Lost leg led to outdoor achievement award for kids

16:00, Feb 06 2014
Mt Ruapehu eruption victim William Pike
ACTION MAN: Mt Ruapehu eruption victim William Pike back doing what he loves, with his carbon-fibre prosthetic leg.

If losing a limb can't hold him down, then nothing will stand in the way of outdoor enthusiast William Pike. Seven years ago Mr Pike lost his right leg when Mt Ruapehu erupted, trapping him under boulders as he and friend James Christie slept in the Dome Shelter.

Mr Christie ran for help, something Mr Pike will always be grateful for.

Mr Pike was so hypothermic when emergency services arrived that he was unconscious and his body temperature was 25 degrees Celsius. He nearly lost his left leg due to crush injuries.

He spent two months in Waikato Hospital recovering after having his lower right leg amputated.

Mr Pike managed to get out of hospital by the end of 2007 and spent early 2008 recovering.

By later in that year he was back at work one day a week for a couple of terms to help bring him back into the teaching world.


In 2009 he was back fulltime and about to try his hand at public speaking.

Before his accident Mr Pike's ambition was to teach and be in the outdoors.

"Had I not had the accident I wouldn't have had this [the William Pike Challenge Award]. It's really quite that simple."

The award is a youth development programme "that has a large outdoors component to it".

"It's aimed at intermediate age [children]. They have to do eight outdoor activities throughout the year, 20 hours' community service and 20 hours on developing a new sport or hobby."

It was Hilltop School in Taupo which unwittingly proved the turning point in Mr Pike's life after its deputy principal and a parent approached him to be a role model for an outdoor education programme.

"And it was [after] probably nine months working together that we came up with a plan of how it would work."

The William Pike Challenge Award was born in 2010.

In 2011 one school was on board, in 2012 there were four and by last year it had grown to 16.

"(This year) we've got 33 schools."

Six of those 33 are from Waikato, including Kihikihi, Ngahinapouri and Te Miro schools.

On a national scale, of the more than 500 pupils who have participated, about 60 of them were from the Waikato region.

Due to its success by the end of 2012, Mr Pike said he had to "make the tough decision to end teaching".

"I took a big leap of faith out of teaching, probably one of my biggest challenges yet and there's been good feedback from the programme and I'm really looking forward to growing it. That's my ultimate vision along with my love of the outdoors and education."

Along with the courses, Mr Pike is a key person on the motivational speaking circuit.

He said his programme is a good lead-in to the Duke of Edinburgh's Hillary Award, which targets 14- to 25-year-olds.

"I filled a gap in the market of the need for something like this."

The 11- to 13-year-old age group could be a vulnerable time for some kids, as they go through pre-teen angst and is a big formative part of their lives, he said.

"It's nice to be able to fit my line of work in and help them."

So, among teaching kids about what the outdoors have to offer, Mr Pike has slowly overcome all the "firsts".

The first trip back to Mt Ruapehu was, suitably, with climbing buddy James Christie.

He took novice climbers - his brother Andrew and father Barry - up Mt Tongariro for a climb in 2009.

Losing part of his leg meant he now uses a carbon-fibre prosthetic leg, a limb which is lighter than a normal leg. But it means he can't walk as fast or carry as much weight when he's heading into the wilderness.

"It's harder, definitely harder. I have just had to manage myself when going [on tramps]. If I'm with a group I'll give an extra block of chocolate so they can carry my tent.

"I'm fine walking long periods of time but mainly with a lot of weight off my back.

"I'm a bit slower, but I'm happy with it. I still get there in the end."

As for the ever-growing William Pike Challenge Award, Mr Pike said he'll look to be hiring staff for the busy season, which is at the end and start of each year.

"It's been a rollercoaster ride, trying to attract funding and support, but it's been great."

And what's next for the 29-year-old?

"Keeping up with the outdoor activities is high on the agenda and just getting a mix of that work-life balance. My passion is education and the outdoors. Although I loved teaching, doing what I'm doing, I just love it. It's very satisfying and it's great to have the opportunity to grow it." belinda.feek@waikatotimes.co.nz

Waikato Times