Legend of the valley

If Kit Chambers is in your organisation you’ve got a gold nugget. His contribution to Canterbury sport both on and off the field has been massive and almost invariably whichever club and team he’s played for, coached or served as an administrator, has been very successful.

Champions- Kit Chambers, bottom row sixth from the left, photographed with his competition winning Lancaster Park senior club side at Lancaster Park Far right top and bottom row are the late Ken Wadsworth and Sir Richard Hadlee

The majority of his sporting involvement covering most of his 72 year-old life has been devoted to rugby and cricket, but he’s also a multiple athletics champion and now a competitive cyclist.

Kit’s highest honour was representing Canterbury at cricket out of the Lancaster Park Club and although he played just one match, against Wellington at the Basin Reserve. He bowled well took a couple of wickets on a pitch which offered very little assistance to the bowlers and conditions were not conducive to swing either.

He was extremely hard done by not being selected again, but is still justifiably proud of having played for his province as well as playing several seasons for Canterbury B.

Kit’s very successful senior cricket career began when he left St Andrews College after playing rugby and cricket there as well as winning several sprint and jumping titles in athletics.

Starting off at Lancaster Park in the second grade B team, he gained promotion to the second grade A team then made his senior cricket debut in 1969.

That coincided with an extremely successful period for Lancaster Park, they won four senior championships under the astute captaincy of the late Maurice Ryan, three of those in succession and he played alongside a man who went on to become one of New Zealand’s best-ever cricketers, Richard, now Sir Richard Hadlee.

Heathcote Valley royalty - Kit and Wendy Chambers have together created many memories and a wonderful family

Lightning Strikes

In fact first year out of Christchurch Boys High School, Hadlee didn’t even get the new ball, that was in the hands of Kit, an exceptional left-arm medium pacer who not only swung the ball late but bowled with unerring accuracy, varying his pace. At the other end was another very successful left-arm medium pace swing bowler, the late Wayne Wilson and the duo played a key role in their side’s success.

In one match against St Albans, Kit snared an amazing six wickets for seven runs off 10 overs, helping dismiss them for just 50 runs.

Also in that very fine Park team during that era were the late Bevan Congdon and the late Ken Wadsworth.

Later, in one of the worse selection decisions I’ve ever seen, Kit was relegated to the Lancaster Park second team because the selectors argued they needed more pace. Never mind taking wickets and predictably the senior team won nothing after that decision.

Not surprising was Kit’s success with the second team which this writer had the privilege to play in under his captaincy. The second team simply demolished virtually every other team, winning the competition three years in a row, his wicket-taking the key difference. One season he took 70 wickets but still no recall to the senior team. At that stage he’d taken around 240 senior wickets and another 200-plus wickets for the second team.

Tired of banging his head against a brick wall he took up an offer to join up with his home suburb Heathcote Valley in the former Senior Suburban competition as player/coach and you guessed it, he was instrumental on and off the field for getting them promoted back to senior A from the B competition.

Demolition men- Another title for the champion Heathcote Cricket Club with Kit Chambers seated second from the left front row

From there they simply obliterated the competition, winning many titles including four successive crowns during that highly successful 1990s era. To this day Heathcote remain one of the major forces in Canterbury club cricket where now the Suburban and Canterbury Cricket Association clubs play in the same competition.

On top of his 240 senior wickets for Lancaster Park, the wily left-armer bagged over 500 more senior scalps for Heathcote in a remarkable career.

The Heathcote Valley sporting legend also had the Midas touch as a player, coach and administrator at the Christchurch Football Club (yes it’s called the Football Club not Rugby Club which is why it wasn’t recognised as the first rugby club in New Zealand, instead the Nelson Rugby Club has that honour despite them forming after Christchurch).

Promoted from the under 19 team, Kit made his senior club rugby debut in 1969 at centre under the captaincy of Jerry Rowberry, coached by Gerald Wilson who went on to coach Canterbury.

