Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Cycling star speaks at Pakuranga Park

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Champion pro cyclist Aaron Gate, in aisle, with proud grandparents Connie and Des Gate at Pakuranga Park, seated to his left.

By Anna Jover

Aaron Gate is a road and track cyclist with impressive achievements, being an Olympic bronze medallist and six-time Commonwealth Games medallist.

He’s also one of the grandchildren of Connie and Des Gate, two of the most beloved residents at Pakuranga Park.

That’s why the village’s lounge was buzzing with excitement  on February 21 long before Gate was scheduled to appear, with more than 120 residents eager to meet the cyclist.

It was a challenging task, but [New Zealand retirement village group] Real Living feels very fortunate to have found a break in Gate’s busy schedule.

“It will be my fourth Olympic Game this year in Paris, which I’m really looking forward to. The team is working very hard on that at the moment, it’s our main focus. I’ve been out in the bike this morning to cycle to Huia and back.

“Huia is where I spent lots of time with Momma and Poppa as a youngster because they had a holiday house out there. I have lots of fond memories from Huia.”

Gate was very happy to see Momma and Poppa and meet their friends at the village, especially after years of a cycling career that has demanded extensive time living overseas.

He started cycling when he was in high school, and he hasn’t stopped since then, with his grandparents proudly following his career every step of the way.

Gate signed a contract in January to ride for the Spanish pro cycle team Burgos-BH (UCI Pro Team), and he’s currently looking forward to riding the first races with his new team.

“I know this is not going to last forever, it’s a bit of a young men’s sport and I’ve probably got two or three more years left, doing what I do, before I have to get a real job in the real world and get a real haircut to go with it.”

Gate’s friendly personality and sense of humour captivated the audience at Pakuranga Park, with residents asking him everything from cross-training to sponsorship, the special relationship with his coach who has trained him since high school and, of course, safety on the road and the risks of the sport.

“There’s a saying going around, there’s two kinds of cyclists, one that has broken a collar bone and one that is about to break a collar bone…I have broken my collar bone three times already.”

Gate was named Sportsman of the Year at the Halberg Awards recently, considered one of the most successful NZ ambassadors for cycling.

He praised the benefits of a sport like cycling, especially among children and youngsters, because of the camaraderie, the fresh air, and the natural surroundings that accompany the sport, ‘elements that are so great for our mental health.’

He also admitted that New Zealand cycling may not have as many financial resources as other countries in Europe.

“New Zealand is a small nation down at the bottom of the world so we’re a bit out of our depth fighting against the Italians and the Brits who seem to have bottomless budgets for equipment, but we do our best to make our legs better than theirs and try to give them a good run for their money.”

Among the spectators at Pakuranga Park was village manager Christian Pulley, a cyclist and a big fan of the sport himself, who asked Gate about his biggest win.

“The most memorable win was probably the Commonwealth Games road race two years ago. I had already won my three medals on the track, so I went there to help the other guys, I was underprepared and out of my depth.

“But one thing lead to another and I found myself in the leading breakaway of 10 riders, being the only Kiwi, next to three Brits and two South Africans, I was quite outnumbered.

“I knew I had to turn this pressure around and I managed to conserve my energy in the right places, sprinting to the win. This is something I’m very proud of.”

One of the main advantages of living in Pakuranga Park is the regular contribution of guest speakers, who cover a diverse range of topics, from wellness and lifestyle advice to educational discussions and inspirational stories.

Aaron Gate’s talk was one of the most interesting visits the village has had over the years, but Gate recognised that it won’t be as well-remembered as his grandmother’s legendary baking.

“If you do enough km, you can burn all the extra sugar from Nana’s baking, but it does disappear quite quickly when I come back home,” he said with a big laugh and a warm look in his grandmother’s direction.

  • Anna Jover is a Real Living social media coordinator

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