I've always subscribed to the theory that heroes need to be older than their admirers. And I've (nearly) always practised what I've preached.
Sure, Richie McCaw sorely tested my resolve in 2015 when I wanted to run on to Twickenham to kiss him after he heroically led the All Blacks to Rugby World Cup glory, but the security guards were having none of it. Besides, I was a 50-something at the time and it would have all been a bit too undignified and cringeworthy.
So, yeah. Nah. My heroes belonged to a previous generation. Colin Meads, Brian Lochore and Ian Kirkpatrick. Sadly only Kirky, scorer of the greatest All Blacks test try of all time, remains with us. Sir Colin and Sir Brian are gone, but never forgotten. Heroes are, after all, for keeps.
When I was a seven-year-old growing up on a Southland farm, the 1967 All Blacks dominated my life and their poster adorned my bedroom wall. They remained in pride of place for the best part of a decade, until they were superseded by a brief, and embarrassing, infatuation with Farrah Fawcett-Majors (tail-end Boomers will know who I'm talking about). Mercifully, Farrah was relinquished for a real girlfriend but my love for the 1967 All Blacks has never waned.
I wanted to be like my heroes. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Meads, Lochore and Kirkpatrick. Unfortunately, the All Blacks selectors of the 1980s decided Allan Hewson, Robbie Deans, Kieran Crowley and John Gallagher were better fullbacks. It was unrequited love repeating itself. Just like Farrah in the '70s.
This tragic tale does, however, have a happy ending. More than 50 years on from my first true love, I finally get to follow in the footsteps of favourite All Black, Colin "Pinetree" Meads.
I am honoured to replace him as the Ambassador for the IHC Calf and Rural Scheme. Pinetree was there on day one, when the scheme was launched, in his capacity as a member of the IHC national fundraising committee. Legend has it he was single-handedly responsible for raising more than one million dollars for the IHC, over five decades.
The calf scheme was the brainchild of Norman Cashmore from the Taranaki branch of the IHC. He began the new initiative in 1982 as a "Gumboots for Calves" scheme and was known by dairy farmers back then as "The Gumboot Man".
Now in its 40th year, the IHC Calf and Rural Scheme continues to be responsible for raising more than one million dollars annually for New Zealanders with intellectual disabilities, with well over 10,000 farmers having donated livestock over those years.
I'm so proud to be a small cog alongside the farmers, stock agents, trucking companies and rural service companies who have put their collective shoulders to this wonderful wheel.
Footnote: A plea to my rural mates. I spent my entire long Labour Weekend with you guys and I reckon in many ways you're living the dream. While the autumn is my favourite season, nothing compares to the dynamism of spring when it comes to life on the farm. Everything is pumping, with Mother Nature at her kick-arse best!
This collides head-on with the most hectic of farming seasons. There are literally not enough hours in the day to kick calving and lambing to touch, let alone get the crops in the ground. I know you've all been flat out, but now you need to take some time out, to do what you do on a regular basis to your livestock, to maintain good animal health. Vaccinate!
We all need heroes in our lives. Rural New Zealanders, the heroes of our economy, are dragging the chain a bit on vaccination rates. Aucklanders, often the target of much mirth from the rest of us, are the heroes of this pandemic. They are collectively taking one for the team of five million.
Whether you're vaccine hesitant, blasé, or just bloody-minded, think again if you think Covid isn't coming to a town or rural community near you. Just ask the good folk of Te Awamutu and Kihikihi.
I know I'll get heaps from the haters. I get it daily on my radio show. But one thing Covid has taught me is how to grow a thick skin. So much so that I didn't even feel the needle.
So how about it rural New Zealand? You've answered the call before on so many occasions. Your country needs you again!