“Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.”
Those words by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner – spoken before his record-setting leap from 39km above earth – are destined to become well known.
A humbling phrase trotted out just as he tumbled to greatness.
Queenstown’s also been basking in greatness these past few weeks – and courtesy of my job I’ve been lucky
enough to have a front-row seat.
A fortnight ago Kiwi Olympic gold medal-winning rower Mahe Drysdale visited the Wakatipu Rowing Club.
Drysdale recalled how he hadn’t started till he was 18 and only made a New Zealand team after he’d finished university.
Drysdale was 116kg and pretty unfit at the beginning. But after watching fellow Kiwi Rob Waddell win Olympic gold on TV in 2000 he thought to himself ‘I can do that’.
And he trained his butt off until he had a gold medal.
Just as startling are the achievements of young Kiwi golf prodigy Lydia Ko, the number one female amateur in the world.
Lydia, just 15, returned to Queenstown this month to fulfil charity game commitments despite exams looming and being a tad under the weather.
I had the pleasure of accompanying her during nine holes at Millbrook earlier in the year and it was like hanging out with someone my own age – except she was slightly more mature. She was relaxed walking along the fairway but all business when it was time to hit the ball.
Her coach Guy Wilson told The Cut this month that while she displayed an aptitude for the game from day one, he had no concept she’d be a champion.
“Not even at age 10 because she was so small and petite and the ball didn’t really go anywhere. By the time she was 12, her freakish talent was beginning to manifest itself,” he told the magazine.
A freakish talent no doubt exemplified by a dedication to her craft.
Then there’s Sir Michael Hill.
It’s been a big fortnight for the mega-wealthy jeweller who lives near Arrowtown.
Last week he was in Auckland for the launch of the second New Zealand PGA Pro-Am golf championship which he’s hosting at his private The Hills golf course in the Wakatipu next February. Today he officially unveils a sculpture park he’s been building up on the same course.
It includes an extraordinary installation comprising 110 cast-iron wolf figurines imported from China – plus a huge warrior statue. I mean, it’s out there.
Hill, who gave Mountain Scene colleague Philip ‘Scoop’ Chandler and me a tour this week, has a pretty good sense of humour.
When Scoop pointed out some people might find it a bit weird, Hill – laughing – replied: “It is weird!”
Hill also has a penchant for hyperbole – at the golf tournament launch he told the Auckland press pack it was
“going to leave a mark on the planet”, which I thought was a bit over the top.
But it’s literally where his ambition for it lies – and as the old proverb goes, judge a man not by his words but by his deeds.
It’s no wonder Hill is fond of saying he believes we’re only limited by the extent of our imaginations.
Without such an approach I doubt there’d be a world-class pro-am golf championship in the Wakatipu, a gold medal around Drysdale’s neck or much stress on Lydia as she prepares for exams.
If all of these people have something in common it’s that they’re just ordinary people doing extraordinary things, spurred by inspiration and imagination.
It’s a theme mused on recently during a local talk by former New Zealand stock exchange boss turned Cromwell-based vineyard owner Mark Weldon.
Weldon recalled being quite sick for a lot of his youth but his mother reinforcing to him that there were no special people in the world, just people who did special things.
He found that a great leveller and went on to swim at an Olympics and have a high-flying career in New York before returning to New Zealand on his own terms.
No special people, just people doing special things – not a bad motto.