Reflections on Antarctica

It is hard to put the most magical place you have ever had the privilege of visiting into words, yet here goes.

Magnificent. Beautiful. Colossal. Vast. The grandeur and scale of this lost world is beyond comprehension. Twice the size of Australia. 14,000,000 sq km. You could fit the United Arab Emirates into Antarctica 168 times, New Zealand 52 times. From the tumultuous waters of the great southern ocean, past the furious fifties and shrieking sixties, rises this magical land – the highest continent on earth, which is covered in ice up to 1.9 km thick. It towers above the sea, majestic, with huge glaciers and sheer cliffs guarding its plateaued interior, these giant walls of ice slipping into the sea on occasion with a thunderous roar.

It is the coldest, driest, yes driest, windiest continent on earth, and the highest in terms of average elevation.

Antarctica is dynamic, always changing, the sea ice around it growing and shrinking with the seasons, glaciers calving, clouds moodily shrouding it then releasing its beauty to the sun at the whim of the wind.

It is the most spectacular place I have ever laid eyes on.

And then the eyes wander, to the sea in front of this great southern land, the mid range of a man or woman’s eyesight, to a sea covered in icebergs, like crystals, the most beautiful pieces of natural art alive. And then they wander to the near range of human eyesight, where smell and hearing are also useful allies, for in the near range, some of the largest beasts in our world, the mighty whales, gently glide, communicating through song, every once and a while diving into the depths to feed on krill, the shrimp like creature that is the nourishment and lifeblood of this lost world. There she blows. And another. And another. Families of whales, in relative abundance, all enjoying the summer riches of this kingdom of kingdoms.

The biodiversity is like I have never seen. The whales, the seals – sleeping and barking and jostling for dominance, the penguins, those loveable creatures whose antics can’t help but make one smile. Never have I seen anything like it in my lifetime.

Antarctica is magnificent. It’s biodiversity is like a portal to another world. In the unknown sphere, it has a mystical aura that is difficult to explain – yet you can sense it. On an ecocsystem nature-society level, it carries 90% of the world’s fresh water.
Our Antarctica is fundamental to the human race’s survival.

Paddle boarding in Antarctica. Day 1.


The whales are returning to Antarctica after being hunted to near extinction.

The Mission. The ClimateForce International Antarctic Expedition 2018.
Ninety environmental ambassadors from over 20 countries took part in the two week expedition to Antarctica, the purpose of which was to learn about the continent and climate change through the Explorers Passage and polar explorer Sir Robert’s renowned ‘Leadership on the edge Programme,’ with each leader then charged with the responsibility to return to their respective countries to ignite the change to a low carbon economy. Sir Robert was the first explorer to walk to both the south and north poles and has since become a fierce environmental ambassador and advocate for the ongoing protection of Antarctica. In 30 years’ time, when the Antarctic Treaty and its environmental protocols are able to be reviewed – which preserves Antarctica for non-military use and scientific research, those that took part on the expedition will be charged with re-negotiating it for the greater good of nature and society. I personally pledged that in 30 years, at age 65, if lucky enough to still be here, that I would somehow be at the negotiating table. The word of the 90 2018 ambassadors is our bond.

ClimateForce International Antarctic Expedition 2018

The people
Never have I met such a talented and inspirational group of people in one place. Every single one of those 90 people from 20 countries. There were explorers, government officials, master film makers, scientists, rock stars, executives in business, entrepreneurs, authors, and youth. Every single person had an interesting story, had had challenges in their life, but had persisted on their path to work in a field of their passion, and overcome those challenges. And all were committed to working tirelessly in their respective countries and fields, to be change makers working toward a low carbon economy. Antarctica needs them. And we need it.

A period of two weeks, with no internet, no cell phones, embedded in nature, with an incredible team; there really was something fundamental to the concept ‘disconnect from the world to reconnect.’ There was nothing better. Everyone getting out of their comfort zone and engaging with people – having a conversation – sharing challenges past, lessons learned, debating theory, getting insights, reflecting on it all, and making friends for life.

