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Community partnership keeps on giving

The true success of the Ruralco Longbeach Coastal Challenge is the community partnership between organisers Longbeach School and the Hinds and Districts Lions Club. Since 2007, with the solid support of many long-term sponsors, the event has raised over $275,000 – all of it to benefit the people of Mid Canterbury.

The Ruralco Longbeach Coastal Challenge is a mountain biking, running and walking event held once a year in rural Mid Canterbury. The event is situated in the central zone of the Canterbury Bight and with endless views of the Pacific Ocean, it is a once-a-year opportunity to mountain bike, run or walk along a spectacular section of Canterbury coastline.

The objective of the event is to raise funds for the local Longbeach Primary School and the Hinds and Districts Lions Club – who distribute profits to charitable causes which benefit the community of Canterbury. The two distinct groups, namely the Hinds and Districts Lions Club and the teachers and parents of Longbeach School, have worked seamlessly together for the past 14 years to host, promote and manage this fundraising event.

The event is run entirely by passionate volunteers and it caters from elite sports people, fast-paced competitive athletes, have-a-go weekend riders and recreational runners through to families, and children as young as six. Over the years the course has changed a few times, but the current course starts and finishes at the historic Longbeach Estate. Support from landowners – the Thomas and McKenzie families has been paramount to the success of this event. These farmers literally throw open their gates for the event course and allow access to their paddocks, laneways and boundaries.

After so many events, the Ruralco Longbeach Coastal Challenge has become a mainstay of the Mid Canterbury events calendar and it attracts participants from across the Canterbury region and wider afield.


The Back Story: He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

In the mid-2000s, Colin Fleming, a local farmer and Hinds and Districts Lions Club member had an idea to run a horse event like what would have been run at the Longbeach Estate 150 years ago. Mr Fleming approached Bill and Penny Thomas to see if they would be prepared to host this fund-raising event along the picturesque pacific coastline. After discussion about the logistics of horses and potentially motorbikes it was decided that a mountain bike race would be a better fit and would enable more people to attend. Bill then requested that he would do it only if Longbeach School were involved and were a part recipient of the fundraising. From there Bill and Colin approached Longbeach Estate’s two coastal neighbours who were only too happy to join in and make the course a reality.

Mr Fleming then approached Longbeach School and met with the School Fundraising Committee of the time, which consisted of Donald Sutton, Simon Eddington, Fleur Schmack and Jo Taylor. “We attended that first meeting and decided right from the start it was a 50/50 partnership – the Lions did the track and marshalling, and the School managed the entries and marketing with a 50/50 distribution of the fundraising at the end” said founding committee member and past Chairwoman, Jo Taylor.

The 50/50 partnership was established and is reflected not only in the split of fundraising, but in the division of jobs, participation on the organising committee and rotation of the Chairpersons. Past Chairs of the event include Bob Ellis, Paul Taylor, John Lowe, Jo Taylor and Garry Brown.

“As the event grew – building a bigger team to split our jobs was necessary. Registration and promotion became two roles, the introduction of electronic timing was amazing – prior to this we had three people with stop watches at the finish line. The event ran on the smell of an oily rag so that we could put more money back into the community – that was the heart of every decision” said Jo.

In 2007 the Ruralco Longbeach Coastal Challenge began with 259 competitors. Since then it has gone from strength to strength, reaching over 1,400 at the ten-year anniversary. In 2019 the event attracted over 750 competitors and raised $22,000 for distribution. Many locals are charmed by this event and return year after year – to try a new course; to challenge themselves; to better a previous time or to enjoy a day of community spirit and a delicious steak sandwich (post-race of course!).

A special mention must also be made of Bernard Davidson, who for many years was the voice of the finish line at this event. Mr Davidson was on hand with a bit of good banter at the finish and always assisted keep the day on track as MC. 

Today the event consists of six classes: mountain biking – the 35km Classic or 23km Recreational ride, 12km family ride and running 21km off-road half marathon; and run / walking a 12km or 5km course.


Historic Estate and Local Farmers Open Their Gates

Landowners Bill and Penny Thomas were in favour of the event since its inception, and Bill recounts “on the last Sunday in November 2007, I, along with about 250 other mainly locals;  somewhat unfit for mountain biking and with no training,  competing on our children’s old bikes, rolled up to the start line of the inaugural event. None of us really knew what a mountain bike was and how much of a challenge we would be undertaking.”

“The Hinds Lions and Longbeach School community put a tremendous amount of work into what has become a very enjoyable annual event. The highlights for me and our family is seeing many people from all over entering, enjoying (mostly) and returning to do the event. Having world renowned medal winning mountain biker Anton Cooper hold the 35km record and returning regularly is one of the bonuses” Bill said.

“Coming across friends, neighbours, even our accountant and bank manager (the BNZ along with Ruralco have sponsored the event since day one) makes it a great opportunity to catch up and compete together. In 2019, three generations of our family – including Penny and I along with our children, daughter and son in law, son and daughter in law, grandchildren and extended family all competing in the Challenge was a special occasion for us. For the first time we were able to put in a Longbeach Estate Team for the 35km mountain bike – we didn’t take the trophy home, but there’s always next year!”

Bill believes the event brings out the best in people. “Whether its family members, local community or people from outside the district as well as the local business supporting and competing, the young, old and older get out of the house away from phones and screens.  The open air, shingle tracks, paddocks, gullies, dongas and through water ways and across the river, sees people being active for several hours. If you haven’t entered or attended, I think you should, you will enjoy yourself,” he said.


