6 Oct 23 - Resident stories

An oar-some achievement

When you meet Gordon Trevett, you cannot help but be impressed by his great height. Standing at 6 feet, 9 inches tall, he towers over almost everyone. “At one point when I was a teen it was thought I was the tallest person in England,” he says. “The Daily Mirror wanted to do a story on me. But my mum said no. She didn’t want me to be known for just being tall.”

So, instead, Gordon became known for his rowing. Specifically, the facts that he was selected to row for both Great Britain and New Zealand, has won scores of trophies (he amassed over 100 cups) and at 80 years old still holds indoor rowing records that no one has yet managed to beat.

As a teen growing up in the west London district of Acton, Gordon’s life was far removed from the traditional image of Oxbridge Blues – privileged male rowers in blazers and boaters displaying their shades of blue. “Dad was a butler for the aristocracy in London. Rowing wasn’t something offered at a state school.” It wasn’t until he went to work for what would become NatWest Bank at 17 that he tried rowing. The bank had a sports club, and he was invited to participate. “When I sat in my first boat, it was like someone switched a light on,” says Gordon. “It was pure passion. I knew instantly that rowing was for me.”

Contrary to popular belief, the power for rowing is delivered not from the arms and shoulders but from the legs. So, Gordon began training in earnest, running three times a week and rowing twice a day. “I was full of aggression, and rowing was an excellent way to get that out.” Rowing has a long season – 11 months of the year – meaning there was little down time, and training in the English winter could be brutal. “Ice on the oars was not uncommon!” Gordon would row 24km at a time. “Mileage makes champions!” he quips. As the strongest oarsman, Gordon would row in seat 5 of 8 – the power seat.

When he was 19, Gordon competed at the Henley Royal Regatta, the epic society event which is also the highlight of the rowing season’s calendar. His crew smashed three records that week, beating the favourite Ivy League American teams, and won the coveted Thames Cup, making Gordon the youngest competitor ever to win a senior event there. His name was on everyone’s lips in the rowing world and, at 20, he was invited to represent Great Britain in the 1964 Olympics. Gordon instead decided he wanted to do an OE and accepted work at the National Bank in New Zealand. “I thought, since I was so young I could just join the Olympic team in ’68 instead,” he says. Without him on the team, Great Britain won silver at the ’64 Olympics.

Britain’s loss was New Zealand’s gain, as within a year of arriving he was representing the country, training out of St Georges Rowing Club in Auckland. It nearly never was, for Gordon made the long-haul journey in a turboprop plane so tiny he needed to sit sideways. “As my feet were on the ground for four days, they were like footballs. I got deep vein thrombosis. I had a stay at the Lower Hutt hospital upon arrival!”

Rowing was not a paid sport back then, and Gordon would work full-time as a marketing manager and take three months off to compete, something his employer was fine about, as he was representing New Zealand. Gordon had also met his future wife, Averill, and with a marriage and two children in the mix, his OE turned permanent.

Adventure soon beckoned again. This time in the form of an eight-year sojourn to Banz in Papua New Guinea managing an Arabica coffee buying and processing factory. Frequent threats of kidnapping and murder while facing the pointy end of a spear were all in a week’s work for Gordon. “There was $6 million NZ dollars in the safe in 2 kina notes [the PNG currency], and I was the only one who knew the combination!” laughs Gordon, who credits his size for avoiding much of the aggression. “I had three sawn-off shotguns – one at the office, one in the car and one at home!”

On the family’s return to New Zealand, Gordon moved into fundraising for schools, setting up a consultancy to improve sporting facilities ($8.5 million for a swimming pool at one school) as well as the Arts ($3 million for a creative arts centre at another) for private and public institutions across the country. His drive to succeed meant that Gordon was the leading fundraiser in New Zealand for 14 years. Sports and education are intertwined for Gordon, with stints as Sport High Performance Manager at the renowned University of Bristol in England, and in Auckland as Director of Rowing at both King’s College and Auckland Rowing Club.

Gordon and Averill have lived at Summerset by the Sea in Katikati for five years, where Gordon keeps his links with education by driving the local school bus. Some trophies he has given away, but he has kept his medals. Gordon admires the ocean view, these days, rather than practise his oarsmanship on it. At 80, he competes in the 80–84 indoor rowing age group. Gordon contents himself to best those far younger with his unbeaten records on the rowing ergometer, using the rowing machine and the weights in the Summerset gym to keep fit and keep his muscle mass up by bench-pressing and squatting with weights several times a week. “We love it here,” he says, “Great facilities, great people, and so much going on in the village. It’s an easy lifestyle.”

This is an article from the Spring 2023 edition of Summerset Scene magazine

Click here to read the full issue