Reflection. There was time for reflection and journal writing. And from those conversations, so much was learned about the world, about people, about motivations, about beliefs, about what we need to change as a society.

One concept was ‘graduation of mindset’, where a person removes themselves from their day to day routine, immerses themselves in nature with like minded people, and broadens their horizons from the narrow to the broad. From the phone to the horizon. From the dream to the reality. From the ‘I’m not sure if I can’ to the ‘I will make that happen.’ And ‘I will do that,’ whilst sharing it with others, because the best things in life are shared.

Open your eyes. Turn off your phone. Talk to the person next to you. You may be surprised to find that they have a lot to offer. Laughter and friendship even.

Team Zayed and the Solar Lights – Our message to the world.
Team Zayed was a team of three representing the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and Dr Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, in honour of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, in this 2018, a celebration of his life, the Year of Zayed. The team consisted of the Environment Agency’s communication’s specialist Mariam Al Qassimi; Scientist of Mammalogy, Rashed Al Zaabi; and myself, Winston Cowie.

Team Zayed representing the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi. Left to Right. Rashed Al Zaabi. Mariam Al Qassimi. Winston Cowie.

We were incredibly privileged to represent the agency and grateful to our inspirational Secretary General, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, for the opportunity to take on the challenge of bringing the stark reality of a global issue – climate change – the challenge of our time – back to the UAE for further discussion and debate.

Whilst in Antarctica, Team Zayed led an initiative where with 102 solar lamps, with all delegates, we held a solar lights show, making words with the lights in the cold and dark of the Antarctic night, and sending them to the world.

Our message, that of 90 people from 20 countries, was: ‘Hi World – from Antarctica. Please listen: climate change and plastics are our challenge. Let’s change. All of us. Individuals and countries. Stop. Think. Act. Energise. Be the Change. #ClimateForce.”

Team Zayed Solar Lights Show

The launch of the Zayed Solar Lights Show. From the Ocean Endeavour. Antarctica.

As we lit up the Antarctic night, one of our colleagues on the expedition, Inch Chua from Singapore, a talented musician, sang our message in the Antarctic night. We could hear whales surfacing as we sung, in union. It was one of those incredible unforgettable moments when time stood still.

Inch Chua. Singer / songwriter from Singapore. Inch was one of the awesome people on the expedition. Jamming here in a volcano and old Whaling Station. South Shetland Islands

The full message to the world and UAE leadership will be released soon. 

If we can send a message to the world from Antarctica using renewable energy, if Robert and his son Barney, a 23 year old champion, can walk to the South Pole using only renewable energy, we can transition towards a low carbon society. Please! Heed the words – on the individual level. Stop. Think. Act.

Graduation of mindset. ‘Why’ is the question. Why are we doing what we are doing as a society?

Do we really need that plastic bag that we will use once and throw away? Do we really need that straw? Do we really need to have that take away coffee twice a day and throw away both cups? Stop. Think. Act. Be an energiser or change maker in your peer group and community is the summary.

As a society we have got too comfortable with using something once and throwing it away. It’s not ok any more. It wasn’t in our parent’s generations, so why is it in ours?



With the lights we also honoured our visionary UAE leadership, the Environment Agency, inspirational woman, service men and women and some global environmental heroes like Dr Jane Goodall, and Sir Rob and Barney Swan.

It is important to say thank you.

Two other names I would like to mention.

Steve Irwin is one.

What an amazing man he was – passionate, caring and determined. He really did inspire a new generation of environmental ambassadors globally and it is wonderful to see Teri and Bindi and Robert doing the same. The agreement from those completing the solar lights show was unanimous – in honour of Steve and his family, we lit up the Antarctic night with the word Steve.

The second name. Well it was before we headed back across the Drake Passage, the waterway that the late New Zealand yachtsman Sir Peter Blake had travelled around numerous times, that he was foremost in my thoughts. It may have been that I grew up a Kiwi kid, looking up to this role model who sailed the world’s oceans doing good things; it may have been the wandering Albatross that followed the Ocean Endeavour, it may have been his environmental legacy on his last voyage, the Seamaster, it may have been the way he passed too early, killed by pirates in the Amazon. Regardless, the group on the deck of the Ocean Endeavour had a moment and wrote his name, in honour of all he achieved and for his family.