Christchurch won the competition three years in a row during that period in the 1970s and in 1978 he took over coaching the Christchurch under 19 side which featured a future All Blacks captain Jock Hobbs. Again the Heathcote sporting magician weaved his magic and they won the competition.

In 1980 Kit formed the Packers rugby team, named after Kerry Packer, because some people thought they were buying players, which Kit said, they most certainly were not. That team continued on until 1990 playing in the Canterbury second grade competition. They were very successful as well winning four titles and being beaten finalists on four other occasions.

Once finished there Kit and club mate John Mill (Millsy) as he was known, started up the Bangorians team out of the Christchurch Club, named after the old club rooms in Bangor St. They played in the Canterbury division six competition and had good success winning that competition two years out the 10 they played.

During that period there was a remarkable three season stretch where the Bangorians scored well over 1000 points and had just three losses.

He spent 25 years coaching at the club, served in just about every position, player coach, club captain and president and the New Zealand Rugby Union, then chaired by Jock Hobbs, presented him with a certificate for his services.

Demolition Men

Kit’s magnificent contribution to rugby and cricket have also been recognised with Life membership of the Heathcote Cricket Club and Christchurch Football Club.

For the Christchurch Football Club he was a player/coach, club captain as well as Life member and for Heathcote, Kit was player/coach, club captain, president, grounds manager, bar manager with his assistant and wife Wendy.

When he finished playing and coaching rugby, Kit then joined the New Zealand Masters Athletics Association, competing in the 100m, 200m, 400m and long jump and won a number of Canterbury, South Island and National titles over a 15 year period. He still remembers the highlight.

“Winning the 100m, 200m at the Nationals at Cooks Gardens in Whanganui where Peter Snell won some of his races. That was definitely a highlight.” His times in that event for the 100m and 200m sprints were a very sharp 12.85sec and 26.42 respectively and in the long jump he leapt 4.95m.

A hip replacement coming after three knee operations ended is athletics career in 2012 so he needed something else to satisfy his competitive urges and keep fit.

“I was told to do cycling or swimming to strengthen the hip up. One Easter weekend at Lake Brunner I started cycling. I put all the cycling gear on, hadn’t ridden a bike since school.”

Like pretty much every cyclist, Kit has had the odd minor mishap and recalls falling off once at the top of a hill early in his career. However in his fiercely competitive way, he persisted and then entered the challenging Marlborough Graperide, a 101km circuit taking in the stunning views of the Marlborough Sounds through Picton.

“I borrowed a blue bike, did it in about four hours and really enjoyed it but I wasn’t that fit.

“I then went and brought a new red bike and that was the start. I’ve done 11 Graperides now, did my best time of 3hrs 38min two years ago.

“I’ve done Le Race in Christchurch to Akaroa, Around Brunner eight times, Source to Sea, Greymouth to Westport, Rakaia Bridge to Bridge 100kms and I’m still going.”

Living in Heathcote Valley means he’s got an amazing training ground on his front doorstep and much of his training is done around the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula areas.

Still going strong and enjoying cycling and the camaraderie that goes with it, Kit sometimes reflects on his considerable achievements in sport and while playing for Canterbury in cricket was a personal playing highlight, it was other areas which gave him great satisfaction as well.

“I got a great kick out of seeing teams I coached win competitions. The under 19 Christchurch rugby team with Jock Hobbs was a highlight. Hard work but very rewarding. A lot of satisfaction watching players win finals, seeing the joy and excitement. It brings tears to my eyes.

“Getting the best out of players was the challenge and it’s very gratifying when you are able to do that.”

“I got a phone call on our honeymoon in Picton from a Christchurch Football Club selector asking me if would I come back and play on the Saturday. Rugby or stay on my honeymoon and Wendy said, It’s me or the footie. She stamped her authority early, but she’s supported me in everything I’ve done.”

