When legendary Carterton swimming coach Russell Geange received an official government email informing him that he was up for a Queen’s Service Medal [QSM] in the New Year’s Honours, he “had to double-check to see it had been sent to the right person” he told the Times-Age.
“Yeah, nah, I’m just blown away.”
Geange’s QSM recognises a half-century of service to swimming and rugby in the Carterton area, an involvement that was initially prompted by his love of both sports.
Although he has received many accolades over the years – including a 1981 service award from Wairarapa Swimming, which then made him a life member 15 years later, a service award from Swimming New Zealand in 2001, a distinguished service award from the Carterton Rugby Football Club in 2021, and winning the coach of the year and people’s choice awards at this year’s Wairarapa Sports Awards – Geange said he feels “really uncomfortable” about such acknowledgements.
“There are heaps of other people who put a lot of time into sports and other community organisations – not just those who are still living but all those who have gone before,” he said.
“I’m accepting this on their behalf too, really.”
Geange’s involvement with the local rugby club included playing and coaching for several decades, something he would’ve liked to have done more of, but while he still follows the team and supports the club when he can, having three daughters led him to focus more on swimming.
This included holding various positions from 1980 onwards at the Carterton Amateur Swim Club, including club captain, chairman, and president, and being heavily involved in fundraising and building the club’s indoor pool, where he became a voluntary coach in 1987, before going fulltime and establishing the Russell Geange Swim Academy 10 years later, after receiving “a bit of a boot” by way of encouragement.
He’s lost count of how many kids he’s coached in swimming – “thousands across two generations” is his best estimate – but what’s kept him going is the thrill of seeing his charges achieve, whether by completing their first length of the pool or competing successfully at a national level.
The key to coaching, Geange reckons, is “just making sure you don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything, because that’s when you fall over – you’ve got to keep learning”.
That, and having others backing you up.
“The support of lots of people behind you, especially the support of swimmers’ parents – that’s what gave me the confidence to get started in the first place, and to keep carrying on.”