After a week in the desert, Sophie Hart has won another GODZone Adventure title. But nothing was harder for Nelson’s doctor than losing his home to the floodwaters.
If it’s true that sport is training for life, then Sophie Hart took the resilience she learned as one of the world’s best adventure runners and used it to weather disaster. family.
This week, Hart helped Team Avaya, arguably the best adventure racing team in the world, win another grueling GODZone Adventure race.
Hart and his three male Avaya teammates – Nathan Fa’avae, Stu Lynch and Chris Forne – took the lead in the world’s greatest adventure and expedition race, and never gave up. The returning champions paddled, walked and cycled 710km across the lower South Island in seven days, crossing the finish line on Brighton Beach in Christchurch just before midday on Thursday.
“We have such a great team around us and we all love racing with each other,” Hart said at the end of the 10th GODZone event. “At the end of the day, we have a lot of laughs and we have tough times. But we want to do well for our teammates.”
No other team has even come close to Avaya, and Hart’s celebrations might be even sweeter considering the challenges she’s had to overcome over the past nine months.
In July, Hart, her husband, Nick, and their two young daughters moved into a new home they had built in Marlborough. They lost it less than a week later in flood waters.
Hart, Nelson’s GP, knows the power of positive thinking has helped her both as a world champion and an active mother.
Yet the catastrophic flood in Marlborough last winter proved to be her ultimate challenge: adjusting to family life with two toddlers in a temporary home in their garage.
“We’re not allowed to call it a garage anymore – it’s a shack,” Hart laughs.
Their brand new home on Queen Charlotte Drive was completely flooded after a major landslide diverted a stream. The house is now “totally stripped”.
“We just evacuated to the neighbor’s house and spent the first night there. Then we found a place we could move in up the road,” she says.
Their positive attitude was again tested by a stroke of bad luck – their septic tank collapsed, forcing the family of four to move again. “We were split into three houses for a while,” Hart explains.
While their grand adventures and solo training missions have been put on hold, their family adventures have continued. With Nick trying to push through the cabin renovations, “the easiest thing for me was to bring the kids,” Hart says.
“We have a small inflatable raft so there were lots of local daily adventures for us. I managed to escape by walking with friends for the night. Thanks to the group of 10 [allowance under Covid restrictions]I was able to take our two children on my own.”
A two-time winner of Kathmandu’s longest day coast-to-coast, Hart regularly commutes to Nelson for work, so she’s turned this routine into regular exercise – keeping both fit and in spirits at the highest.
“The road between us and Havelock was closed. So I would cycle from our house, up the hill to my car, put my bike in the trunk and drive to work in Havelock,” she said. .
Even as she describes these extraordinary trials and tribulations, you can almost hear the soft-spoken mother of two smiling on the phone as she speaks.
Hart is relentlessly patient. Although in the background, Nick was racing against the clock – and coping with toddler mood swings – to convert the 36m² garage into a habitable dwelling.
His life certainly changed with a young family. “When I was doing a lot of errands I was immersed in it and really loved it. We were traveling abroad twice a year. It was a really, really big part of my life,” she says.
“Ever since I had kids, it’s been put on the back burner, as it is.”
Many Kiwi women could have recognized themselves in the smiling GP standing on the podium at the adventure racing world championships in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
As part of Team Seagate’s world titles in France, Brazil and Ecuador, Hart cemented his place in adventure racing history.
Yet when she lined up in the World’s Toughest Race: Eco Challenge Fiji in September 2019, Sophie Hart was not a household name.
She was one of four New Zealanders to face 43 of the toughest teams on the planet and secure victory for Aotearoa. Just nine months earlier, she had given birth to her second child, Huxley.
“It wasn’t a question of was I ready,” she recalls. “The question was, ‘Is my family ready?'”
The recognition that matters most to Hart, however, has never been personal. She is on a mission to see Aotearoa recognize wāhine’s achievements in sport.
In 2016, with four GODZone victories on her resume, Hart transformed Team Seagate into an all-female team – unusual given the common adventure racing format of teams of three or four men and one woman.
His inspiration came from a particular river crossing, the memory of which still makes Hart “pissed off”.
