He walked into my office in 2011, shook my hand and said welcome to the Cook Islands. I was a new school counsellor, was getting my bearings and adjusting to a complete change of life. He was one of my school councillors, a young man that stood out amongst the rest, and not just because of his stature, but because he was a leader.
A leader not only in the role as school council but also in song and dance, leading our house to victory at the inter-house culture competition. His life was in front of him as was his potential, his hope and dreams, the aspirations of his parents and of course the aspirations of those given the joyous task of educating him and equipping him for life after high school.
Months later, walking into the staffroom for a briefing, the usual banter and laughing that morning had been replaced with a subdued hush as the principal read through the notices.
Within those notices, the announcement that this bright, energetic young man had passed away that weekend.
I remember so clearly, that morning as it seemed to go in slow motion as my thoughts raced to seeing him and saying goodbye that Friday as he made his way out of school – and the tragedy, that so many have felt, of lives lost on our roads, that could possibly have been saved wearing a helmet. That became my reality, too.
Tragically, before I would finish my time at Tereora College, we would attend three more similar tragic services. Three more have passed in the same way since leaving school.
Driving home most days, there is a sombre stretch of road, where two lives were lost within 100 metres of each other – both boys played in my 7s rugby team. Both were brilliant sportsmen and both were heading for greater things after school.
One I saw again just that Friday as I was leaving work and said hey, how are you, as he looked up smiling as he always did.
The harsh reality of the helmet law we currently have is that it may well save the lives of a drunken tourist falling off a bike at speed but our local people will not be afforded the same protection.
And if you are over 25 years old then you too will not be protected by this same law that will protect a tourist because you aren’t required or expected to wear a helmet either.
And I am so glad that the law has changed and thank our MPs for the courage to advance it – but it needs to go further.
Would it really be that difficult to have a blanket law so that everyone was protected, so that tourists, locals, students, mamas and papas were all given the same protection under the law and that all of us had the same opportunity to live a flourished life well into old age and not cut short because the law allowed it?
That through beer, dogs, or carelessness my life wasn’t taken when it could have been saved, simply by being required to wear a helmet.
It’s time to speak to your local MP, because as another four motorcyclists without helmets have died this year, surely enough is enough – enough grief, enough heartache, enough tears, enough potential lost and enough of sitting on the fence as life is literally lost on our roads.
Young lives are counting on us to have the courage to protect them, and careless lives also, because one life taken is a life too many.
And the nine funerals I have been to in the time I have lived here are nine I can never forget, and more so for the families left in their wake.
To the families that have lost loved ones to road accidents and especially motorbike accidents, my heart goes out to you all and I pray God’s love and support no matter how long it may have been.
Come on people of the Cook Islands, join with those meeting at USP on Monday at 4pm.
Let’s find the same courage we muster to protect our oceans, and our environment, and change the law and protect our people also, because the law needs to be made stronger again.