They were quiet moments in the dark and cold of night, when we wrote those names.
And all in solar lights. Lighting up the great southern ocean sky. Blinking in the wind and the spray of the waves. Looking to the past to inspire the present and the future.

What’s next?

More on how Antarctica is being effected by global warming in another post – and what we as individuals and what countries can do to reverse the melt. It will be a huge challenge, but on leaving Antarctica, my overwhelming feeling was optimism. It really was and still is.

I do feel optimistic for the future of Antarctica, optimistic because it is a place where we got things so wrong in the past – hunting whales nearly to the point of extinction, only for the global community to come together and protect them, and the Antarctic continent for science and peace. And they now live in that magical place, still recovering, but noticeably there. We can get it right with global warming and plastics too. I am sure. With good people and motivation.

Each of the 90 persons on the expedition received a ‘Zayed Torch’ from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi – one of the solar lamps that we used to send the message to the world with, from Antarctica. Each person, now friends for life, will go back to their respective countries and with their passion and energy, with their metaphorical Zayed light, make positive things happen for nature and society – rise to the environmental challenges of our time – plastics and global warming. For Team Zayed in Abu Dhabi we will be doing the same.

Personally I think I had a graduation of mindset moment on the Ocean Endeavour in Antarctica. It was on the last evening as we rounded Cape Horn. As we sat there and shared lovely moments with our new friends, and in Sir Robert’s final speech, with my new good friend and an inspiration, rock star Inch Chua from Singapore, we were awarded the Sir Robert Swan Leadership Inspiration Award for outstanding contributions to the expedition. It came as a surprise – an award from the legendary polar explorer. On reflection I was incredibly grateful and humbled but also motivated by it to deliver and make the candle burn bright. It is motivating and the Zayed and Sir Rob Swan torch will be burning bright, working hard, seeking positive outcomes, rest assured.

Sir Rob Swan Leadership Inspiration Award. International Antarctic Expedition 2018. Winston Cowie. United Arab Emirates.


Sir Rob Swan Leadership Inspiration Award. Inch Chua. Singapore.

From the narrow to the horizon. From the dream to the reality. From the I’m not sure if I can to the ‘I will make that happen.’

Together we will. All of us. Including You. Because deep down you know what is right, that we need to change. That we can, with a little motivation. So You, reading this: Stop. Think. Act. Energise. Be the change. Climateforce.

In the words of Sir Robert Swan, ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.’

Not on our watch.

W J Cowie. Reflections on Antarctica. March 2018.

Antarctica calls: Meeting Jane Goodall and the launch of the ClimateForce Challenge

On Thursday the 25th of January 2018, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) was privileged to host Dr Jane Goodall and 12 schools from around the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the Jane Goodall Institute Roots & Shoots UAE Annual Awards.

The awards doubled as the launch of the #ClimateForce Challenge, a collaboration between EAD, the Jane Goodall Institute, and polar explorer Sir Robert Swan’s ClimateForce 2041. Sir Robert Swan was the first person to walk to both the north and south poles.

The challenge encourages everybody to consider their individual and everyday behaviours that impact the environment, and pledge to change their behaviour for the ‘greater good,’ with a collective target of reducing carbon emissions by 326 million tonnes by 2025!

As part of the ClimateForce challenge, it was unveiled that EAD and Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots are sending three Ambassadors, Rashed Al Zaabi, Mariam Al Qassimi, and Winston Cowie, to Antarctica to take part in Sir Robert Swan’s International Antarctic Expedition 2018. The team will learn about the continent and climate change through polar explorer Sir Robert’s renowned ‘Leadership on the edge Programme,’ and will return to the UAE with practical everyday solutions to climate change.’

Thursday was the start of this journey, and it was fantastic to see that around 100 students, with Dr Jane Goodall and our three Ambassadors, make the ClimateForce pledge.

