The Rod Dixon story
Writer and photographer Derek Morrison got to spend some time with Rod Dixon MTBing in Rotorua.
Thanks to Derek at www.boxoflight.com for this article
It's not often I get to take New Zealand sports royalty around the mountain bike trails of Rotorua, but that's exactly what happened last week. And this gentleman was far from what I expected. His story begins last century.
Saturday, 12:29pm: Rod Dixon: a man on a mission ...
In the late '50s a classroom of kids at a school in Nelson are typically restless. Some more than others. But when Edmund Hillary rolls in the door still riding the success of his, and Tenzing Norgay's, 1953 Everest ascent, the din settles. All energy is projected to Ed as he begins to tell the classroom that Everest is not high enough for them and that they should reach beyond its lofty heights in their own ambitions. It's a moving speech and it's intended to inspire, but for one young rakish kid down the back, it's a prophetic directive.
A naturally gifted runner with an insatiable work ethic Rod Dixon knew Ed was talking to him. And he immediately knew what he had to do.
Twelve years later, in 1972 and at age 22, Rod crossed the finishline of the Olympic Games 1500m final in third place. It was his first time representing New Zealand at the Olympics and he'd earned bronze at the Munich-hosted event.
"That was an incredibly powerful moment to finish third at the Olympic Games," he recalls.
He credited his result as being inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary from that school visit. When asked by media if he had told Sir Edmund Hillary that, he scoffed and said, "you don't call the Queen, you don't call the Prime Minister and you don't call Sir Edmund Hillary."
"And they said, 'well, actually, his name, address and telephone number is in the Auckland phone book'," he laughs.
Sure enough it was and so Rod made his way to Remuera, found the Hillarys' house and knocked on the door. Lady Hillary answered and promptly went to get Sir Edmund.
"He came to the door, looked at my medal and held it. Then he looked at me and said, 'Well done, young man, a fine performance. Now promise me one thing. Will you inspire the next generation, like I did to you?'. I said, 'yes, sir' and with that he gave me my medal back and closed the door."
Saturday, 03:24pm: 45 years of energy in Rod's bronze medal
Rod didn't really know what that meant, or what Sir Ed wanted him to do, but his mother assured him that the answer would come to him in time. Rod continued on to win races – including the 1983 New York Marathon.
It wasn't until 1990 that Rod started his first in-school run club. The Leigh School, near Matheson Bay, was likely to be closed down because of lack of funding, so Rod started a community family fun run and called it Kid's Marathon. It raised enough money to save the school, but it had also inspired whole families out to train and run.
"I realised this was all a part of this promise I made to Sir Edmund Hillary."
Rod started to work with various marathons in the US and continued to develop his Kid's Marathon concept in New Zealand. By 2005 he had instilled the Kid's Marathon in the US, where the pupils didn't have access to sports programmes and sports fields. He was getting kids active again.
"It all made sense – to get healthy, to move, eat the right foods and that running is a very natural thing," he recalls.
Part of his school programme is to share the story of his medal, which he describes as the symbol of his journey.
"It's 45 years old, now," he shares. "It has never been in its box. Most of the time it is in a bag with me and it comes with me to every school I go to. I always tell them about the medal – I tell the kids about how Sir Ed held it and he asked me to inspire the next generation and that's why I'm here. And then I tell them about the amazing and wonderful people who have touched the medal; presidents and prime ministers and the Dalai Lama, great NBA champions – all these people have held this medal. And then I tell them that, most importantly of all, more than 300,000 kids have held this medal. They put their energy in and they take some energy out and that's why I want them to also hold it as it gets passed around the room. That medal is part of my journey."
Saturday, 01:29pm: Pretty handy on a mountain bike, too
Rod pauses. He takes out the medal and hands it to me. It feels well-travelled, shiny from the many hands that have polished it over the years. He has a tear in his eye. I feel privileged. Energised.
The colourful character before me turns 67 this year, but he carries his age well. He seems more like a mate I haven't seen for a while than a guy I only met a few days ago. He breaks into a toothy grin and tells me another story so impossible you just know it can't be made up.
Leaders it seems are not elected. They're not manufactured. They're not born into it. They just lead.
PS Want to learn more about Rod Dixon's Kid's Marathon? Or keen to support his work? You've come to the right place. And we have three Redwoods Limited Edition prints in this week's edition – buy one of those and Box of Light will donate $50 to Kid's Marathon (that will enable 10 kids to go through Rod's programme).
See you at the beach ... Derek
Thanks to Derek Morrison at www.boxoflight.com for the article. Need a top media writer or photographer see Derek