Whitianga resident, John McKenzie, is a quiet achiever and very reluctant to talk himself up or discuss his past achievements in life. “Let’s just say I have led a fairly active and varied life, including being involved with the local rugby club and ticking off a number of personal sporting and outdoor challenges along the way, and leave it at that,” he says.
John’s main reason for agreeing to talk to The Informer was more about creating an awareness of his intention to raise as much money as possible for the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Trust in coming months. In doing so, he will also begin his personal journey to complete a challenge a good mate of John’s set himself after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, but sadly succumbed to the disease before he had the opportunity to fulfil his dream.
“Leith Wilson, an ex-longstanding local, was a great mate and lifetime friend,” John says. “Among other things, we played rugby and cycled together, and he became an inspiration to many with his strong will and determination to face his cancer diagnosis head-on. In 2018 and after having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Leith completed the full 160km lap of the iconic Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge and in doing so was awarded the Dan Dunne Trophy for riding with hardship/adversity.
“Once that milestone was achieved, he then set himself the goal of completing the Tour of Aotearoa (TA), a 3,000km ride that starts from the lighthouse at Cape Reinga and finishes at Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. The route follows a combination of sealed and gravel cycle trails, tracks, paths and lanes, and takes in some of New Zealand’s most scenic and isolated spots. Leith would have absolutely loved everything about the ride, including the training leading up to it and had even purchased a new purpose-built bike for the occasion.
“Sadly it was not to be and Leith passed away in December of 2019. The bike sat idle for some time before I asked his family if I could purchase it and complete the TA ride as a way of giving some closure to unfinished business and to ride in memory of a great friend. I felt there was no better way than to do it than on Leith’s bike, which the family fully supported and agreed with.”
John is not a man to get bogged down in too much detail about the ride. “There is a set route that I will follow, but other than that I will basically wing it and take each day as it comes,” he says. “Officially it’s called a brevet ride, which means riders are fully self-sufficient carrying all their gear, including tents and finding shelter where they can along the way. My effort won’t be quite as extreme. I will be looking for pub-like accommodation and food, but I will be packing an emergency blanket just in case I get caught short at some point. I’m sure Leith would approve.”
While John is planning on an early 2023 start, which is still some time away, the coming months will centre around his training and finding ways to raise money for the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Trust. He will be calling for donations during his ride, but would like to raise funds well in advance as well. He is open to suggestions as to how to go about this. “I know the trust wants to purchase a suitable van for the wonderful work they do, so I’m aiming pretty high,” he says.
The trust’s chairperson, Jody Bower, is delighted John has chosen the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Trust as his chosen charity. “What John is undertaking is a huge commitment and effort, and we will support his efforts in any way we can,” she says.
An arborist by trade, John works mornings and afternoons driving a school bus and also holds down a job with the Department of Conservation as a ranger. “I absolutely love my jobs,” he says. “Because I have had the same regular school run for several years now, I have seen many timid young kids grow to become confident young adults. And working with DOC is one of the best work experiences I could have ever dreamed of”.
For those wanting to find out more about John’s ride or have any fundraising suggestions they wish to share, please contact him at email@example.com.
Pictured is Whitianga resident, John McKenzie, will be cycling the Tour of Aotearoa early next year in memory of his good mate, Leith Wilson (pictured). In the lead up to the ride, John will raise money for the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Trust.