Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Wairarapa enchants Auckland

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It’s not often that Wairarapa is accused of punching above its weight, but I suspect that might have been the impression given to a glittering array of Aucklander’s a couple of weeks ago when Wairarapa connections staged a charity night at the SkyCity convention centre.

The glamourous guest of honour was the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips, but I suspect the real accolades belong to Catriona Williams founder of the CatWalk Trust for which the glitzy evening was held. Catriona, who became a tetraplegic after a horse riding accident, founded the trust in 2005. The full name of the trust is the CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Trust and it exists to raise funds to support the body of scientific opinion which says a cure for SCI will be found.

The list of patrons Catriona has managed to assemble for her trust looks like a who’s who of New Zealand’s most admired sports men and women. They include Richie McCaw, Sir Brian Lochore, Aaron Slight, Sir Mark Todd, Sarah Walker, Dion Nash, Toni Street and Lance O’Sullivan. Ms Phillips is also a patron and a personal friend of Catriona’s. On the evening the royal visitor wore a floor-length black silk gown with sequined detail, paired with black heels and her short blonde hair was loose. Crikey, now I’ve become a fashion editor! But if Zara is so chic I’d like to talk to her and ask why she hasn’t spoken to her mother about experimenting with a new hairstyle.

Champion Masterton superbike rider Aaron Slight set the evening alight when he roared into the convention centre astride an electric motor cycle with Seven Sharp presenter Toni Street riding pillion. Ms Street and TV One breakfast host Rawdon Christie were the celebrity MC’s.

800 people attended, mostly prominent Aucklander’s, but Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay and Waikato were also represented.

$420,000 was raised for the Trust on the night, most of it from an auction of donated goods and services.

First up was Zara Phillips’ buzzy bee which opened at $1000 and sold for $6000. At this stage Auckland’s houses are looking comparatively cheap.

Another sought-after auction item was a gliding outing with Richie McCaw which after spirited bidding sold for $15,000. McCaw was an apology on the night; a rugby game the next day was given priority and a video link to the function had to be canned as it was well past his bedtime when the hook-up was eventually established.

One interesting auction object was called “The CatWalk Cooker.”

Catriona designed it and a neighbouring farmer agreed to make it up. Local firms came to the party. Firestone provided the truck tyre rims, Tulloch Contracts the important wheel and Agtech some scrap metal. Master Blaster did the sand blasting, the Heat Shop provided the paint, and neighbouring horses the shoes.

The farmer described it thus: “The cooker consists of a matching pair of truck tyre rims. One has three lugs on the narrow side, and forms the bottom; lying on its wider end. The other rim sits with the narrow end placed on top of the other, within the retaining lugs. A conical disk forms the grate, sitting inside the top rim, with the pipe acting as a chimney. It collects the ash and needs to be reasonably clean, both to collect the ash and ensure it allows air flow. The wheel then goes on top, with the side with lugs attached lying downwards to keep it in place.”

Confused? Well the bidder’s weren’t. An Australian happily paid $2000 for it!

During the evening a debate was held with the moot “If you’re not first, you’re last.” Three with local connections Viv Fauvel, Charlie Meyer and Mark Chittick were up against Grant Sharman, Dion Nash and Heather du Plessis-Allan. The local team won and Viv Fauvel was said to be the standout comedienne on the night.

The evening did have its serious moments. Two specialists on spinal injuries spoke. Dr Rick Acland is a former Catwalk board member and is now the Trusts medical patron. Rick was previously the director of the Burwood spinal unit and is internationally sought-after SCI consultant whose focus is on pain management. Simon O’Carroll is a director of the Catwalk funded SCI Research Facility at the University of Auckland. Dr O’Carroll is the principal investigator of a research project which aims to ‘block’ the transfer of neurotoxins at the time of injury using small protein molecules in order to significantly reduce the damage spread and therefore decrease the consequences of SCI.

They told the audience that spinal cord injuries were costing the country countless millions annually, but both were confident that it is not a question of if, but when there will be a cure. Catwalk chairman Scott Malcolm said he hoped in ten years’ time we will all be trying to remember what wheelchairs looked like.

This was the tenth anniversary bash of a trust that had its genesis in the Wairarapa and has grown to the stage where it is hugely admired both nationally and internationally. Catriona and a group of friends competed in the 2010 New York marathon and in 2013 they cycled up to Base Camp at Mount Everest. In the ten years since its inception the Trust has raised over 5 million dollars for spinal cord injury research.

No wonder the Aucklander’s were spellbound.

“Your body is not who you are. The mind and spirit transcend the body.” - Christopher Reeve.


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