Jokes flow as plucky pair hit the water for swim match-up

10:12, Jan 01 2014
frank gocht
WISH COME TRUE: Frank Gocht, who has motor neuron disease, ticks off another item on his bucket list by getting personalised swim training from Paralympian Mary Fisher at Kilbirnie pool yesterday.

Frank Gocht is not one to be overawed when meeting a Paralympic gold medallist.

Instead, he compares medals.

Swimming star Mary Fisher was as keen to see his World Association of Chinese Cuisine silver medal as he was to hold her medley gold from the London Paralympics.

The pair arranged to meet at the Kilbirnie pool in Wellington yesterday to tick off another item on Mr Gocht's bucket list, drawn up after his diagnosis of motor neuron disease in July 2012.

The 47-year-old former chef, now living in Johnsonville, once worked at Michelin-starred restaurants and as Michael Jackson's personal caterer.

His illness affects the nerve cells controlling his muscle movement. As these cells deteriorate, his muscles waste away, affecting his movement, speech, swallowing and eventually breathing. There is no known cause or cure.


Doctors initially gave Mr Gocht, the father of two girls, a year to live.

His response was a bucket list, he said.

"I guessed if I made it long and difficult I will live longer, but it looks like that is not working."

One early wish was to eat at one of the best restaurants in the world. Another is to deliver an All Blacks match-ball.

A few weeks ago, he contacted physical disability association Parafed about his swimming dream, and the association put him in touch with Ms Fisher.

The 20-year-old Massey University student was happy to help.

The progression of his disease means Mr Gocht can no longer talk, but the pair corresponded by email.

Ms Fisher said she was particularly stuck by his tendency to joke around.

"I've learned that a sense of humour is very important in any difficult situation.

"I'm going to apply that to my life."

Mr Gocht was similarly delighted to finally meet Ms Fisher, whom he found "extremely open" in person.

Communication in the pool could have been an issue, he said. Ms Fisher has aniridia, leaving her partially sighted, while for him "the only thing I am good with is my eyes, kind of pointing in the direction, nodding and [making] funny noises".

But between the two, the jokes just flowed.

Since his diagnosis, Mr Gocht's family - here and in his native Germany - had been on a "rollercoaster ride", he said.

Motor neuron disease sufferers live an average of only two to four years after diagnosis.

"The worst part was losing my voice. The relationship to the girls disjointed. Until then, they always tuned in and we cracked jokes.

"Neish, my wife, she tries to put on a brave face, but after 19 years you see right through it."

You can read more about Frank Gocht's journey on his Facebook page, Motorneuron Disease & me.

The Dominion Post