Lifestyle Sport & Fitness GP's Rapid Response
GP's Rapid Response
Written by Mr Peter McClelland
Monday, 06 August 2012


Flashing across the finish line is a ‘good feeling’ according to GP Geoff Emery. He’s got five boats tucked away in his garage, he’s done eight Avon Descents and he’ll be lining up again in the early morning mist at Northam Pool on the first Saturday in August.

Dr-Geoff-Emery-Aug 12-Syds-RapidDr Geoff Emery "I’ve trashed my kayak at a place called Deadly Mistake"

Competitors come from all over Australia and overseas, especially from South Africa, for the two-day, 133km white-water classic. For Geoff, training for the Descent begins in February with gym work and some mountain biking but he says there’s no substitute for just getting into the boat and paddling long and hard on Perth’s waterways.

“Guys in their early 60s like me can still hold their own and I’d like to think I’ll still be doing this when I’m 70.”   

Mucking around in boats isn’t always a solitary and competitive pursuit for Geoff. His wife, GP Henrietta Bryan enjoys it too. They’ve paddled around the Whitsundays, living out of a double kayak, and camped on the beaches around Shark Bay. But the Avon River is more demanding and not for the faint-hearted, especially after solid winter rains.

“The Avon gets the adrenalin pumping. You do have moments where you can imagine being upside down, screaming and thinking about dying. Once you get down past Emu Falls you’re relying on other paddlers to get you out of trouble if things go wrong. There are about 30 rapids in a 30km stretch with names such as Terminator, Bone Breaker and Heart Stopper. It’s a rite of passage for those who haven’t paddled the Valley before.”

And, sadly, things on the Avon River can go horribly wrong. The river has claimed two lives, one a race competitor in 1995 and the other during a practice session at Bell’s Rapids. The river is always changing and, when it does, a particular section of the course can turn into a real nemesis.


Dr-Geoff-Emery-Aug 12-Feeling-the-Pain“It’s a good feeling when you stagger across the line.” Dr Geoff Emery “At times I’m terrified of Emu Falls and then I’ll do a good run and get my confidence back. I’ve trashed my kayak at a place called Deadly Mistake when the footrest was ripped out of the boat. But being able to control the fear is part of the challenge.”

When it comes to the Avon Descent, you need a lot more than a big splash of raw courage but a little bit of technical expertise doesn’t go astray either. Geoff passes on his skills as an instructor at the Swan Canoe Club in both white water and sea kayaking. One of the younger club members, Kynan Maley will be competing in London in the C1 and C2 kayaks.

It’s not entirely surprising that Geoff is one medico who has a healthy regard for his own wellbeing. He’s a great believer in having his own GP to give him his yearly check-up.

“I like him to treat me as a ‘real’ patient. I don’t want it to turn into a negotiation where he says, ‘what do you think Geoff?’. It’s nice to hand that responsibility over to someone else. I make a point of going to someone who’s not in our practice and every year around my birthday I go and get the once-over.”

As to his own practice of medicine Geoff says he’s enjoying the work but finds the strain of bureaucracy.
“All the paperwork and the expectations of patients and government can be a bit tiresome. I do a bit of hypnosis and that’s a welcome break from all the usual stuff. But, having said that, I really enjoy my work and it’s hard to imagine retiring. I work about 35 hours a week and make sure I get a few afternoons off to go kayaking.”

As the Avon Descent edges closer, Geoff reflects on some of his more idiosyncratic techniques to get him across the finish line.

“The last 30km is hard work and I do a Heart of Darkness thing. I imagine I’m being chased by canoes with people shooting arrows at me. It’s a good feeling when you stagger across the line.”