Lightning strikes - Kit Chambers scorches to another victory during his very successful athletics career

Something else he really enjoyed was being a volunteer driver during the cricket World Cup in New Zealand where he transported some of the world’s best players around Christchurch. He did a similar job during the FIFA under 21 World Cup soccer championships and on another occasion transported champion golfer Lydia Ko and her parents during an international tournament at Clearwater which Ko won.

Of course as well as his huge sporting involvement , Kit is very much a proud family man. He has two daughters, Leanne, head of Physical Education at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch and Tracey, a Registered nurse, plus four grandsons with three of them, Riley, Blake and Carter keen soccer players.

Thirteen year-old Luke is a drummer in a band and a very good one grandad said. (Luke may have got his drumming talents from grandad who was a renowned tambourine player)

Born and bred in Heathcote Valley Kit lives at Flinders Road, he’s lived there for the past 49 years with his beautiful wife Wendy.

What a way to celebrate his birthday on April 22 , 1972 when they tied the knot and he almost got into strife on his honeymoon as he recalled with a laugh.

“I got a phone call on our honeymoon in Picton from a Christchurch Football Club selector asking me if would I come back and play on the Saturday. Rugby or stay on my honeymoon and Wendy said, It’s me or the footie. She stamped her authority early, but she’s supported me in everything I’ve done.”

Kit’s only ever lived in one other house, his late parent’s Ned and Dot’s place in Heathcote. Ned was an orchardist in the Valley, growing apricots and plums.

The Chambers family were very resourceful. While mum and dad were working in the orchard they turned their sunroom into a shop during the days when the Lyttelton Road tunnel was being built and from there sold milk, cigarettes, pies, ice cream etc for around four years.

Growing up in Heathcote Valley taught him a few other life lessons about how to be resourceful and look after himself.

Rocket Man - Kit Chambers pours on the gas during one of the many regular iconic cycle races he competes in

Just getting to St Andrews College in Christchurch was a mission each day beginning by catching the 7.25am train at Heathcote to Christchurch station then walking up Columbo St and connecting with a bus to St Andrews. On a few occasions kids from other schools would lock the train door on him so he couldn’t get out in time on the way home at Heathcote Valley which meant he had to travel through to the last stop at Lyttelton then walk up the steep Bridle Path road over the hill to Heathcote.

Most of his working life was spent in the shoe industry and with Colgate Palmolive as a salesman managing stores and selling shoes for McLauchlan’s Shoe Store where he worked stints between 1966-1985.

In between those two periods Kit managed Herberts Shoe Store in Cashel St. He then joined Colgate Palmolive as territory manager covering Canterbury the West Coast and North Otago areas. He worked for Colgate Palmolive from 1985 until his retirement in 2013.

Given the extremely precarious way he began his life, it’s hardly surprising that this multi-talented man fought so hard on the sports field.

His mum Dot was 42 when Kit was born and she had a difficult pregnancy, Kit being born extremely underweight and at one stage doctors didn’t think he would survive.

He had another very close brush with death in 1971. Travelling on the ferry from Lyttelton to Wellington as coach of a Christchurch junior under eight stone rugby side, Kit suffered a burst appendix which almost forced the captain to turn the ship around and head back to Lyttelton. Rushed off the ferry on arrival in Wellington to hospital for emergency surgery, Dr Cameron, who treated him, told him if he’d been 20 minutes later getting there he would be dead.

Worse followed while recovering in Wellington hospital, a twisted bowel required more urgent surgery, eight inches of his lower bowel being removed.

But, like when he did as a new born infant, he battled through, survived and what a wonderful life he can look back on and look forward to keeping on doing the things he loves.

The Chambers Clan- Back row left to right; Dillon and Trace Cron, Luke and Blake Chambers Don, Grant Marra Sitting Left to right; Riley Cron, Wendy and Kit Chambers, Leanne Chambers, Carter Cron

Interview & Words by John Alexander. Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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