From 'fat slug' to toast of the Coast
New Speight's Coast to Coast champion Braden Currie had two people to thank for helping drive him to the title - his pregnant wife Sally and Richard Ussher, the man he beat in the epic race across the South Island.
The 26-year-old Wanaka athlete blew Ussher and the rest of his rivals away on the mountain run and held them off on the kayaking and cycling sections to win a welcome $10,000 pay cheque.
Currie and his wife, whose second child is due in April - two days before dad leaves for an adventure race in China - "just put a deposit down on a block of land [in Wanaka] last week. We didn't really know how we'd earn the money for it," Currie said.
"This might help."
Sally Currie, who was at the finish-line to greet her jubilant husband with their four-year-old son Tarn, convinced Currie to take a break from work to train fulltime after they returned to Wanaka to run their Australia-based cycle tour company via the internet.
"This time last year, I was tossing up whether to work or not, but Sally just said to me ‘this is our time, we can afford to live - just - off cycling tours and if you make money, it'll be a bonus'."
"She said ‘don't work, make [multisport and adventure racing] your life and give it a year. We'll soon catch up if it doesn't work out'."
Currie, who punched the air in delight and dashed the finishing tape to the ground, said without fulltime training, which allowed him to spend quality "dad" time with Tarn, he wouldn't have won the Coast to Coast.
The former Methven man - who earned $30,000 in "15 or 16" multisport and adventure racing events in New Zealand, Australia and China last year, also said he owed a debt of gratitude to runner-up Ussher.
"Richard has always been an icon and hero of the sport for me. He's always been the guy to look up to and the guy leading the way in the racing.
"He's helped me out a lot in the past year and he's probably the only reason I'm here. I've been to China twice with him and raced in Godzone with him . . . Richard is so tough, he just pushes and pushes. I guess that's what's given me the strength to go for it now."
Currie plans to take a month off but has his sights set on a half-ironman series in Europe. He confessed he would rather do multisport races like the Coast to Coast than the ironman. "This is where I like being. Out on the mountain run, I just love that, compared with running around a road and paddling down the river . . . it's incredible down there.
Currie's victory might also lead to a new nickname. He's been dubbed "Slug" since, as "a pretty overweight" 10-year-old, he started "rolling around on the ground" after getting bored in a backyard cricket game. Older brother Glen, who finished third at the Coast to Coast three years ago, called him "a fat slug" and belted tennis balls at him.
Sixteen years later "Slug" is rather rapid - especially when scaling the boulders and peaks on the 33km mountain run from the Mingha-Deception area on the West Coast to the Klondyke Corner side of the main divide.
Currie led the field into Klondyke by a near 10-minute margin on Nelson's Trevor Voyce and Wanaka's Dougal Allan with Ussher 13 minutes 05 seconds behind him in fourth.
He was surprised to find he was four minutes ahead at Doreen Creek "halfway up the river". "A minute after that I fell down a hole and smashed my knee and I had to walk for a couple of minutes."
But Currie got to Goat Pass to discover he'd extended his advantage to six minutes.
He knew he had to be at his best over the second half of the race to hold off Ussher and Allan, both acclaimed cyclists. "There wasn't a moment on that last ride that I didn't want to look back and see if I could see them . . . the whole time I was going, ‘where can they be?'."
His heart sank a little as an easterly - not the nor-wester he craved to keep Ussher at bay - set in, making for a head wind on the final 70km. But Currie's cycle time was only .10sec slower than Ussher's.
Currie won the race in 11hr 06min 51 sec - almost 6min ahead of Ussher in 11hr 12min 37 sec and Allan - runner-up for the previous three years - was third in 11hr 21min 34 sec. Whakatane's Sam Clark was fourth and Nelson's Trevor Voyce fifth.
Ussher, who was chasing a third consecutive title, was gracious in defeat, saying the better man won on the day.
"I gave it everything but I just wasn't good enough today. Braden just smoked that run."
The 36-year-old Ussher criticised aspects of the race organisation before the event, but insisted the resultant controversy did not affect his race. Taking November and December off and "having just five weeks preparation" was more of a factor, Ussher said.
"I left it all out there . . . I couldn't go any faster. But [Braden] raced a really good race . . . he took the race to everyone and he was the best prepared - he smashed it."