Sponsors Make the Day

The partnership with Ruralco (previously ATS) was unique right from the beginning. The then Marketing Manager, James Smith, saw the vision of the event straight away and brought ATS on board as the naming sponsor. The BNZ have also been a great supporter and sponsor from the start. Alongside financial sponsorship of the event, many sponsors pay the entry for their staff to participate and encourage their employees to enter the Teams events, some putting together very competitive teams.

One naming sponsor, 12 Gold Sponsors, 14 Silver Sponsors and nine Bronze Sponsors ensure that the organising committee can help keep operational costs as low as possible. On event day the site is filled with sponsors marquees and tents and the finish line is proudly lined with flags of these sponsors.

To ensure maximum profitably, the organising committee aims to use sponsorship funding for the operational costs of the event, enabling as much of the event registration fees to be returned to the community.


One Hundred+ Volunteers

Current Chairman, Matt Galbraith is the father of two ex-Longbeach students Connor, Keely and of current Year 4 student Ryan. Matt and wife Wendy are both great runners and mountain bikers and the children are now making it hard work for Matt to get over the finish line before them. He has been involved with the event since 2014, taking over the running of the Event Site in 2015 and coming on as Chairman in 2019.

The once a year event is put together by a team of over 100 volunteers made up of parents, teachers and families of the school, the Lions club members and in many cases their spouses plus local community volunteers, who without their support, the event would simply not be possible. These volunteers ensure that we have an organising committee, marshals out on the track, first-aid teams in addition to St John Ambulance volunteers, help with everything from chopping onions, to handing out race numbers, marshalling on the track, BBQ-ing, setting up and packing down marquees, directing cars in the carpark and transporting the port-a-loos.

“This is a special event to be a part of and I’m certainly proud of the amazing team that helps deliver this fantastic challenge each year. It is immensely satisfying to see how months of hard work by so many people comes together on the day. We look forward to seeing you all back in 2020,” Matt said.


Event Highlights

Many memorable moments have been created because of this event. From the personal triumphs of participants completing their first race, to whole families getting the chance to complete the challenge together to the unique opportunity to line up with Commonwealth Gold Medallist and World Junior cross-country mountain biker Anton Cooper. Anton first attended the event as a 13-year old and has participated in most events since. Four years ago, Anton turned professional and in spite of this, he continues to attend the event when his schedule allows.

In 2013 the event, then known as the ATS Longbeach Coastal Challenge, won the regional Trustpower Community Award. This was a huge recognition of the team’s hard work, many hours of unsung effort and excellent fundraising results.

One year the whole of Years 5 and 6 from Tinwald School participated in the event. Chairwoman at the time Mrs Taylor said “every morning on my way to town I would see these kids – of every size and shape – training for the event. Running around the block and getting ready for the race. It was fantastic to see them come over the finish line, each of them proud of their achievement.”

Passing 1,000 competitors was an achievement and then making it to the 10-year anniversary, where a special commemorative medal was handed out to over 1,400 participants. The event has created many highlights for both participants and the organising committees.


Doing Good Things

The funds raised from this event, more than $275,000 since the inception, have given both organisations a huge boost.

The event has become one of the main sources of funds for the Hinds and District Lions Club. Lions member and Past Chairman Garry Brown said “the support and participation we get from our members and their partners is outstanding. Our members have got a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from the club’s principal role of track preparation over the years the event has been running. This is ongoing with most of the work done in the spring – which can be challenging given the variable weather conditions we strike year on year. It’s great to be down on the coast putting our thinking caps on to overcome any of the multitude of issues that may arise.”

For the Lions the funds raised have been spent on supporting of youth in our community, developing the playground in the Hinds Domain and for the last three years, significant donations to the Maia Health Foundation. This Foundation has raised funds for a roof-top helipad at Christchurch Hospital, which will eliminate the transit between the Hagley Park helipad and the hospital. The Lions have indicated a commitment to continue their support of Maia whose future projects involve enhancing children’s facilities for the hospital and providing parent beds for the paediatric ward.

The Longbeach School have invested money directly into the school, helping to ensure that there are as few barriers to education as possible. Proceeds from this event help provide extra support for students by allowing the school to employ teacher aides.  Teacher aides not only help those students who find learning a challenge but also assist those students who require extension. Other areas of the school which have benefited include the purchase of additional educational resources, a volley wall, mathematics equipment, funding to support student leadership courses, and currently assisting with the construction of a new senior playground.

Post the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, the event committee wanted to do something to help a primary school in Christchurch which had been badly affected. As a decile 2 school, Central New Brighton School was identified as needing help. This school had a very low socio-economic group of students and little in the way of resources to help them get back on their feet.

The committee volunteered to help Central New Brighton is some unique ways. Firstly, they got the school resource room functional again – it had been left in a big mess after the earthquakes with maths and teaching resources just been pushed into a corner. Over the summer the committee helped to clear the playground, repainted climbing equipment and spent $5000 of raised funds on purchasing the school stationery requirements for every child at the school.


Future Fit - Fantastic Foundations

The impact of the Ruralco Longbeach Coastal Challenge has a reach far and wide. From a 13 year old Anton Cooper lining up at the start of what has become a professional mountain biking career, to supporting youth with tools and resources for their learning, helping an earthquake damaged school, building a community playground and assisting with the funding of a roof top helipad, no other event in this district has the positive community impact that this does.

The unique partnership between a school and service club, the landowners, sponsors and competitors make the Ruralco Longbeach Coastal Challenge a special event. The founders of this event have laid solid foundations and the future of this community event looks bright. Motivated by personal achievement or a duty of community service the Ruralco Longbeach Coastal Challenge continues to bring out the best in our people, for the good of our community.

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