Last week I received a call from the principal of Te Wainui a Rua school in Ranana.

She told me her students had won a big prize at the Sanitarium Weet-Bix Kids TRY-athlon down in Wellington and invited me out to find out more.

Being new to Whanganui, I had never heard of the school and had no idea where it was, but I said I would be there anyway.

Imagine my shock when a Google search told me that it is 60km up the Whanganui River and imagine the shock of my editor when I told him what I was doing.


But it was booked in and I was excited to explore an area that I barely knew existed.

I was not disappointed.

As I drove the windy road, dodging fallen debris from the cliff-face and slowing for roadworks, I was absolutely taken aback by the breathtaking views of the Whanganui River and the beautiful valleys that it flows through.

It was a drive to remember, I encountered a cheeky pūkeko crossing the road ahead of me, followed by sheep, then pigs and finally cows – they had the right of way of course.

Finally, I arrived at the little school on the slope of a long driveway.

"Hi newspaper man," shouted a young boy coming out for his morning tea.

There are 24 students on the roll at Te Wainui a Rua and they are split into two classes.

Out came principal Karleen Marshall, who introduced me to two keen young triathletes, Te Turi Tamakehu, 9, and Amelia Sprenkeler, 10, who competed at the event in Wellington.

"It was good fun and we won a thousand bucks, it was very exciting," Te Turi said.

"You should have heard us, we screamed," Amelia said.

Principal Marshall explained: "We won a $1000 cheque from The Bike Barn for being the school with the most participants at it, it was awesome."

They took 17 students down to Wellington and won the biggest prize in a triathlon that had some 2500 competitors at it.

Ms Marshall said it was easy for them to train for the triathlons.

"We have a really good pool here and a beautiful environment to train in," she said.

"We bike to Jerusalem and back weekly, then we practice our running everywhere, through the fields or up and over the hills."

Ms Marshall said they would probably use the money to buy bikes that the school would own and lend out to any students who needed them.

She said it was important for the students to keep active.

"I often find that our academic achievement is higher in the months that we do the Weet-Bix TRY-athlon.

"I also think that their well-being, physically, mentally, all facets of their well-being are improved vastly during the times that we're active," she said.

The students compete at Sanitarium Weet-Bix Kids TRY-athlon's all throughout the country, they were in Palmerston North last week and next week they are traveling to New Plymouth.

Ms Marshall said fundraising could be difficult due to their isolation, but the community spirit was really good and the families did everything that they could to help out.

"Great things can happen in the country. Isolation isn't a barrier for us, it's actually an advantage," she said.

"Opportunities can happen for kids here that they wouldn't necessarily get in the city."

Te Wainui a Rua school in Ranana pose for a picture together with the winners' cheque. Photo/ Jesse King
Te Wainui a Rua school in Ranana pose for a picture together with the winners' cheque. Photo/ Jesse King