Dave Rodger’s one of our rowing legends. He tells Andy Hay about the long road back from a near-fatal day.

 

When Dave Rodger first made it home the stairs proved a bit of a challenge.

Given his injuries and the amount of time he’d been in hospital, it’s a wonder he was even contemplating climbing them.

But setting goals in his recovery has been important.

In January, he was overseeing a road crew in Waharoa when he was hit by an SUV, allegedly driven at speed by a man who targeted him deliberately.

Dave is lucky to be alive.

“The first thing I remember was a workmate holding me up and me kind of being spread on the ground,” says Dave.

“I remember being put on a helicopter.  While I couldn't see out the windows, I kind of roughly knew the direction the helicopter was going.”

It was the Emergency Department at Waikato Hospital. And then...everything goes blank.

“I don't remember anything for four weeks.”

In those many days of memory lost and induced coma there were lots of operations and procedures - for his destroyed ankle and lower leg, forearm, perforated bowel, other internal injuries, abrasions and constant threat of infection and sepsis.

The first message Dave’s old rowing friends received came from his wife Dianne.

It wasn’t optimistic.

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I’ve known Dave since I turned up on an April morning in 1982 for the first in-training row of the Elite Men’s Eight at Cambridge Rowing Club.

Dave was stroking the boat in those first few weeks and by the time we’d had a few rows in the cooling afternoons on Lake Karapiro and he’d seen me somewhat underprepared and underdressed for the coming winter, arranged some decent waterproof clothing for his coxswain.

So, a man with a big heart, in both ways because he was a physiological freak, with the perfect spring, feel and rhythm that made him a fantastic six seat in that World Championship-winning boat.

Dave was old school even back then and to this day I’ve never seen someone so seamlessly capable of exasperating our coach Harry Mahon, but that’s another story.

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There have been lots of messages of support and visits, New Zealand’s most decorated Red Coat, Chris White, among them.

“Well, he was my nurse for the day when I went to [ex-Waikato rower] Barry Robinson’s funeral. It was a whole lot of fun actually. We climbed in the car with the wheelchair and crutches and off we went.

“I've also got a few mates that come and pick me up and take me for a coffee, Lindsay Wilson and Brett Cooper came around last night and we had a nice chit chat.”

“I've even had Conrad Robertson come down, even though he came down just to tell me that the bloody North Shore Rowing Club won the eight at the National Champs.”

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The pain has been challenging.

“It comes and goes, you know, it ebbs and flows. I take a couple tablets for nerve pain and a couple of tablets for bone breakage and a whole lot of other bloody stuff.”

Dave hopes to make a 95% recovery, with his ACC care kicking in now on the next stage of his rehab.

“I'm in for some nerve tests beginning of June. I go back to the orthopaedic surgeon the end of July.  After that I'll possibly have a new knee or they'll reconstruct the leg.

“Hopefully they might also take out some of the ironware that I've got going across my pelvis.”

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THE SHATTERED LEG, FRESH AIR AND COFFEE, DINNER, SOME OF THE TEAM WHO HELPED GET HIM READY FOR THE NEXT STEP AT HOME.

Dave Rodger’s made a lot of friends over the lifetime of rowing that started at Cambridge Rowing Club.

He, Peter Britton and cox Mark Powell are still the club’s only male Red Coat winners, after they took out the Premier Coxed Pair in 1974.

It was a big deal for the club and town. The shots on race day were taken by local photographer Heather Hills. She managed to get herself out on the umpire's boat to capture the first time a Cambridge crew had ever made a championship final.

Dave and Peter couldn't believe their luck when they got to the start that day and saw that the lane supposed to be occupied by favourites Trevor Coker and Athol Earl from Avon was empty. They'd been scratched by coach Fred Strachan to save them for the men's eight.

Who knows what would have happened had they been there, but Dave and Peter had done the work, regularly rowing to the Horahora Bridge and beyond in their coxed pair. That's a slog.

The next year, Dave began his golden run at Waikato Rowing Club, there was Olympics bronze in the eight in 1976, world championship silver in the straight four in ‘77 world championship gold in the eight in ‘82 and ‘83 amongst many other achievements.

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Dave, Peter Britton and cox Mark Powell in the championship race of 1974 at Lake Karapiro. The three Cambridge boys are about to take out the Men's Coxed Pair, the club's first and only men to win a Red Coat.

Dave was the first Kiwi international rower to turn to America’s Cup sailing, a grinder with Team New Zealand at Fremantle in ‘87.

Dianne has been getting him through the day-to-day but it’s been the constant good wishes from others that have also helped him.

“I really just wanted to say thanks to all the people that have rung and contacted me, the rowing community that wanted to know how I’m getting on.”

Dave’s getting there. He’s even planning to find a way to Henley next year to catch up with other rowing people.

You can almost hear the trademark laugh in the boat park now.

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The man accused of hitting Dave is facing a charge of attempted murder.

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Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446. Email: andygohay1@gmail.com