OK, I’ll admit it. Before reading this book, I had no idea who Fa’avae was. Not a clue. But then, his world is still something of an unknown quantity to many of us. Adventure racing (also called expedition racing) is a multi-disciplinary team sport involving orientation skills, usually over an unmarked wilderness course. Races go can be anywhere from two hours up to two weeks in length. and also involve a range of principle disciplines like trekking, mountain biking, and paddling. Some could even include climbing, abseiling, horse riding or skiing. Premier events, including the World Championships, of which Fa’avae was a three year champion, involve mixed gender teams of four racers over a number of days. Teams can rest up, but there’s no suspension of the clock, making it a grueling sport of mental and physical endurance and skill.
At the height of his career Fa’avae was certainly a heavyweight in the world of adventure racing. From loser to top adventure racer Fa’avae’s story is a humble yet proud account. Growing up as probably the only Pacific Island juvenile delinquent in Nelson he was, in his own words, a ‘little sh*t’ – petty crime, wagging school, the whole shebang! But, as the book reveals, things changed and after many failures, Fa’avae grew to take on many challenges. He has qualified for the Olympics, been an Outward Bound instructor and won three World Championships plus a stack of other titles.
This is the perfect book for anyone who wants a bit of armchair action. It’s a simple personal account, but a warm telling of his life to date (Fa’avae is only in his mid 40’s), highlighting a competitive career that began with his first attempt in 1991, as an 18-year-old, at competing at the Speights Coast to Coast Longest Day event and concluding with his swansong − captaining Team Seagate to another victory in the Iron Bound Challenge adventure race in Malaysia. That event was in October 2015. So the ink on this book is still pretty damp.
Don’t rule this book out as yet another sports hero story either. It’s not just about the wins or the endurance, although running a team in a six day event over mountains, rivers and tropical forests with virtually no sleep is pretty intense. No. The most enduring irony is that one of the world’s most respected adventure racers also suffers from a condition that’s completely at odds with the demands of the sport. Halfway through his career, Fa’avae was diagnosed with an atrial flutter − which is basically an abnormal heart rhythm, he tells us. The drama builds when he casually adds that corrective surgery in 2001 didn’t quite go to plan and unexpectedly escalates to atrial fibrillation (that’s the ‘code red stuff, folks). Subsequent procedures in 2005 should have corrected all that and Fa’avae went on to lead the Seagate team to their first Adventure Racing World Championship title in France.
Fa’avae actually began this book about 5 years ago when he first considered giving it away, or at least winding down, and was planning to make a go of the after dinner circuit. He actually shelved the idea after making an initial attempt before eventually picking it up again. It was only the untimely death of his mother that made him rethink the writing gig. He reckons it’s best to get it all down, you never know what’s around the corner. And what an adventure!
As well as telling his story, Fa’avae tells us some of the skills needed to inspire young adults, especially those who went to the Outward Bound courses, and the joys of fatherhood. Fa’avae’s book ticks the box as a damn good inspirational read, and he is a great role model for Pacific Island young men (and all young men in general). I hope he comes to my town one day, as I’d love to hear him speak. I’m googling Adventure Racing now – does it play on Sky Sport?!
Reviewed by Tim Gruar
Nathan Fa’avae: Adventurer at Heart
by Nathan Fa’avae
Published by Potton & Burton