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In the sporting realm there’s not much that Barry Gardiner hasn’t done.
The 81-year-old who celebrated his birthday earlier this week was recognised for his achievements by being named in the New Year Honours List as a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Rather than sitting back and relaxing on the back of the nod, Gardiner is doing what he does best. He’s played 10 rounds of golf in the last 12 days, is swimming and playing squash regularly, and is currently riding the bike most days as he trains for the 47km Motatapu mountain bike race from Wanaka to Arrowtown in March.
“It’s quite a tough course but I go in it most years because I get the prize for the oldest finisher which is a bottle of wine . . . it’s good stuff as well, Central Otago pinot noir,” said Gardiner.
You could say Gardiner has peaked late. In recent times he’s won squash world titles in the over 50, 60 and 70 categories.
In his younger days he was one of the South Island’s top rugby league and union players until a serious knee injury in 1965 while playing for the Hanan Shield team (a mid-Canterbury, South Canterbury and North Otago combined team) against the Springboks.
Gardner holds a unique record of having played four different positions against France in two different codes in the space of a year.
In 1960 he played for the South Island in a rugby league match against the French. He started in the forwards. However, 20min into the game the South Island halfback was injured. With no replacements in those days he played the rest of the match at halfback.
The following year he represented South Canterbury against France. After starting at flanker he finished the match at first five-eighths due to another injury.
Gardiner never played internationally in either code. However, he came as close as you possibly can in 1958 when he was selected as the emergency forward for the Kiwis ahead of a test against Great Britain.
“There was a guy by the name of Jack Jones who was the prop selected from Canterbury and he ended up breaking his finger. When they found out he couldn’t play we only had six forwards and I was included . . . on the Friday night they announced the team and they bought in a big prop from Auckland so everyone got dropped back one and I ended up being the emergency, so I missed out.”
Before moving to Timaru, Gardiner was part of a very successful West Coast league team.
“In 1960 we played Auckland in Auckland and beat them . . . there was probably about 11 or 12 coasters in the South Island team that same year and beat the North Island team in Greymouth,” said Gardiner.
“We used to beat Canterbury regularly. It was a good era for West Coast rugby league. If you look at where it is on the coast now it’s a shame. They’ve lost all their big miners and timber people which was their strike force for rugby league.”
Gardiner also played cricket for the West Coast as a wicket-keeper, including an unsuccessful Hawke Cup challenge against Nelson.
While living in the West Coast he also won the shot put title at the Canterbury junior athletics championships in dramatic fashion.
The West Coast athletes travelled by bus on Friday for the Saturday event. However, a storm closed roads to Christchurch meaning the bus didn’t arrive at Lancaster Park until the event was well under way.
“We ran across to the shot put and it had just finished. The official said: ‘Look I’m sorry but you’re too late we’ve just finished it.’ We explained the situation and he said you can have one throw and it’s going to have to be right now. I was still in my street clothes, I picked it up did my best Parry O’Brien technique. It flew out of my hand and I ended up winning it.”
In terms of the many highlights, Gardiner holds a world over-50 squash title in 1991 as his greatest achievement.
“I never knew I had that in me.”
The squash court is also where Gardiner’s most hilarious sporting moment occurred.
“I was warming for my match and was in my track pants on. I went off to take my track pants off, came back on the court started the game and the crowd starting laughing, I looked down to see I was standing there in my undies. I had forgot to put my shorts under my track pants.”
Off the field, Gardiner has been involved as an administrator at club, district, national and international levels. He has held voluntary committee membership positions with squash clubs for 51 years.