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Sheriff of Kotu faces nervous final days in Ironman leadup

Josh Te Kowhai has just a few more days before he will jump into Lake Taupo and tackle Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand.

Last July, the popular Rotorua identity was announced as a recipient of the Tony Jackson Scholarship, and has since fully committed to the hours of training needed to take on the challenge.

“It’s not going to be fast, but I’ve got 17 hours to get the same medal as the winner.” says Te Kowhai.

He epitomizes the spirit of Tony Jackson and the phrase, ‘nothing is impossible to the willing mind’.

In 2004 man nicknamed ‘Sheriff of Kotu’ was involved in a serious car accident that ended his professional rugby career. The damage to his legs left doctors questioning whether he would ever walk again, let alone return to sport.

Te Kowhai defied the medical odds. He established himself as a personal trainer and gym owner in his home town of Rotorua, where he has a particular dedication to helping young people and at-risk groups.

His determination to overcome his injuries and the commitment to mentor and support members of his local community meant choosing Te Kowhai for the Tony Jackson Scholarship was an easy decision. He normally devotes most of his time to helping and training others, but the Scholarship and entry to IRONMAN New Zealand has given Te Kowhai an opportunity to focus on himself.

“I do like to call it the carpenter's syndrome. You build everyone else’s houses except your own. You’re busy working with other people and don’t get to put a ton of time into yourself. This is why this has been awesome. I’ve had my own goal to take to the end.”

Te Kowhai has represented New Zealand in both rugby and boxing, so he knows how to push himself. But the help of the Boost Coaching crew has proven invaluable as he looks to harness that enthusiasm and tackle his first IRONMAN.

Over the past few months the Rotorua community have really stepped up and paid back some of the time and dedication Te Kowhai offers them. There are several others in the town training for their first full IRONMAN distance race and they have all banded together to make the long training sessions that bit easier.

“There’s very rarely a training I have to go out by myself. There’s always someone I can call on. We’ve got a massive crew here and the support has been absolutely unbelievable to be honest. A lot of guys not doing IRONMAN this year have come out with me on big rides and big runs. That’s got to be hard for them because they’re not actually training for anything. And I’ve said I’ll repay the favour because they’re all going back for 2020.”

While the support from the wider community has been fantastic, the biggest impact on Te Kowhai’s training and recovery has come from his partner, Tairi Ford, and his sons. Ford has been key in helping him deal with the demands of training, working and recovery.

“My partner has been an absolute champion for me. She has all my meals ready and has me ready so I can go to sleep early. I’m pretty spoiled there. It’s a team effort involved. “

The biggest obstacle Te Kowhai has had to overcome in his training has been his lack of swim motivation.

“I had a bad attitude towards swimming. I took a negative frame of mind into it every time I went to the pool or the lake. Once I was there would do it, but I would always roll my eyes and say, ‘Oh swimming today.’ But I’ve got over that in the last few weeks. It’s all fallen into place and I think that’s all to do with mindset.”

Heading into race week, Te Kowhai is beginning to feel the nerves, but the excitement is also building. Having volunteered in the transition tent for the last four or five years, there will be a lot of friends willing him on, though he has asked a few to make sure he’s given space to focus on his race. There will also be a group lining the streets of Taupo.

“There’s a crew setting up out on the course somewhere. I think a lot of people are going to go back to there as a base.”

Te Kowhai will run a stretching session on the Thursday morning of race week in Rotorua, before heading down to Taupo to get immersed in the IRONMAN experience.

“I’ll relax, take it easy. Get down there and soak in the atmosphere. Get nervous and just get ready for that cannon.”

Te Kowhai has a pretty simple aim for the race.

“My goal is just to finish with a smile. If anything, I’ve taken away any time pressures which has made it a lot better for me in the last few weeks. It’s going to be what it’s going to be, and I’ll just do my best. I’m out there to enjoy every aspect of the day. It will be a PB regardless.”

He has previously completed several half-distance races so has that experience to draw on. He has been for a practice swim and completed the course in Lake Taupo, so he knows he can finish that leg and is looking forward to getting out on the bike.

“The bike’s always been my favourite part, but 180 km is still 180 km. That doesn’t change. As long as I don’t have any mechanicals, I should be alright. The biggest thing I’ve learned on the bike is to pull back a bit and stay green zone.”

From there it’s out onto the run.

“I’m 120 kg so I’m expecting the crowd to drag me through the marathon!”

Josh Te Kowhai will head into IRONMAN New Zealand as an incredibly deserving recipient of the Tony Jackson Scholarship. His own recovery from injury showed remarkable resilience, but it is more than this that makes him the man he is. His dedication to his community and those around him is the real demonstration of Tony Jackson spirit.

Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand celebrates 35 years this year, with celebration events planned throughout the week and on race day.

© Scoop Media

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