By PHILIP CHANDLER
If Wakatipu High’s Branches Camp ever needed an ambassador, it’d be Aussie Paralympian Curtis McGrath.
The Queenstown-raised 33-year-old sensationally grabbed two kayaking golds at the Tokyo Paralympics recently, five years after winning his first at Rio.
Four years before that, he’d had his legs blown off standing on an exploding landmine in
Afghanistan, while serving with the Australian Army.
Soon after he famously declared he wanted to be a Paralympian.
McGrath’s duly delivered on that promise, in spades, and has 10 world titles along with those three gold medals.
But you can trace his choice of sport back to his Wakatipu High Year 10 Branches Camp in 2002, when he was introduced to kayaking.
‘‘I couldn’t get enough of it,’’ he says in Sue Fea’s history of the camp.
In his last year at school, he also came back as a senior helper.
Fea also writes in the book McGrath’s ‘‘decision to join the military was sparked by a fondness for the outdoors fostered during the Branches Camp’’.
Wakatipu High outdoor education teacher Ken McIntyre, who was ‘camp commandant’ back then, remembers him fitting in well with his Year 10 group when joining school after living in Oz for a few years.
‘‘He was just strong and resilient … very unassuming, modest.
‘‘You go on a tramping trip and he would be like the rock of the class, he could carry whatever — he wouldn’t be charging up the front, he would go back and pick up the pieces and help other people get up the hill.’’
In his final school year he won the Bruce Grant Memorial Trophy for Outdoor Education.
McIntyre says he bumped into McGrath at Dunedin Airport not long after his life-changing accident.
‘‘He comes up and goes, ‘Mr Mac, how are you?’ — it’s such a humbling experience.
‘‘After Rio he spoke to the students before they went off to Branches, and he came back and spoke at the sporting blues a year or two after that.’’
When people grumble about Covid restrictions likemissing a flat white, what McGrath’s been through ‘‘keeps things in perspective’’, McIntyre says.