A Kerikeri man's last-minute decision to compete in the New Zealand Masters Games - and the two-day drive to get there because all flights to Dunedin were full - paid off handsomely with a swag of medals, including three golds.

Success at the games has also been a great boost for Alyn George. With his wife, Jaki, he has been through a torrid five years which included losing their home in the Christchurch earthquake, a drawn-out insurance battle, health problems and an assault at Ngawha Prison.

The 60-year-old won gold in the badminton singles, mixed doubles and men's doubles, as well as silver in the tennis mixed doubles and bronze medals in the men's tennis singles and doubles.

Mr George said his success was unexpected, especially given that he entered at the last minute and had to play doubles with whoever he was assigned instead of his usual partner, Jaki.


Being fit helped because the heat in the badminton hall took its toll on some players.

Mr George said he had played tennis since his teens and competed for the prison service in the UK. In 2005 the couple travelled to New Zealand to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary and liked it so much they moved here permanently, with Mr George landing a a job at Christchurch Men's Prison in 2007.

When the 2011 earthquake destroyed their Redcliffs home they were unable to return even to gather their belongings. An 18-month battle with their insurance company followed - Mr George quit his job to fight it full-time - until the firm finally settled out of court.

Last year they moved to Northland where Mr George got a job at Ngawha Prison. He retired early after an assault by a prisoner in December triggered heart problems.

By the time his health improved the Masters Games were only a few weeks away. He put in a last-minute entry and, with no flights available, drove to Dunedin instead. He managed to squeeze onto the Cook Strait ferry and had to pay an eye-watering price for a motel room in the booked-out city.

Mr George said his setbacks only made him more determined to take part.

"I wanted to prove something to myself ... You can either wallow in self pity or you appreciate life more."

His success in the New Zealand Masters inspired him to sign up for the next World Masters Games, which will be held in Auckland next year.

Mr George normally plays with Kerikeri Tennis Club and Waipapa Badminton Club, both based at BaySports off Waipapa Rd.

The Masters Games were held from January 30 to February 7. More than 4500 people from 13 countries took part. The oldest competitor, in the 10km road walk, was 91.

- This week's 5.7 Christchurch earthquake brought memories flooding back for the couple. Mrs George was at home in Redcliffs during the 2011 quake, when huge boulders landed on either side of their house and another flattened their neighbour's home. Their daughter still lives in Christchurch; her sleepout was badly damaged in this week's quake.