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Race You To The Top

Man of Steel


Man of Steel

If fortune favours the brave, then Tony Christiansen would be worth millions. He may have lost both legs but he is succeeding in life every step of the way.

Big, brash and bold - certainly not bashful - Tony Christiansen could never be accused of being half a man. 

LESSONS IN LIFE: "I learnt really early on that life gives you what you ask for. Nothing more nothing less," says Tony Christiansen. Photo: John Borren

LESSONS IN LIFE: "I learnt really early on that life gives you what you ask for. Nothing more nothing less," says Tony Christiansen. Photo: John Borren

The guy can talk, too. And his accomplishments, which include writing two books and scaling Mt Kilimanjaro, show he isn't a human hot-air balloon. 

But the expression "talk the talk and walk the walk" would be an odd choice of words to describe this no-nonsense guy - he has no legs. 

Not only is he the Tauranga granddad a local hero but an international one too - because he has achieved things "ordinary" people would shake their heads at, muttering: "I couldn't do that." 

"Look," says Christiansen, as he drops the newspaper he was reading on to the floor of his Ohauiti home, "I had to go and have a life. I was climbing scaffolding and stuff with my signwriting business and people were asking why I was doing it." 

"No one gave me $50,000 to help me get along in my life. There were no handouts, it was real life and I learnt really early on that life gives you what you ask for. Nothing more, nothing less." 

What Christiansen says is nothing new - it's almost old-fashioned advice and home-spun words of wisdom. 

But he delivers it with conviction. This man genuinely says and does what he believes and still looks authoritative dressed in an old blue T-shirt, his hearty, warm face bristling with a patchy brown beard. 

Christiansen has lived in Tauranga all his life, first hitting the news as a nine-year-old when his legs were amputated after being caught under a train. 

A flick back through Bay of Plenty Times archives shows how he captured the public's eye - as a child sitting with All Blacks legend Colin Meads in hospital, receiving a surf lifesaving award as a teenager, flying an aeroplane as an adult. 

Christiansen's well-documented life was captured in his first book Race You To The Top. His second, Attitude Plus!, was released yesterday. It is interspersed with his own brand of advice and looks more deeply into what makes Christiansen tick - more "nuts and bolts-y" is how he describes it. 

Yes, it's a self-help book of sorts but not, says Christiansen emphatically, a motivational tool. 

"I don't like the word 'motivation' because I do believe you motivate yourself. I'm about inspiration."

Funnily enough, Christiansen has never read a motivational-type book - in fact, he says he's only ever read one hard-cover book, A Bootful of Right Arms, about a rally driver. 

"I got 17 percent in School Certificate English, so I wasn't a great reader." 

He says, correcting any impression he lacks a love of literature, he usually reads the last few pages of a book so he can find out what happened. 

It's probably the only short-cut Christiansen has taken. 

Even the muted cream walls of his Ohauiti home were coated by the best painters he could find and his living room stands to gleaming attention with a nude bust perfectly positioned beside carmine leather couches and vases of flowers arranged like a florist's window display. 

Since he's not such a big reader, I ask him what will make his book stand out from the veritable rainforest's worth of self-help books on the market. 

Christiansen chuckles: "We're on to the deep and curly questions now. I suppose that's a tough one. I must have an answer for that." 

He ponders for a bit and says simply, "I suppose my stories are different from other people's stories. I don't think my stories are amazing but people say they are. People say to me that if they'd had an accident like mine, they'd rather be dead." 

Such callow behaviour from the public is rather surprising since Christiansen is the antithesis of the beneficiary-grasping, weepy, woe-is-me person. 

Just listening to him airing his opinions on the country's problems makes you wonder if the friends who urge him to go into politics aren't on to something. 

"We're too busy blaming other people. It's a shame. OSH and all these things - everyone's running around blaming others. When Ansett fell over, they had a one-hour news programme on who was to blame," he says. "Who really cares? They should have had five minutes on that and the next 55 minutes about what they were going to do about it." 

Kilimanjaro 1.jpg

Playing the blame game just does not interest Christiansen. 

"You've got to put your best foot forward," he says. 

As an inspirational speaker and writer, putting his figurative best foot forward isn't too difficult for Christiansen - flash hotels, exotic countries and gracious hospitality are part of the package for people on the professional speaking circuit. 

ORDINARY BLOKE: "I don't think my stories are amazing but people say they are. People say to me that if they'd had an accident like mine they'd rather be dead," Tony says. But during his trip to Africa last year, which literally peaked with his 10-day haul up Kilimanjaro, his "I'll give anything a go" nature was sorely tested. 

Climbing up 5,896m of snow-crusted Tanzanian mountain sounds pretty harrowing but not quite so bad as building huts out of cow excrement and - even more teeth-gritting - drinking the blood of said bovine. 

Culinary tastes of the Masai, a tribe where men don't often live beyond age 45 and whose livelihood comes from animal husbandry, taught Christiansen a thing or two. 

While watching a cow give birth then looking on as the calf staggered to its hooves, still trailing afterbirth, he was struck by a thought: "We're all born with instinct. No-one taught that calf to walk. It just did it." 

Christiansen believes he was born with success as a gut instinct - just as the rest of us are. 

But dotted throughout our lives like quicksand traps are people whom Christiansen calls "dream takers" - the kind of people who lower the bar, discourage hope, rish and daring. 

And just because he's a successful businessman, father, husband and professional speaker doesn't mean he hasn't had his fair share of people willing to stop him achieving. 

"A couple of days before I left for Africa, we had a bit of a get-together here and one of my friends came and talked to me and said he didn't think I should go because Elaine, my wife, was worried. I had no legs and it just wasn't right." 

When he was sitting very near the pinnacle of Kilimanjaro, at Gilman's Point, he contemplated their words. 

"I thought, 'was he scared I wasn't going to be safe or was he scared I was actually going to achieve it and do something they wouldn't do themselves?'" 

It's a question he still ponders occassionally. 

Just as he doesn't have a solution to this particular conundrum, so Christiansen doesn't claim to hold the key for other people's success - it's not his style. 

"I don't have the answers. All I have is my story."