A large photograph hangs in Michael Carr’s office.
The image is taken from the side of a group of girls entering the water during a Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon at Ngāmotu Beach. A girl is in front, looking straight at the camera.
Carr first saw the picture hanging on the wall in the room where he was having his interview for the top job at Sport Taranaki, a position he held for three years next month.
If he believed in signs, the photo would have grown big.
The girl looking directly at the camera is Georgia, the eldest daughter of him and his wife Jo. It was recorded about 10 years ago, says Carr, 52.
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After 29 years in training, it was a “massive” decision to switch careers, but looking at the photo, he jokes that it “could be up in the air”.
“I loved teaching, but I’ve always believed that there are opportunities that just come along, that just seem right. I got the job. I loved it.”
Sport Taranaki, one of 14 regional sports associations in New Zealand, offers people as many opportunities as possible in terms of physical activity.
“Our whole drive is Taranaki, who is active all his life. People know it’s good for them, but the difference between knowing and doing is what we’re about.”
And Carr practices what he preaches. He goes to the gym. He plays golf.
“Golf for me is my release, but it’s about people knowing what works for them.”
Sport Taranaki is funded by Sport New Zealand for children aged five to 18, but its mandate applies to everyone, he says.
It has three advisors working with 30 schools in the area.
Young people often drop out of the sport between the ages of 12 and 14, and many of those involved in high school often drop out after school. The World Health Organization (WHO) says children need to be physically active for seven hours a week, says Carr, and the exercise should be vigorous enough to change their breathing.
“In New Zealand, 54% of 5-18 year olds in New Zealand met the requirement, but only 7% met the WHO requirement of breath change. And we have the third highest childhood obesity rate in the OECD.”
New Zealand excels on the international stage, but it has to do justice to everyone, not just the elite. Carr believes there has to be a path to excellence, but the whole idea of early specialization doesn’t equate to success, he says.
You won’t be an All Black at five. Have this dream but try different things.
This is the story of his childhood thanks to an athletic mother who encouraged him to try things.
Carr played badminton, cricket, competed in gymnastics for Taranaki and played golf for the Taranaki Foals, under 20, when he was still at school. And he played rugby.
“Rugby was always the only thing I wanted to achieve, probably because people told me I wouldn’t do it. I was pretty short. I weighed 37 kg when I entered New Plymouth Boys’ High School (NPBHS) and 54 kg when I left.”
He was 55kg when he played his first senior game at Palmerston North when he was at Teacher’s College.
Back in Taranaki, he captained the Taranaki Colts, then was a reserve halfback for Taranaki from 1993 to 1998, including playing in Ranfurly Shields 1996 sweepstakes beating Auckland 42-39 in 1996.
“I was substituted on during the game. Richard Jarman began.”
Carr’s mother was a fine athlete and held several Taranaki Secondary School records for discus and javelin. She also played softball and netball.
And brother Scott played rugby league for the New Zealand secondary schools and later Taranaki during his time at the NPBHS.
Playing sports is in his genes. Likewise the lessons.
Carr was born in Rotorua and lived there for six weeks before moving to “the back of Tarata” where his mother was a teacher.
“I grew up wanting to be a teacher from an early age. Mom has two brothers who were both principals and teachers, and so is Mom, so the conversations at Christmas time dinner were very much about education.”
He began teaching newcomers standard two at Omata School before moving through the levels.
“When I left Mangorei School as assistant principal, I had 38 eighth graders in my class. I went to Huirangi School as the principal and I think I had 38 children in the whole school in three grades.”
Carr spent 6.5 years in Huirangi before returning to Mangorei School as Principal.
Though teaching is in the genes, none of his three children have followed suit. Middle child Jasmine studies Physical Education at Massey University.
Growing up, his daughters were dancers. Son Liam is “listed in CD under 19 cricket and plays rugby”.
Carr has returned to rugby by coaching the New Plymouth Old Boys senior team alongside former Taranaki rugby star Andy Slater.
He likes coaching, it’s really enriching and from a professional perspective it helps him see life from a participant’s perspective.
One of the big projects Carr has been working on since joining Sport Taranaki is the planned Multi Sports Hub, a “community space that would be great for the entire region”.
A needs analysis was conducted for the project before he started, then he took over and worked with sports groups to move the project forward.
They have now appointed a senior design team and specific project leaders and Steve Bramley from Auckland is project leader.
But Carr is “results-driven, so there probably won’t be much time to stop and think about it until the ribbon is cut, it’s used, and the needs of the community are met. I’m happy with the progress but let’s just get it done.”
After three years on the job, his big plan is simple: “I want everyone to be active for life.”
Everyone knows the importance of physical activity, and Sport Taranaki is in the “behaviour-changing game.”
“But what I love about it is that it’s not just about local influences, it’s about regional and wider influences. I’m challenge oriented and that’s a challenge I really enjoy.”
And he feels “extremely blessed with the team that we have here”.
“Our people are really amazing at what they do and how they do it. I am blessed to have such a good crew.”