42sec, despite trailing Olivia Spencer-Bower of Rolleston onto the beach.
A special Sumner Beach cheer was reserved for Christchurch woman Neelusha Memon, who suffers 70 per cent blindness after a snowboard accident 11 years ago, but completed the gruelling course with the assistance of minders.