Sir Graeme Avery has always been a man on a mission and someone who embodies what it means to pursue excellence.
The AUT Millennium Chairman first conceived the idea of Millennium Institute of Sport and Health as President of North Harbour Bays Athletics club in the late 1990s.
As an integral part of the club’s development over the years, both Graeme and wife, Gaby Avery, recognised that due to Bays’ size and success, it would need to expand and develop world-class facilities.
Sir Graeme’s idea would involve the creation of a multiple-sports training environment, which included sports medicine and science, to assist coaches and athletes to compete on the world-stage.
By chance, whilst proposing the idea of AUT Millennium in 1996, Avery’s conversations led him to become aware that both North Shore Swimming Club and North Harbour Water Polo were looking for a new facility.
Both the swimming and water polo clubs had out-grown their respective swimming pools and required a deep-water 50 metre pool.
“As with the Bays Athletic Club, each was the largest and strongest in its code in the country and lacked the proper space for training and expansion of Club activities. From this real need, an Olympic Pool was included in the overall concept,” explains Avery.
Avery involved Sir Stephen Tindall in the project due to the businessman’s passion for water polo and involvement with North Harbour Water Polo Club. Avery led the project from the start in 1999 to its completion in 2002, with generous financial contributions from both the Avery Foundation and Tindall Foundation.
Rangitoto College were already involved with Bays Athletics Club in the formation of the all-weather athletics track on College land. The school were also requiring a facility for its sports teams.
Consequently, Bays Athletics, North Shore Swimming, North Harbour Water Polo, NorthSport Olympic Weightlifting and Rangitoto College formed AUT Millennium’s Foundation Organisations.
“The three Clubs and Rangitoto College came together by expanding membership on the ‘North Shore Community Fitness Centre Trust’, an approved charitable trust originally established to build the Athletics Stadium”, explains Avery.
“The ‘Bays Trust’ became the vehicle used to raise the $30 million plus capital funding for the initial Millennium Institute of Sport & Health build.”
Since the formation of AUT Millennium, the four Foundation Sports Clubs have built on their rich individual histories and have gone from strength to strength.
In 15 years the Clubs have produced over 200 athletes and 25 coaches who have represented New Zealand on the world stage.
Avery recognises the significant efforts the Clubs have all made to develop coaches, as well as important contributions from volunteers.
“The Clubs based at AUT Millennium are each successful because of their coaching programmes, including investment in professional coaches and support volunteer coaches.
“The facilities of AUT Millennium have aided the coaches in achieving better performances. The whole environment is both aspirational and inspirational to young athletes.”
A key driver of Sir Graeme Avery’s vision was a need to improve the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders.
“I wanted to provide better facilities and environment for community health and wellbeing”, he explains.
“This led to the inclusion of the Community Health & Fitness Gym, now known as the ‘Gym’, and public access sports medicine and physiotherapy practice on site which is known as Health Zone.
In 2017 AUT Millennium has nine community service units, including Swim School, Athlete Development, Gym, Conference, Accommodation, Schools Programme and Clinics.
These community service units provide programmes and services to over 10,000 people, from school children, Club members, water babies and Gym Members.
As is expected, Sir Graeme’s highlights throughout the past 15 years are numerous and varied. AUT Millennium is now an environment used by the wider community for recreation, health and wellness and sports training.
However, Avery does admit that witnessing Club successes, particularly athletes and coaches performing on the international stage, is a particular highlight.
Speaking to Aidan Bennett for an article in the North Harbour Club’s magazine in 2003, shortly after Millennium Institute of Sport and Health opened, Avery explains that the vision for the organisation is to help produce athletes for the future.
“From the beginning we believed that the Institute would take about three years to bed in and three years to achieve operational break-even.”
“It will take eight to 12 years before young talent getting the benefits of good coaching and the centre’s multi-disciplinary support programmes start performing at international level. We’re looking beyond Beijing in 2008.”
Avery’s belief and passion for his vision has become a reality. Eliza McCartney’s bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics is proof enough, not to mention the 30 plus Foundation Club Olympic representatives since 2002.
McCartney has developed through Bays Athletics’ system, supported by Bays Athletics Coach, Jeremy McColl.
“The undoubted highlight for me is the pole vault Bronze medal of Eliza McCartney at the recent 2016 Rio Olympics. Eliza is the first ‘children’s section club member’ of the Bays Athletic Club to progress to Olympic honours.”
“It also gave me great pleasure to see the development of her coach, Jeremy McColl, who also started his career at the Bays Club, initially as a competitor and then coach. He is now a world-leading pole vault coach who has developed because of the Institute facilities, which at the time of opening in 2002, had the first indoor pole vault training facility in the Southern hemisphere.”
McCartney is still only 20 years old and has broken numerous New Zealand age-group and national records and, more recently in February 2017, became the Oceania Record Holder with a jump of 4.82 metres at the Auckland Track Challenge held at AUT Millennium.
Bringing sport science research and education to AUT Millennium has also been a particular highlight. Sir Graeme Avery has always had a keen interest in sports science and medicine and started world’s first evidence-based review journal titled ‘Sports Medicine’.
“Another highlight was AUT locating their postgraduate teaching and research in sports science to the facility.”
“A University embedded in a high performance training environment is unique. This also established a marvellous platform for the location of High Performance Sport New Zealand to the facility, enabling further cross pollination of ideas. For both organisations, the facility now attracts experts from around the globe.”
Ultimately, Sir Graeme Avery will be recognised as a man who believes in the strength of togetherness. Through the coming together of many, much can be achieved.
“Such an environment would lead to a ready exchange of ideas between coaches and support staff of the different sports”, explains Avery.
“A major benefit would arise through cross-pollination of thinking and implementation of new ideas and attainment of enhanced sports performance through a process of cumulative small gains on current practice and philosophy.”
AUT Millennium personifies this vision: sports clubs, a university, sport and health researchers, medical practitioners, community members and high performance sport, all under one roof.
These people share facilities, ideas, relationships and benefit from one another.
AUT Millennium CEO, Mike Stanley has had the pleasure of working closely with Sir Graeme for much of the organisation’s 15 years and says that his vision and energy is the driving-force behind its success.
“Sir Graeme is one of the most driven men who I have met and one of the most generous. His energy and vision is enormous. He is one of those people who doesn’t see barriers as obstacles to change and improvement, he sees them as challenges that with new thinking, tenacity and resources can be overcome. He applied all these when establishing his highly successful businesses and AUT Millennium.”
“Graeme and Gaby have the community and NZ at heart. Together they have given their time and been extremely generous to establish what is a wonderful legacy for all New Zealanders.”
Sir Graeme has more challenges for AUT Millennium and his vision continues to see the organisation grow and develop, including the development of satellite organisations.
“The next 15 years will see further improvement in all the community and sports programmes at AUT Millennium, along with establishment of a ‘Human Performance Innovation Centre’ and ‘Business Hub’ and the ‘National Indoor Sports Training Centre’.”
“It is inevitable that there will be satellites of AUT Millennium, both locally and regionally, which help enhance community health and wellbeing and sports performance.”
“More places to help people be the best they can be.”