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Mission impossible or a miracle? Napier man Campbell Gray’s crack at Coast to Coast

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Young Napier sportsman Campbell Gray is adamant: “I can’t live a life without sport”.

But it has particular meaning, for, having battled back from near-fatal injuries received at a hockey practice 17 months ago he will on Friday realise the first of the week’s two big dreams – to start endurance beast the Kathmandu Coast to Coast. The other is to win.

Miraculously, when he hits the starting line on Friday morning, at Kumara Beach, south of Greymouth, he’ll be among the favourites to win the new two-day Elite Youth class by the time he gets to New Brighton, Christchurch, the next day.

It’s there in the form-line, with Gray having on October 14 won premier North Island endurance event the Ōpōtiki Motu Challenge. That involved almost seven hours and 40 minutes of body-punishment in which he beat four-times Coast-to-Coast Longest Day winner Sam Clark by more than five minutes.

One of the things is that Campbell would have had a crack at this before – he’s been trying to get to the start line since 2021, when he was 16 and at Taradale High School.

But the door was shut by two Covid cancellations before the event that could have put-paid to it all – when he chose hockey practice ahead of 19th birthday celebrations on the night of July 19, 2022.

At the time he had also been just a few months into scheduled three-year studies for a degree in human performance science at Waikato University.

With fractures to his right temporal bone, optical bone, and jaw, he was instead heading for emergency surgery, and then the recovery – through induced coma, a week of no memory, several weeks in Waikato Hospital and about a month at a rehabilitation centre in Auckland, supported by the ACC.

Campbell Gray in his last moments on the Clive River before the Waitangi Day trip south and the two-day Coast-to-Coast across the South Island. Photo / Connull Lang
Campbell Gray in his last moments on the Clive River before the Waitangi Day trip south and the two-day Coast-to-Coast across the South Island. Photo / Connull Lang

Nevertheless, he was soon back in action, and in mid-December 2022 he competed in surf lifesaving pre-season challenge the Mount Monster at Mount Maunganui, heeding some of the advice and wearing a helmet.

After a Monday afternoon hour paddling on the Clive River, ahead of the Waitangi Day trip with his mum, dad and support crew Dave, he said his mum has her nervous moments, and doctors had advised no involvement with contact sport in the first two years.

But having first got the bug while at Taradale High School, he was on a mission, rather than a path to a miracle, and says: “One of the first things I said to her was I’m doing Coast-to-Coast in 2023. I can’t play hockey anymore.”

Guided by Christchurch mentor and veteran endurance competitor Pete Richards, he’s now ready for the challenge – a total of over 240km running, biking and kayaking across the South Island on Friday and Saturday, to be met at New Brighton, by his mum.

The event, which has a bit of Hawke’s Bay history in multisporter George Christison’s win in 2004 and recent efforts by son Thomas, has been a part of many miracle rehabilitations and recoveries, but that of Campbell Gray is a notable one for organisers of the 42nd annual race.

“Despite facing a life-threatening injury, Campbell emerges as a top contender in this year’s Elite Youth Category,” says race director Glen Currie. “His inspiring comeback is a testament to his determination and encapsulates everything that the Kathmandu Coast to Coast represents — overcoming challenges with unwavering resilience.”

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