Action woman

HARRIET PALMER
Last updated 08:52 11/03/2009
BRADLEY AMBROSE
Meet action woman, Dr Carey Nazzer.

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Despite being tall and thin, Carey Nazzer is an exceptionally well-rounded woman: a mother, a GP, a herbalist and a world-class athlete.

She takes photos, plays  the bass guitar and has dabbled  in painting. She's a nature-loving  outdoors person who wants to  turn the family's 4 hectares at  Oakura back to native bush. She  has three degrees and has just  opened a natural medicine clinic  for women in New Plymouth. The  wiry genius calls herself a  "generalist" and a "doer". Others  might call her inspiring, or  maybe even mad. Recently Carey  (pronounced Kerrie) took her  12-year-old son, Marty, to an Iron  Maiden concert. Soon they're  going to the Killers, one of the  latest "it" acts to hit the rock  scene. In preparation, she's been  strumming her way through the  band's hits, though she claims  her music hasn't got any better  since she was a teenager ripping  up Auckland. When she's not  rocking out, Carey is training for  her seventh world orienteering  championships and studying  towards her fellowship in natural  medicine. She'll add that to her  medical degree, her psychology  degree and her masters in phys  ed.

"I'm very competitive - an overachiever and competitive. I've often thought about whether I was ambitious or not, but I'm not ambitious 'cause I don't care how it ranks with other people. I'm competitive with myself. For example, I don't have an ambition to be the top of a corporation or to be the owner of a big practice. I'm more into being a generalist and doing a little bit of everything or being good at everything, doing well within myself. So I'm internally competitive, especially with sport.

"And it's not much different with knowledge, either. If I don't know something, I tend to look it up and that is a never-ending quest - believe me."

Carey turned 50 in January - "the thought is worse than the bite". She looks young and energetic. She's got tight curls and bright eyes. She's slim and stylish with smooth, healthy skin. She seems happiest when moving; she's constantly hauling dogs back to their beds. She leaps out of her chair to grab Marty, a coffee pot, some crazy-looking maps.

The maps are for orienteering, a sport that is a big part of Carey's life. It baffles many, but she's been into it since she picked it up in her 20s, since her first run, which she completed in stiff, uncomfortable jeans.

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It's taken her all round the world competing and she just loves it. She calls it addictive and almost impossible to conquer.

"Seriously, I have been doing it for how many years and you can never, never get it right. It's so fun.

"Why people don't seem to like it, I dunno. As a club [Orienteering Taranaki], a lot of us have always wondered that. I think the guys like it. In New Zealand, men between 50 and 65 would be the biggest category - but women? If it's weather like today [miserable], going outside and getting wet and dirty? You have to be like that. You don't have to mind.

"And then it's quite intense. It's quite a concentration-based sport. It's a really hard sport."

This complexity hasn't stopped Carey. Orienteering can be described as similar to a treasure hunt. Runners use complicated maps to navigate to markers (called controls) spread across a course. In Taranaki, most events are at parks, but they can be up to 10km, often through rugged terrain. Carey is so good, she's competed in world champs in 1985, 1987 and 1989. In the alternate years, she played rep netball for the North Shore. She's going to the world masters' orienteering in Australia in October this year and is hoping to do as well, or better, than her ninth placing in Portugal last year.

Orienteering is centred in Europe. It's the Swedish national sport, so a placing in the Northern Hemisphere is impressive. In 2000, Carey competed in New Zealand's first masters' championships and she says she embarrassed herself. When she talks about it, she looks determined. She's not going to trip up like that again.

"I should have won that. I was running in the W40 [women's 40] and I made a mistake on the last control and I've never, ever forgotten. I was so embarrassed. I was coming first before that, so clearly winning. That's orienteering for you."

Carey says she's lucky to be good at sport. It's in the genes, something her Kiwi dad passed on. Her English mum doesn't sound like a lay-about, either. She got her daughter into the sport while Carey still lived in Auckland.

"She was the one who originally told me to get off my ass and come on, let's go out to the forest."

Taranaki came into Carey's life in 1992. She grew up in Auckland from age eight after leaving the UK because her mother was sick of the "snobbish education system". She studied in Dunedin and came to New Plymouth as a house surgeon for Taranaki Base Hospital. On arrival, she asked where the best place to set up camp was. It was Oakura and after checking out the black- sanded community, Carey moved in. She's lived there ever since, bar one year, and can't imagine leaving.

"I saw it and thought, yeah, this is where I could live and I have. The mountain, the parks, and the sea, the open sea - my soul's here. Even when we go overseas and come back home on that drive from town to here, it's always: yes, this is home. So this is where I am."

Today she lives in a stylish cube overlooking some undulating farmland and a river with second husband Craig Nazzer, who is a Polish-Canadian.

"He's a local boy - as much as a Canadian can be."

Set up at the dining table is Carey's computer. Her interest in herbal and nutritional medicine is fuelling her desire to learn more. Studying is something Carey doesn't appear to have stopped doing. She started her medical degree at 27. Before that, she had been researching and was asked to do her PhD when she decided it was time for a change.

"I couldn't imagine a life in front of a computer. I just got frustrated. It was one of those mid-late 20s things, where you just decide. I just decided, you know, what the heck am I doing?"

So it was off to med school. Originally she hadn't thought there was "a chance in hell" of getting in because of some "pretty average" high school marks brought on by wagging. But those marks didn't matter and Carey had excelled in tertiary education, so she made it.

"I was really good, too. I enjoyed it. A lot of people talk about the trauma of med school and some things are traumatic, honestly: dissections and morgues and things. But it was interesting and as an adult student, it's very beneficial. It's much better to do it at 27 rather than 17."

Now she works at Care First in New Plymouth, but medicine wasn't something Carey enjoyed until she started looking at more natural and holistic ways to treat people.

"It was a natural progression. I was already into alternative and preferred natural medicine even though I went through medical school. The main thing that made me do it was patients you don't have answers for. Medicine is very stressful unless you can offer or help people in ways other than drugs."

She says she can still order tests and still prescribes drugs and though nutrition, herbal and environmental medicine is "pooh-poohed" by the medical profession and is "way out on a limb", it has kept her learning and kept her interested.

"I didn't like medicine until I got into this."

Medicine, though, could be one of the reasons why Carey's life is so jam-packed. Why she is so healthy and energetic. She seems like the kind of person who is charging through life and making it work for her. She seems happy.

"I like my life. Of course I like my life: you've only got one and you have to live it.

"No doubt when dealing with sick people, and I see a lot of people with cancer, including young people, you come to the quick conclusion you've got to do what you want to do. You never know what's around the corner. You've got to get on and do what you can.

"Use it or lose it."

- Taranaki Daily News

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