Partners People - Nick BlincoeIssue 16
Nick is part of the Partners Life Insurance Specialist team, looking after clients of mortgage and investment brokers to also provide insurance advice. He’s also always been a keen sportsman and athlete.
By 2004 Nick’s competitive ambition had made him one of NZ’s rising rugby stars. Being part of the winning team at the under 19 rugby world championships that year – along with teammates Kieran Read, Richard Kahui, and Jamie Mackintosh – still rates as one of his personal favourite achievements. The fact the French were defeated by a solid 23 points in the final is no doubt at least partly the reason why.
Then six years later, while still a fit, young athlete at the top of his game, the unexpected happened. Playing for Marist North Harbour, just a normal game of many, Nick went in for an ordinary tackle.
“I’d done thousands of tackles in the past,” he recalls, “but on this one, something went wrong.”
That something ended with an injury to his brachial plexus – the collection of nerves running from the spinal cord, through the neck, to the armpits. The result of this nerve damage was a paralysed left arm and unfortunately, the end of Nick’s rugby days.
It was a shock – these kinds of events always are. Yet the blunt honesty from the doctors involved brought forward the truth with such a clarity to his situation, that he knew early on how serious the reality was. In a way this made him come to grips with it quickly. This wasn’t something that would just be fixed. This was a life changing event, and it had happened in an instant outside of his control.
It’s this example that Nick uses when talking with clients. “Bad things can happen. Paralysis, or terminal illnesses, or something you don’t even think can happen to you does happen to you. So that’s what I try and portray with my clients to make sure they protect themselves and their families.”
Many hours of complicated nerve graft surgery were required, taking an undamaged nerve from Nick’s leg and transferring it to the shoulder. Recovery from this type of injury takes time and determination. It would be easy for someone to take the whole incident as a reason to give in and look for a less active, less positive, life. However, that’s not Nick’s way, not then or now.
“Never give up” he says, “so even if something bad happens towards your journey, it’s creating resilience to be able to learn from that and be able to further yourself as an athlete and a person.”
Recovery also takes support – both emotional and financial. For Nick, the emotional support came from his close family. The financial came mainly from a partial disability insurance policy the NZ Rugby Foundation had in place for players at his level, which paid out 3 months after the incident. ACC came to the party two years later.
“You can’t rely on ACC,” he advises. “The people at ACC do great work but the volume and the process means you can’t just rely on that money.” This experience is always in mind when discussing needs with clients. It’s not just about what can happen, but the reality of what that means afterwards.
It took a hard twelve months of physical rehabilitation before the newly grafted nerve began to work, restoring some movement to his upper arm but leaving the forearm paralysed.
“Pretty lucky really. Not every surgery has that outcome,” he says, taking a positive view. The surgeon, who still keeps in touch, had been clear the procedure only had a 50/50 chance of restoring any movement at all. Eighteen months after that, a full three years after the injury, Nick felt things were stable enough to get back into some serious activity.
Looking to once again represent New Zealand as a top-class sportsman, Nick’s ambition was still burning. Having had some success in athletics in his pre-rugby days this seemed the logical choice. Achievement came quickly, and he won the national championship’s 200 metres, but the training took a physical toll and he went looking for alternatives. It was his brother who put him in touch with the Para Cycling team.
Showing strong promise at a training camp in 2015, Nick was fast tracked into a development programme and saw strong improvement in the 1km Time Trial which then became his specialty, along with the Individual Pursuit. Missing out on the 2016 Rio Paralympics selection target by a mere 2 seconds, Nick nonetheless achieved 8th place at the world championships two years later. This cemented his position as a C4 track Para Cyclist – ‘C4’ here refers to the classification Nick’s type of disability falls into.
That drive that pushed Nick to win is still there, and it’s not just winning for himself.
“I want more people with disabilities to be able to realise potential,” he says “and be out there showing that it’s not a barrier to be able to achieve things. I want to be a role model. That’s really what drives me.”
The goal now of course is Tokyo 2020, but before that the 2019 world championships in the Netherlands, having already won the 2019 New Zealand nationals in February. None of this comes without hard work, and Nick will be training up to 10 sessions each week, usually getting up at 5am for the first and then another following the work day. Ensuring there’s still plenty of time for his wife and young daughter can become quite the time management act.
“Because it has to be done, or you don’t get it done. I’m one of those types of people,” says Nick simply, and you get the sense that it will indeed be done, whatever it is. Even a Paralympic medal.