Cyclist's plea to dangerous paintgun shooters
Australian cyclist Graham Smith was celebrating, and lamenting, a "day of firsts" on Friday. It was the first time he had cycled 140km on a loaded bike - and it was also the first time he had been shot in the eye with a paintball gun.
The recently retired Canberra man was on the first leg of a 420km trip to Nelson when he was shot by an occupant of a passing van near Hanmer Springs.
Smith is experienced in cycle touring, and was contributing to a cycle blog site on his journey north for a family Christmas gathering.
He is now recovering in Christchurch Hospital, and the cycle tour has been cancelled.
Smith arrived in Christchurch at midnight on Wednesday, and set out on his journey early Friday morning after a day exploring the city.
He was just 20 minutes from Hanmer when he was shot.
"I was half aware of a white van coming towards me," Smith said.
"Then it was like being punched in the head. I had no idea what happened."
Initially, Smith thought he'd been hit by a bird, until he reached up to his face and "just felt goo".
Both lenses of his sunglasses had been smashed out, and there was green paint all over them.
Smith could only see a "bright yellow light" out of his right eye, but adrenaline took the place of any feeling of pain.
"I just got up and got back on my bike. I just pedalled for all I was worth. I didn't know what the damage was."
In a rare stroke of luck, the first person Smith came across as he entered Hanmer was senior constable Chris Hughey. Hughey immediately knew Smith needed urgent medical attention.
"His eye was all blocked, I could see straight away there was something wrong," Hughey said.
Smith was taken to the Hanmer Springs medical centre, and then immediately transferred to Christchurch Hospital in an ambulance.
All the while, Smith was composed and "completely in control".
"It was a little bit embarrassing - a guy comes into your country and this happens . . . most people would be angry, but he just took it on the chin," Hughey said. Police were appealing for information on a light- or white-coloured van, but no sightings had been reported so far.
Smith was being held for observation in hospital. He understood if he was not wearing sunglasses, he could have been seriously hurt or blinded.
However, he remained upbeat about his ordeal.
"It was a day of firsts for me," he said.
"It was the first time I've ridden 140km in a day on a loaded bike, and the first time I'd been shot in the eye. It's really odd to have ridden 140km for the first time, and then end up in the same spot you started in a wheelchair."
He urged the offenders to turn themselves in because he did not want them to target anyone else.
"It's not about revenge. It's just: Do you realise what you can do?"
Smith will join his family early next week in Nelson when they arrive from Australia.
He is now likely to arrive by plane.
Despite the abrupt end to his trip, Smith said he would be back for another South Island tour.
- Sunday Star Times