Age not holding sportsman back

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by Chris Tobin

Barry Gardiner, a sportsman well known around South Canterbury, turned 81 last month but he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

When chatting on the phone to The Courier from his home in Christchurch last week, he said he had just completed a nearly three-hour bike ride in the morning, was taking a break during the afternoon and then intended playing a round of golf in the evening.

“I’ve had one or two injuries in the last few years but my body has been standing up remarkably well.”

The key, he says, is to just keep going.

“Obviously, as you age, the body has its limitations and you lose flexibility but I’m still doing events.”

As well as celebrating his birthday, Gardiner had another reason for raising a glass or two this month when he was made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year honours list for services to sport, particularly squash.

It is a fitting reward to a lifetime of dedicated service to sport, and not just one sport.

Gardiner is one of those rare individuals who excel at any sport they care to take up.

He grew up on the West Coast, where his parents ran the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel, in Guinness St, Greymouth.

The Coast is rugby league territory but Gardiner spent two years boarding at St Bede’s in Christchurch, where he had two years in the first XV.

“Our second-five Ted Smith, he played for Zingari, was getting kicked by Crauste. Next thing this grandmother stormed on to the field and she’s swatting him with her bag across his shoulders.”

Back on the Coast after leaving school, he returned to league. He joined his mates playing for the Marist club and made the West Coast league team, not an easy feat in that era of hulking miners.

“There were a lot of young men working on the Coast in those days, in the mines, timber industry and fishing – rugged men.”

In 1958, aged 19, Gardiner was named as a loose forward in the Kiwis squad to play Great Britain. He trained all week with the Kiwis in Auckland, joined them for the official team photograph in the national jersey and looked certain to take to the field for one of the tests in Auckland after one of the forwards had to go home with a broken thumb.

Unfortunately for Gardiner, on the eve of the test, the selectors brought in another forward from Auckland and he was bumped back to emergency.

In the family…Barry Gardiner (75 plus grade), centre, son-in-law Grant Craig, (50-plus), left, and son Dave Gardiner (40-plus) all won NZ titles in 2006. Two weeks earlier granddaughter Megan Craig won the NZ open women’s grade. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

“I think they thought I was a bit young.”

He would never get so close to a Kiwis’ jersey again, although there was some consolation in playing for the West Coast, which was the strongest provincial team in the country and capable of beating Auckland.

He also found time to play cricket for the West Coast, win a Canterbury junior shot put title and swing some leather in the boxing ring.

In 1960, the West Coast’s loss was South Canterbury’s gain when he came to live in Timaru.

It meant a change from league to rugby, which in those strictly amateur days required an affidavit to be signed and approved by rugby HQ, the NZRFU, in Wellington.

“You’ve got no idea of the antagonism in those days – it was full-on,” he said.

Turning out with Celtic in the local Skinner Cup competition, Gardiner made the South Canterbury team which took on a strong French national side at Timaru’s Fraser Park in 1961.

“We had a pretty good team and it was a brutal game.

“I marked [Michel] Crauste, their captain, in the lineouts for the first 20 minutes. Then we lost our first-five Grant Richardson – he had to go off.

Under the rules of that time, no replacement was allowed and South Canterbury was down to 14 players for most of the match.

Despite this difficulty and the French players resorting to dirty play as they became frustrated, South Canterbury pulled off a dramatic 17-14 victory. Next to winning the Ranfurly Shield twice, the win ranked among the side’s greatest achievements.

“You’ve got no idea of the antagonism in those days
– it was full-on.”

But the game is remembered outside South Canterbury more for the actions of an irate woman from Oamaru who was disgusted by the French team’s foul tactics.

“Our second-five Ted Smith, he played for Zingari, was getting kicked by Crauste. Next thing this grandmother stormed on to the field and she’s swatting him with her bag across his shoulders.

“Because I had played in the backs, I went into first-five for the rest of the game.”

Under the rules of that time, no replacement was allowed and South Canterbury was down to 14 players for most of the match.

Despite this difficulty and the French players resorting to dirty play as they became frustrated, South Canterbury pulled off a dramatic 17-14 victory. Next to winning the Ranfurly Shield twice, the win ranked among the side’s greatest achievements.

But the game is remembered outside South Canterbury more for the actions of an irate woman from Oamaru who was disgusted by the French team’s foul tactics.

“Our second-five Ted Smith, he played for Zingari, was getting kicked by Crauste. Next thing this grandmother stormed on to the field and she’s swatting him with her bag across his shoulders.

“Twenty thousand people laughed – it was almost bigger than our win.”

In 1965 Gardiner’s rugby career ended when as vice-captain for a combined Hanan Shield districts side (South Canterbury, Mid Canterbury and North Otago) against the Springboks, he sustained a severe knee injury. By then he had been an All Black triallist twice – as a flanker and centre – and emergency for the South Island.

After a year coaching Celtic, he turned his attention to squash. It could have been tennis, in which he had already represented South Canterbury, but squash it was and still is.

“I have done it because I’ve just loved doing it.” – Barry Gardiner

“Squash was really strong in Timaru. South Canterbury won the national teams event three years in a row, which was the premier competition in the country.”

Gardiner spent 20 years in Timaru, the last 10 of them as manager of the Gleniti Tavern.

Then employed by a brewery, in 1980 he relocated to Christchurch, where he finished working for the Selwyn District Council last year.

His achievements in squash could fill a couple of pages – world over-50, over-60 and over-70 champion, senior selector for Squash NZ, president of Squash NZ and selector-convener of southern district squash to name a few.

All-rounder…Barry Gardiner has excelled in a range of sports. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Somehow along the way he has managed to fit in running, golf and cycling – he is training for the gruelling Motatapu 47km mountain bike race from Wanaka to Arrowtown in March.

With more opportunities to be a professional sportsman these days, does he envy the younger generation?

“I’m one of the old sports people,” he said.

“I have done it because I’ve just loved doing it.”