By Pauline Stewart
They will ride from Bluff to Cape Reinga. But their journey of preparation and planning began with Fintan Rooney (pictured second from left in Whitianga). Fintan is Irish. One only needs to hear him say a few words to establish that. From his Irish beginnings, he has lived in Canada and Australia and came to New Zealand in 1987. Fintan is Security Manager of the Hahei Holiday Park, a job he loves and a place that looks and feels like paradise.
First, we need to meet the riders. On the left is Kevin Brown, who is Irish too, but lives in London. Fintan says,” I grew up with him in a little village. We actually lost touch for about 35 years but connected at my brother’s place in London. We both cycle a lot and we both said,’Maybe we should organise something.’” That led to a Munich to Rome bike ride and then this one, the length of New Zealand. Tracy and Rob Butcher (pictured third from left and far right) are from England and Fintan met them on the Munich to Rome ride. There is another, Michelle Watson, from Australia who will join them for the North Island ride. Fintan says, “I connected with them all very easily. We are all experienced riders and we love it. We have a schedule that will have us doing roughly 100kms a day, some days 120 and others, less.
With this ride, as with others, we look for a good cause we can support and get others to support. I was tasked with finding the worthwhile cause. I began researching about what to choose. One day, as part of my regular medical check-up in preparation for the ride, blood tests revealed that I had leukaemia. That was quite a shock. I didn’t know how to process it. But it solved the issue of what cause we would ride for. We were riding to support leukaemia research.”
I asked Fintan did he consider cancelling the ride.
“Yes, I have leukaemia and it is a watch and wait experience. There are things to be very careful of - if I suffer excessive bleeding, or get too fatigued. I’m not so young either; on February 20 I will be 69, but then, I am not so old either,” Fintan smiles. “This is the longest ride I have done. We are going to ride 2,600 kilometres., and no, I did not consider cancelling or postponing the ride.”
Where did a love of cycling start for you?
“I liked playing squash. I really started playing squash when I came to New Zealand. There was only one bar in Hamilton that I could find so it wasn’t a social centre. The social life developed around squash. I wasn’t that good but I did go to three national tournaments. Some days we would feel that squash was quite wearing and tough on the body physically. Eventually, we decided to finish playing squash and we took up cycling.”
Fintan and the group enjoyed it and after a while they did the Lake Taupo cycle challenge. “I liked the competitiveness of it. It is just you; it can be against someone else, but it is really against yourself. I used to think that there was this battle occurring in my head with a message about half an hour before I got home from work. The message would be, “Fintan, you have worked enough today, no need to go for that ride.’I told my son about this one day, and he said, ‘Dad I go through the same thing myself.’”
The group would fund raise for a good cause with the rides and do that part very well and properly, “But we are not that driven,”says Fintan. “We also wanted to enjoy ourselves. We got to like bike riding because of the results from it. You felt really good after you pushed yourself. To go on a 50 to 60 km bike ride; that had you feeling very good. You can see so much. In a car, you don’t see as much as if you are on a bike.
I have a circuit - from here at Hot Water Beach to Cooks Beach, down to Ferry Landing and then I do it again.”
What brought on the idea of cycling the length of New Zealand?
I mentioned I did the Munich to Rome ride in 13 days. And then after that, it was the length of Ireland, last year in the summer. It was while I was doing that ride, I thought I would like to ride the length of New Zealand. I actually met a man on the Munich rode from Hamilton, in the Waikato. When I got home, I looked him up and he asked me, ‘What is your next big ride?’ I replied I wanted to do the length of New Zealand, and he said, ‘I would like to do that with you’. We made contact with the other people on the Munich to Rome ride. Three others said ‘Yes’”
Angus is the Hamilton man, Fintan made contact with. He was a good organiser and they agreed together, Angus would look after the North Island and Fintan would look after preparations for the South Island. “Our preparations were well underway, and one day I got a phone call from Angus. He was straight to the point. ‘I have some bad news, I have to have a triple bypass.’ He was so good facing this, and he still continued with the organising, after his operation. Angus can’t come on this ride; he is improving and walking about five km a day. He sounds positive and is talking about going to Europe - maybe do a bike ride in the late summer of 2023.”
Fintan pauses.“What this confirms is that life is uncertain. I want to be wise but not hesitate too much. I want to be adventurous but not silly. When I started thinking about the distance of 2,600kms, I started to be a little nervous. ‘My God, that’s a long way’. My friends said, ‘Have you just started to think about that now?’ am certainly not going to let that thinking take over the bike ride.”
Fintan has set up a Give A Little Page, called Fintan Rooney Fundraising Leukaemia. “People are generous, a few being really generous. “I believe it is possible for our group to raise over $10,000 for the Leukaemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand. I like their mission statement - ‘Our mission is to care, our vision is to cure’, and I like offering the QR code facility. Raising funds and thinking about leukaemia won’t take over the ride we share together. When I got diagnosed, I hovered for a little while wondering why, but truly, I want to keep on doing adventurous things with others. I am fortunate to be able to do that in a physical way.
My friend’s wife has decided to walk the length of New Zealand. She is not publicising it, but her efforts will also raise money. I have a T shirt for everyone to wear and the bike company is sponsoring us with cycling shirts – Tineli Performance Bike Wear. Everywhere, there is generosity of spirit and practical assistance. I want to try to live that way.”
How do your children feel about your adventures?
Being boys they are, ‘Oh Yeah, Dad’s doing a another bike ride.’
On February 14, Valentine’s Day, Fintan and his friends begin their ride.
We look forward to their return here and to Fintan returning to the job he loves at the Hahei Holiday Park.