At GODZone 2015, teammate Chris Forne entered a swollen river crossing, and Hart followed.
She recounted the experience in a post on Facebook: “I made a really stupid decision to cross a swollen river. Chris had already swum and I followed. I almost failed to cross. It makes me still nervous thinking about it now. Why did I do that? I should know better.”
“All my races, all my outdoor adventures, I’ve done with people who are more experienced and stronger than me. It’s natural to let the decisions fall between them. But what showed in this crossing of the river is that I have to make my own decisions, I can’t continue to rely on others to lead the way for me.
Hart’s quartet – featuring Fleur Pawsey, Emily Forne and Lara Prince – competing in GODZone 2016 was perhaps the best women’s team in the world in adventure racing history.
His words at the time confirmed his end goal – but told a much bigger story. “We are going to make smart decisions. We are going to focus on our own race, and in doing so we hope to be competitive, hopefully in the top 10. We have nothing to prove, we have nothing to lose. “
The course passed through several national parks, mountain ranges, ocean paddling and whitewater rivers, as well as mountain biking routes through forest and remote countryside.
Seagate’s all-female team finished 11th in a field of 61 international teams, making headlines and leading a rather inspiring path.
But six years later, her own spotlight matters less than the chance to highlight women in sport and promote equality in coverage.
On the eve of Kathmandu Coast to Coast 2018, Hart helped a captive media audience understand exactly how much the cause means to him.
At Kumara’s pre-race press conference, she used the word “appalling” to describe the historic coverage of the women’s race; past winners walk away with nothing more than a sonic bite at the end.
Hart admitted it was a tricky situation: “You don’t have to come out and be seen as looking for attention. Last year  coverage of the women’s race was so poor. The guys were there to do such an awesome race. But there was an equally exciting race between the women, and I just felt like it was totally missed.”
The multi-sport legends Hart calls his mentors and inspiration also happen to be advocates for more attention for female athletes – Neil Jones, Kristina Anglem and Nathan Fa’avae.
Anglem (née Strode-Penny) rose to prominence with a remarkable victory in the Length of New Zealand race in 2001, where she finished sixth overall against the men. She was one of the best female athletes to ever compete in Coast to Coast.
Jones’ love of adventure racing dates back to the sport’s earliest days. Event organizer Bay of Plenty competed at the highest level and honored all the iconic expedition races around the world.
Fa’avae was a semi-professional and full-time professional athlete for 18 years. During this time, he represented his country in four different sports and captained the New Zealand adventure racing team to six world championship victories.
“Nathan is an advocate for this outdoor lifestyle – not just getting up to go and training,” Hart says. “He was the most influential person in terms of my sporting achievements – hands down.”
Hart took a break from the World Tour; the global pandemic has put a damper on domestic and international opportunities to compete. In the meantime, she completed another spring challenge last November – just because she could.
The New Zealand Spring Challenge, created in 2007 by Fa’avae, is an opportunity to stay connected to the adventure sports community. For Hart, keeping in shape is more of a habit than a chore.
“The environment that has been created by the Spring Challenge is really supportive. When you show up as a beginner, you don’t feel as comfortable. You feel a lot more like the ice has already been broken “, says Hart. .
She says often the rogaine events – cross-country sailing – are predominantly female, and interest in adventure sports for Kiwi women of all ages continues to grow.
“The reason he’s at the level he’s at here is all down to the Spring Challenge. Before that, it would be unusual to see women mountain biking together. There’s no other reason for that,” says -she.
Hart is quick to point out that it’s become much more than an event, but a lifestyle, with moms competing alongside their daughters and women competing in other events.
“The Spring Challenge is bigger than anything. You’re going to line up at the Adventure Racing World Championships and GODZone, and there’s hardly anyone there,” she laughs.
Although she has fond memories of the circuit – the teamwork, the travels, the trophies – even stronger in her mind is the confidence her mentor, Fa’avae, has shown in her abilities.
Winning one of the toughest races in the world is nothing compared to a simple compliment from another champion. Hart’s Fa’avae says, “She’s the best female adventure runner of modern times – probably of all time.”