Valiant Volunteers - Nick Stepkovitch
Nick Stepkovitch (left) with physio students at Windsor ready to demonstrate warm-up exercises to gathered paddlers at the pre-race briefing.
The Classic is a test of endurance, both mental and physical. Even just entering the event is an achievement – saying to yourself and the world that you are up for the test. To look after the physical side, the Classic has a team of volunteers who provide physiotherapy and general first aid coverage. Leading them is the amazing Nick Stepkovitch. He has been involved in 39 Classics but has never once wavered from his dedicated volunteering to get out in a canoe himself.
Q. What is your favorite Classic memory? Driving between Dargle and Wisemans along the river road. Full moon, clear night, moon sparkling on the water and the glow of the cyalumes at each end of the craft as they glided down the river.
Q. How long have you been involved? Since 1980, when I was running the Red Cross Sydney Mobile First Aid Team which covered the Classic for the first time. I introduced the physios in 1982 after I finally graduated from Physiotherapy at the Cumberland College of Health Sciences (now the University of Sydney).
Q. What does it take for you to miss a Classic? My Wedding in 1982 was on 23rd October. This was the only time I have missed the Classic since I started. From then, I have firmly stated that the Classic weekend is not negotiable and have missed a few family weddings and events since, as a result.
Q. What do you do in everyday life outside of your Classic volunteering? Usually, caring for my family, spending time watching the boys play sport and being involved with injury management for their footy and underwater hockey. Spending time with my intellectually disabled daughter and covering extra domestic chores for my wife who was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2011. I also get to travel around the world and Australia at the expense of underwater hockey to wear the Aussie uniform to do the physio and watch my son play for Australia and bring home some hardware.
Q. How much paddling do you do? Ironically, I have done very little paddling through my life - I have done more scuba/snorkel activities - in spite of being involved in 39 x 111km Classics and 5 x 266km ocean surf ski paddling events.
Q. What is the funniest/saddest/most heartwarming moment you’ve seen at the Classic? Most heartwarming moments have been the regular paddler, partner or parent seeking out one of my students at the finish to thank them for the outstanding work they did upstream to get them/their paddler to the finish line.
Q. Tell us a bit about your team. I have been operating the services as a training/teaching and research exercise for Physio students/medical researchers and the NSW Ambulance Extended Care Paramedics since 1996. Five of the physios who worked for the Australian Olympic team in the 2000 Games and one who was employed by Great Britain for the yachting had all covered a few Classics with me during the 1990’s.