Sir Edmund Hillary visited Nelson's Tahunanui Primary School in 1960 and told Rod Dixon's class that climbing Mt Everest wasn't high enough for anyone's goals, dreams and aspirations.

That message became a mantra for Dixon. Twelve years later, as a 22-year-old, he earned a bronze medal in the 1500m at the Munich Olympics.

He went around to Hillary's house upon his return, courtesy of the adventurer's famed accessibility via the phone book.

"I knocked on his door in 1973," Dixon said. "Lady Hillary opened it, I explained myself, and she said 'just a minute'.


"Sir Edmund came to the door, I brought the medal out to support my story, he took a look and said 'this is a fine thing, young Rodney'.

"He said 'promise me one thing'. I said 'yes sir', and he said 'will you inspire the next generation?' I said I would, he passed the medal back and the door closed. That was enough to carry me on."

Dixon told the anecdote at the Masters Games' Sport Summit in Auckland in relation to the theme of "what inspired you to achieve through sport?"

The 66-year-old went on to establish the Kidsmarathon Foundation, which educates American primary school children on good health and fitness habits to avoid obesity.

He formed part of a Kiwi sporting panel which included Dame Valerie Adams, Anthony Mosse, Allison Roe, and Duane Kale.

Adams, a double Olympic shot put champion, stressed sport had saved her from a potentially tougher life in South Auckland.

"Coming from a low decile area with no money, [track and field] was a way out. Nobody handed me anything. It was something I had to work towards.

"Kids nowadays turn to computers and electronics to entertain themselves. Our job as sportspeople is to inspire them to get moving and live a healthy lifestyle.

"I've been in track and field for 19 years [she is 32]. There are a lot more [sporting] opportunities these days, like kids triathlons, where it's free for kids and parents to turn up and get into it."

Mosse, who took bronze in the 200m butterfly at the 1988 Seoul Games, emphasised it was as much about what athletes did after sport that counted. He went to Stanford University on a scholarship and pursued a career in the investment and finance sectors of San Francisco, as well as being part of the New Zealand consulate in the city.

"[Going to university in America] made me realise the value of having an education away from sport. I always realised I'd eventually have to throw those tiny speedos away and do something else in life.

"What we're finding today, and most recently with the difficulties suffered by the likes of Olympic swimming champions Grant Hackett and Ian Thorpe, is that we're not preparing athletes well enough after sport.

"When I was around, athletes gave up their studies to focus on swimming, and some people - I think wisely - gave up sport to focus on the academic side of things. At the end of the day, that needs to rule."

Roe, the 1981 Boston and New York marathon winner, took a big picture view of sport as a vehicle for wellbeing, based on observations as a member of the Waitemata District Health Board.

"[Sports] events in the community are better than ever, but we've got to do more in schools. When I was at school, we had a games or sports lesson every day. At some schools we're lucky now if children do one a week, which is a problem, because we have an obesity epidemic.

"If we encourage a healthy lifestyle early, we'd probably do ourselves a huge favour with health budgets.

"It's fine to say we have great sporting opportunities, but they're not always accessible with parents working at weekends who can't get their children there."

Kale, a quadruple swimming gold medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, took the participation question a step further.

"[Sports programmes are] arguably less accessible for people with disabilities. I was able-bodied until 21 when you're judged on what you can do. As soon as you have a disability, you're judged on what you can't do.

"Kids in that situation playing sport end up sitting on the sideline. The significance of Para Games and Paralympics has shown a worldwide audience what people can do. It is changing perceptions. It's about inclusion and using the medium of sport to do so."​