If I was to say there is a member of our tennis club who (a) played ice hockey and (b) was a thoroughbred race horse jockey, and you were challenged to name this person, who would you guess?
Using deductive reasoning, the first choice would conceivably be a Canadian, because they are hockey crazed.. Jockeys are small people, usually male, so narrowing it down, we would maybe come up with a pint sized Canadian weighing under 120 pounds. You would, of course, be way off the mark! Fellow tennis players, let me introduce you to another unique, interesting character: Wayne Donovan, from New Zealand. Hold it – I know what you’re thinking! Wayne is fairly tall and weighs about 160 pounds. Let’s go back then…
Wayne was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand and attended school there until he got bitten by the horse racing bug at the tender age of 14. A school friend had a family owned thoroughbred racing stable very close to Wayne’s home.
He started hanging around the stable and because he was very slight and only weighed 90-95 pounds then, he was asked to ride first as an exercise jockey and eventually a race jockey.
His passion for racing was now escalating and when he turned 15 in August he was eligible to apply for his apprentice jockey’s license, which he promptly did… after his father had extracted a promise that he stay in school at least until Christmas.
Meanwhile the friend whose family owned the stable where Wayne was working sold the farm. He was fortunate that the new owners offered him an apprenticeship.
He was now essentially indentured to the new owner for 5 years. The offer was contingent upon Wayne living at the farm where he was given his room and board in exchange for developing his riding skills and continuing to demonstrate an aptitude for his craft. As an apprentice he rode in the same races as fully licensed jockeys and indeed was paid a riders fee and, if he won, he received a percentage of the purse, usually 10-12%.
The bigger the race, the more money he would stand to earn. Wayne was trying to honour his promise to his father and continue to go to school, albeit sporadically, until Christmas, while still riding races.
Needless to say his grades suffered! Some of his school chums worked in the school tuck shop (snack bar) and offered to let him pass time there whenever he was late for class (which was often). His teachers noted his absences and tumbling grades, then his cover was fully blown when the local newspaper trumpeted a headline about the school boy winner of the big race at Canterbury, New Zealand.
His male teachers, being the dedicated educators they were, slapped him on the back and tried to wheedle betting tips from their now favourite student!
Fortunately the Donovan family lived very close to Wayne’s employer so he still had lots of contact with them, even though he left school and was working long hours, six days a week with only Sunday to call his own. Add to this, he only got one night a week off and we can appreciate that it must have been difficult for a young teenager. He continued racing until he completed his commitment to his sponsor at 19 years of age. Wayne claims that these racing years were his “platform for life”.
His passion for the sport was still strong, but now his weight was escalating to the point where he was going without food for three days at a time and was wearing plastic bags and taking saunas to try and control his weight. Mother Nature prevailed and he was forced to retire from racing at 19.
With his racing career over and realizing he was still young enough to change careers, he put his racing life behind him and re enrolled in school – although it was night school. While pursuing his education a neighbour and a keen racing enthusiast offered Wayne a job at a branch of the Leyland Motor Corporation, in the parts department. This same man helped him attain a trade certification in automotive merchandising after a three year apprenticeship.
Wayne and a chum bought an overseas boat ticket to the United Kingdom where he hoped to continue working for the head office of the Leyland Motor Corp. Enroute they befriended a young Polish fellow who encouraged them to disembark in Cape Town South Africa where there was a large Polish community He enticed them with the slam dunk certainty of a job through the Polish society, however, they still had wanderlust, so Wayne and his two friends headed out for Johannesburg by train. Wayne had his letter of reference from the Leyland Motor Company and was hired back into the parts department in Johannesburg (hereafter referred to as Jo-Burg)
At this point in the story I must bring you, as readers, up to speed. The Aussies and Kiwis (Australians and New Zealanders) are very isolated from most of the rest of the civilized world and consequently have a huge thirst to travel and see everything that is “out there”. So much so that many businesses refuse to hire them because they are so nomadic that regardless of the time and effort spent training them, having made some money, they are off again on their “walkabout” around the world. Wayne it seems was true to form and left LMC after 4 months to go off on another excursion with a new acquaintance who was a director of Kontiki Tours. Kontiki is a world renowned backpacking vacation company for travelers under 35. Wayne and his new friend Peter were filming and narrating a new Kontiki overland African safari where the clients would fly from London to Nairobi and then travel through Rhodesia, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, across the northeastern Congo (pygmy country) and ending in Capetown. This was a three month round trip. Ironically in 1996 Wayne’s daughter did the trip that her dad had pioneered 25 years earlier!
