Queenstown nurse Brooke Thomas made national headlines recently for setting a new women’s record in running the Te Araroa Trail. She started the run on November 26th 2020, but in reality, getting to the start line on that particular day began years earlier.
Brooke said she first started mulling over the idea of doing the 3,000 km trail which runs from Cape Reinga in Northland to Bluff in Southland, back in 2011 while she was living in Perth.
“I’ve always been inspired by other people who do these kind of adventures . But with studying, travelling and then too many injuries, it just didn’t fit into my life at the time”.
Brooke’s had her fair share of injuries to deal with, she’s broken eight bones in the last 10 years; she was knocked off her bike, some have happened from netball games and running, and there was an incident with a flying fox as well...
It wasn’t until late 2020 that everything looked like it was lining up for her, giving her the time, space and resources to successfully tackle her dream.
She talked about some of the obstacles she had to overcome before even stepping foot on the track – getting two months off work, Covid circumstances and whether the run would even be able to go ahead, having her parents available as support crew to accompany her the whole way in their campervan, (her Dad was due to get some medical treatment half-way through Brooke’s planned schedule), and those were just the big issues!
“There was lots to navigate, so having the chance to do it made it feel like such a privilege to be out there”.
She’s also had a pacemaker for about ten years which was fitted because of an electrical issue with her heart, it would sometimes go into a different rhythm, causing her to pass out.
“I wasn’t really ‘sick’, but would just pass out at random, so I had to be pretty careful about where I was going and what I was doing. Post-pacemaker, the pacing side of it has really helped”.
One thing Brooke had to give up after being diagnosed with her heart condition was competitive rowing – at age 22 she had represented NZ in her sport, but it wasn’t possible to continue. With some initial restrictions on her lifestyle and activity, it took some time to adjust to her new normal.
Wearing the pacemaker is just part of Brooke’s life now, and she has built up her confidence that whatever she’s out and about doing, she should be fine. She wasn’t worried about taking on the back blocks of the trail as she knew what to expect, and her Mum and Dad as support crew were never too far away.
Brooke’s own health condition also gave her the impetus to run for a cause and she set herself a goal to fund-raise $10,000 for Heart Kids, the New Zealand charity which supports children with heart conditions and their families, with a range of resources and services; pre-natal support, written resources, peer support, counselling, family days and coffee groups, specialised HeartKids camps, and much more.
Even though Brooke finished her run on January 22nd 2021, the donations have continued to roll in and at time of writing, $26,830 had been raised for Heart Kids NZ.
In preparation for running Te Araroa, Brooke found a coach, and did five months of serious training prior to her start date. She insists her running is usually just for fun and she has always done it for the pleasure, without any competitiveness involved.
”I’m definitely not a professional athlete or anything like that. The outdoors and running are just two loves I’ve always had. Plus, I guess I thrive on attempting something that seems slightly crazy. Especially when people say I can’t…!”
Brooke graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor in Nursing. It was during a stint working in Milford Sound, when she made the decision to study the degree programme at SIT. She’d heard the School of Nursing had a good name for itself.
“I had a friend who’d studied there, and the zero fees was obviously a huge help, especially considering I already had a big student loan from the science degree I completed at Otago Uni”.
“With my nursing I was so much more focused than with my first degree, and I got results – if you really want it and are passionate about it, you’ll do well, and that’s what I did”.
Brooke reflects she probably developed some of her endurance abilities while studying, sticking to the programme and seeing it through. She also mentioned budget-wise, being a student teaches self-discipline, living off a limited income.
And she applied that same mindset to her Te Araroa trail goal. She says the biggest thing she’s taken away from Nursing is how it helps her stay grounded and keep things in perspective.
“When you see what some patient’s have to deal with every day, it makes you more grateful for your own health and wellbeing. Whenever I was having a tough day on the trail, I would just remind myself I was lucky to be there, when others would never have the same opportunity.””
Brooke’s advice to prospective and current SIT students is to always be willing to give things a try, and dream big.
“Don’t limit or confine yourself; believing that you can do it, and believing in yourself are important.”.
She said obviously whilst the money raised for Heart Kids is great, for herself personally, the most valuable part of the journey has been the people contact along the way, over the entire length of the country. She mentioned patients with heart conditions who got in touch to wish her well, which really motivated her to keep pushing.
“I’ve been really humbled by how many people have supported the mission...in my mind it was just me and Mum and Dad out for an adventure, so it was incredibly humbling how many amazing people came out of the woodwork offering help, encouragement or donations
Brooke’s can-do attitude is ever-present and not one to rest on her laurels, she was already booked to walk the Routeburn Track just a couple of weekends after her mammoth feat. She’s grateful for her health and appreciates the opportunities she has; she continues to challenge herself, taking on life as the adventure it is.
“The part that I’m most proud of is not so much breaking the record, but having a dream and making it come true...and overcoming the obstacles to even get to day one”.