Multisport: Adventurer allowed to taste danger

Gurney before the start of the 1990 Coast to Coast.
Gurney before the start of the 1990 Coast to Coast.
Steve Gurney competes in same race, the first of his nine wins in the event. Photo from ODT files.
Steve Gurney competes in same race, the first of his nine wins in the event. Photo from ODT files.

Just call him Mr Coast to Coast. Steve Gurney is synonymous with the multisport event, and today tells Alistair McMurran why he loved it so much.

The Coast to Coast has been Steve Gurney's race.

He has competed in the one-day event 18 times and won it a record nine times.

The event captured Gurney's attention from the start.

"I was immediately drawn to it," he said. "Humans, and especially males, are inescapably drawn to adventure. The Coast to Coast has provided an outlet for that."

Gurney (48) spent 20 years of his life competing in adventure races.

"I loved the concept of being personally self-responsible," he said.

He covers this topic in his book, Eating Dirt, which will be published in August.

"We have a climate of cotton wool at the moment. Kids are not allowed to fall out of jungle gyms or climb trees because the school doesn't want to be found liable."

Gurney came from a different era and was allowed to do adventurous things when growing up.

"I had to learn the mountaineering and outdoor survival skills or I would die," he said.

"I liked challenging myself, coming close to death sometimes, and being caught out in bad weather. Because I was clever, skilled and had done the training, I survived.

"Adventure racing throws obstacles at you all the time and the team that deals with the obstacles the best wins."

Winning the Coast to Coast in his fifth attempt was the highlight of Gurney's endurance racing in New Zealand.

"It was very significant and meant a lot to me to finally win it," he said.

"It's part of my life. Not a day goes by when I don't get an email or a phone call from someone asking for advice."

The multidiscipline events have become part of Gurney's life and have provided the material he uses as a motivational speaker.

"I chose to make my job out of this lifestyle," he said. "The Coast to Coast is an important part of it."

The Coast to Coast taught Gurney never to give up. In his first attempt he was 22nd; he moved up to third the next year and he was runner-up in his third attempt.

He was second again in his fourth race and finally won the event in his fifth attempt in 1990.

"I was dead keen to win it," he said. "I failed in four attempts but didn't give up."

His biggest regret was not to get his 10th win. He got an ankle injury, finished second and later required surgery.

"I'd become a bit arrogant and a bit cocky with all the wins. To crash close to the 10th win taught me a valuable lesson."

His most memorable overseas adventure was to win the Echo Challenge in Malaysia in 1994 despite suffering from a severe leptospirosis infection. It was not until a month later that he found out he had been on the edge between life and death.

Added to his problems was a hospital bill for $92,000 from Singapore and Borneo.

"It was such a close call and made me aware of risk management and re-energised my passion for adventure," he said.

Gurney won 12 international races, the most significant a 10-day race in Ecuador that was won after a tussle with a French team.

The race included a climb up 5897m peak Mt Cotopaxi.

"A lot of competitors didn't make it up the mountain because of altitude sickness," he said.

"I enjoyed the toughness of it. We had to be resourceful and tactically savvy to know when to rest during the heat of the day."

Gurney enjoyed the race because it involved different skills - mountaineering, rock climbing, mountain biking and kayaking.

He still lives in Christchurch but is considering other options because his house and his land have been badly damaged by the earthquakes.

He has also been dealing with the aftermath of an incident last year when the car he was driving collided with a train near Rangiora. Gurney pleaded guilty to careless use of a motor vehicle, and was left with whiplash problems in his neck and shoulders.

"My job is to be aware of my environment and challenges," he said. "How could I miss a simple thing like a train?

"When we get busy we tend to unconsciously focus out stuff. It was an unconscious filtering going on."


- Steve Gurney -
Multisport stalwart

Age: 48.
Home town: Christchurch.
Education: Canterbury University (mechanical engineering degree).
Occupation: Motivational public speaker.
Record: Coast to Coast, record nine wins (1990-91, 1997-2003).
Adventure race wins: Echo Challenge in Malaysia (1994), 10-day endurance race in Ecuador.
Honours: NZ Order of Merit (2004).

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