Now back in Jo-Burg, Wayne landed another short term money making job with Firestone Tires, but once again the travel bug hit. He set off once again on another adventure, this time to explore central Africa. Upon his return to Jo-Burg, he ran into an old buddy in a bar and off they went to Madagascar for two months. At this point his wanderlust came to a screeching halt as his South African visitor’s visa had expired, the police were notified and Wayne left for Australia in such great haste that he simply abandoned his car at the train station! He made his way to his sister’s place in Perth but was turned down for a job in the Perth mines because he was a Kiwi! So, he flew home to New Zealand.
This is when his good fortune started. He bought into a photography business with a partner and the money got better and better. He sold his share after three years and landed a good job with an engineering supply company where he stayed for 10-12 years until he was spirited away by another industrial transmission equipment company. Along the way he met and married Krysia, his wife. They have four children and seven grandchildren, all of whom still live in New Zealand. More good fortune presented itself when he bought 30% of another transmission company and business soared, Wayne with it! He owned his share for five years and retired at 52 to build his own house with essentially no building skills, just a “can do” attitude.
Retirement didn’t last long it seems… He promptly bought a private investigation company that he ran for five years, until Krysia retired from her customer service job and they started to travel, travel, travel.
Three times they went to Alaska in his 5th wheel trailer as well as visiting every state in the US (except Hawaii) and most of Canada. This all started in 2004, the same year they stumbled on VDO with a discount coupon and stayed for two weeks. They have been returning to the USA every year. They leave New Zealand sometime in May, travel all summer then come to VDO from September until January when they return to their large trailer on the beach in Hamilton, New Zealand. This type of trailer was unavailable in New Zealand, so in 2011 they bought one here and had it shipped home for $10,000!
The next part of this story starts back in Hamilton NZ, which is about 80 miles south of Auckland and is a temperate zone. One of Wayne’s sons, Steve, started playing ice hockey and s Wayne decided to try it as well. He enrolled in "learner lessons” and took to it like a duck to water, bearing in mind that he was closer to 50 than 40! He started his own team and travelled the 160 mile round trip to Auckland once a week to play. His team improved rapidly and they boldly entered a “Master’s” tournament against teams from Canada, Germany, Austria, and four Australian teams, and did very well.
He next got involved in in-line skating and in-line hockey which essentially has the same rules as ice hockey but on roller blades. He tried out for and was accepted on the NZ National in-line team and went to the Oceania Games, which is comprised of several Pacific Rim countries. Apparently, it is like a mini-Olympics. He distinctly remembers his number 53 as that was his age at the time. Miraculously, they won the gold medal! The next year in Cannes, Australia, they won gold again! The following year he didn’t make the team but worked tirelessly in the off season and was nominated to play for the national team once again, and once again they won the gold medal!, this time in Brisbane.
Wayne played tennis as a youngster and then only sporadically until he started coming to VDO. Typically, he started playing with a 50 cent yard sale racquet and then a $15 Walmart one until mid-season this year when he splurged on a $55 Sports Authority racquet! Racquet selection not withstanding, Wayne now is a strong 3.0 player.
When he and Krysia arrived in VDO in 2004, he began woodworking here in our shop. Due to the fact that he would land here in September, and the wood-shop doesn't open its doors until Nov. 1st, he went out and bought his own lathe and tools, and after many hours spent perfecting his skills he has become an excellent craftsman and if you pass by his 5th wheel along the south wall, you will often find him outside working on bowls, pens or pepper mills. He will gladly show you what he has made or is making with a cheery “Allo Mate” (hello friend).
Wayne, you are a special person and I am glad to be called one of your mates!