When Tutukaka woman Jodie Kerr took part in this year's gruelling Poor Knights Crossing to honour her late husband Rich Kerr, she was thrown from her surf ski five times and got hypothermia.

But in meeting the huge personal challenge - paddling the 30km of sea between the offshore island and marine reserve and Tutukaka earlier this month - she raised more than enough funds through a Givealittle page to enable local people to take part in a St John Mental Health First Aid course.

''The Crossing did prove harder than I expected as I ended up getting mild hypothermia about 5km out from the Poor Knights, due to falling in five times. I had to be brought on board by my support crew and warmed up with lots of cuddles and warm blankets,'' she said.

''My amazing supporters then dropped me at the Poor Knights where it was a bit calmer for me to paddle to the finishing boat.''

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Kerr said the whole experience — from raising funds for the course, training with fantastic people and then the event on the day — was a very positive experience.

''Yes, even getting hypothermic was positive as I'm now a lot more aware of my limitations and can change how I tackle events like that again.''

A determined, courageous Jodie Kerr during the Poor Knights Crossing.
A determined, courageous Jodie Kerr during the Poor Knights Crossing.

Among several other supporters, Kerr's children Ellie and Max saw her start out from Tutukaka on the Surf Ski Masters course.

The 2019 outing of the event which draws top elite and just seriously determined surf ski and waka ama paddlers from Australasia took place in steady 15 knot winds and a following sea that started as a helpful swell but finished in a churn of white-capped waves.

With limited pocket space, Kerr had no room to carry a memento of her husband with her on that battering paddle.

''However, we did have a couple of dolphins appear between me and my support boat which felt like Rich and another passed paddler, John Park, were making their presence known.

''It's the first time I'd ever had dolphins appear whilst I'd paddled so it was pretty special.''

Kerr's Givealittle fundraiser exceeded her hope of reaching $2650, which is the cost of a course for 20 people at Tutukaka.

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''We've had a brilliant result with over $3500 raised. We have more than enough to run the Mental Health course and the remaining funds will be donated to the Whangarei Youth Centre who provide fantastic programmes for a wide range of teenagers aged 12-17 years.''

Kerr said the small coastal community has had three suspected suicides in the past year - all men aged between 39 and 51, one of them her husband.

''I believe a course like this would be of great worth to our community. There has been much interest in attending one but the cost was putting some people off.''

The course is designed to help people understand more about mental health, identify red flags, strategies for managing support of friends, family and colleagues, and how to obtain immediate assistance if required.


WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately.

OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202