Calm in the Storm

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Moa Harriers has reacted with a calm and sensible approach to facing some challenging times in recent months. Steve Landells speaks to two prominent club members to find out more.

It was Winston Churchill who once said “never let a good crisis go to waste” and Feilding Moa Harriers President Mark Evans is quite happy to paraphrase the former British Prime Minister in reference to how his club have coped with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Life for all of New Zealand’s sporting clubs has been tough over the past few months but the Feilding-based road and cross country club have provided an impressive template on not only how to survive but also thrive during turbulent times.

Moa Harriers’ typical season starts in early April but following the decision by the New Zealand Government to move quickly from an Alert Level 2 to an Alert Level 4 in the second half of March – the club were forced to rapidly alter their plans.

“We had to put our club calendar on hold because of the lockdown and like everyone we had to readjust how we did things,” explains long-time Moa Harriers club coach, Rob Dabb.

“We put together a plan – and our priority was to find a way to stay connected with our runners, so that when we did re-start we were ready to hit the ground running.”

The club were forced to cancel the Anzac Relay which was scheduled to be hosted in Feilding on Anzac Day yet the club refused to be downhearted and promoted the importance of communication with its members.

Regular updates were posted on Facebook and on the Moa Harrier website. Regular chats were organised to keep in contact with members both old and new so that when the action did re-start everybody would feel connected.

“We tried to keep the members active by encouraging them to enter the Athletics NZ Virtual events because we didn’t want to be seen to be encouraging the athletes to meet up and go for group runs – which during an alert level four would have been stupid,” explains Mark, the Club President.

The club have fully embraced the series and entered 12 teams in the Athletics NZ Virtual Ekiden Relay event – but Moa have also been proactive in organising their own virtual races.

Rob says the first challenge was for club members to run the cumulative “virtual” 1485km distance from Cape Reinga to Feilding. Each day the members were asked to email or message the number of kilometres they had run. Some 80-90 members competed in the virtual race, whole families became involved, one individual ran 200km in a week and the target goal was reached within seven days.

“We put together a virtual map of our progress  and I think we caught one or two strangers by surprise who thought we were actually running from Cape Reinga to Feilding during lockdown – which was obviously untrue,” Rob explains.

Moa also organised a second virtual race – which involved running around your neighbourhood to help draw a picture or shape around your route. The competition also proved popular with runners providing some innovative running routes.

Yet besides the success of the virtual racing, Rob says there was another bonus felt by its members during the lockdown period.

“Many discovered the simple joy of running,” he explains. “People would run on their own but with no expectations. Many ran every day, built up their fitness and had a lot of fun.”

Once life reverted to an Alert Level 2 and the freedom that this brought, Moa held their open day on May 30 and that same day organised their first cross country meet at Timona Park.

However, with gatherings restricted to 100 – the meet took on a slightly different format.

“To ensure we got under the 100 person cap for each event we decided to organise two mirror image events,” explains Mark. “We had one event at 12.30pm and the other at 2pm.”

The smart thinking ensured some 115 Moa Harrier members were given the opportunity to race safely within the government guidelines.

Moa Harriers have also shown other innovations. A local plumbing firm has built a portable water station to allow for regular handwashing at events.

Rob says the club have put together a new calendar of events for 2020 which offers a slightly more condensed programme – which allows for plenty of competitive opportunities.

“We can be optimistic for the future,” says Rob. “Now we have started competing again people will forget about what they have missed. They have started to connect in a more traditional way once again. Just making it to the start line for that first event was such a watershed moment.”

Meanwhile, despite the impact of Covid-19, Rob is hopeful the club can match – or at least come close to matching – last year’s membership.

He says the uniform co-ordinator has been busy with orders from new members and he adds: “While we only have about one third of the numbers compared to the same date last year, we are really only at week one, so we feel confident we can get close to last year’s membership tally of 180 members.”