Environment Agency Abu Dhabi & Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Antarctica Ambassadors – Rashed Al Zaabi, Mariam Al Qassimi, and Winston Cowie

ClimateForce Challenge Launch UAE

Antarctica and being an energiser in the community on the environmental issues of our time calls! Plastics, inefficient resource use – we are coming for you!

There is much more information to come – keep an eye on both the Environment Agency’s and Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots UAE website and social media – the planning has begun in earnest.

Onwards and I am incredibly grateful to the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi’s own inspirational leader, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak for the opportunity to meet Dr Jane be involved in this incredible initiative. I couldn’t be more excited about the coming months. Twenty six days to go!

To participate in the challenge as a school – and become involved in the Jane Goodall family –  please visit


Meeting Jane Goodall. It was incredible. 

Dr Jane Goodall at the ClimateForce Challenge UAE Launch

And on a personal note, so lovely and grateful to spend the last couple of days with Dr Jane Goodall as part of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and Dr Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots partnership. She really is an inspiration – not only for her work with the chimpanzees in Tanzania, but for the institute she has set up – a grassroots conservation network which engages millions of youth and is in over 100 countries. At the annual UAE Roots & Shoots awards held Thursday in Abu Dhabi, as she spoke I sat there, looked around the room and considered what an amazing person she is – an energiser who gets things done – of the earth – inspiring youth (and adults as well to be honest), all over the world. At 83 years of age, she travels over 300 days a year (her calendar is booked 3 years in advance), talking, giving interviews, encouraging people to change their behaviour and live their values. We need people like Jane, and having had a treasured opportunity to meet with her, and have our wee girls meet her, I’m feeling seriously motivated (as they are from the conversation on the drive home) to make some changes to everyday consumerism and energy use behaviours. The ClimateForce challenge has well and truly begun.

Dr Jane Goodall and Winston Cowie at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

So thank you Dr Jane, your magic has worked. Check out her movie JANE which is out in some countries and will soon be out in others like the UAE. Can’t wait to see it!
And once again, so incredibly grateful to the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi for the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful initiative. 

Former Australian star Joe Roff joins the Conquistadors for Dubai Rugby 7s 2017!

A great article from The National newspaper in the UAE today. Click here.  Awesome to have this bloke, Joe Roff, Rugby World Cup winner with the Australian Wallabies, and a former Oxford University rugby team mate, helping out with our charity team, the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors, at the Dubai 7s when he is not on official duties with HSBC.

A throwback here to the Varsity Match 2006 at Twickenham (both younger and hairier versions), tackling Ross Blake the Cambridge captain. We definitely got him. :)

Former Australian international star Joe Roff and Winston Cowie in action for Oxford University in the 2006 Varsity Match at Twickenham

“I am honoured to be the bag manager for the Conquistadors this year,” said Roff. “It is a role I will take seriously, making sure the boys have the right kit and are looking sharp. On a serious note I have heard Mike Ballard’s story and I’m really impressed by what he has achieved personally, and what this group achieved in going to Madagascar last year.”

Mike Ballard, the Conquistadors Manager, is also rather excited for the Sevens.

“It will be a last-minute deal, with some arriving the night before the start, and in true social rugby tradition, we won’t get a team run in,” Ballard said. “We are going to show up and have a go, but it will be good.”

We are playing in the International Social, with the Timetable for Day 1 below if you want to give us some support!

And a massive thank you to all of our sponsors who have supported us and continue to support us! We are incredibly grateful to you!

Onwards to the Sevens!

Massive thanks to:







Garth van Niekirk – a tribute to a true South African Gentleman

I met Garth van Niekirk just over one year ago at Abu Dhabi Saracens rugby training.

South African, built like a brick, the 27 year old was the sort of bloke you immediately warmed to. A leader, with a solid set of values, keen, very respectful and grateful for his lot, a good sense of humour, and an absolute machine with the ball in hand – once you met him he was the sort of bloke that you wanted to be around. Positive, committed, dependable, and inspirational. And fun – he had a good sense of humour and was always smiling.

Last Wednesday, with his Abu Dhabi based mates around him, we said goodbye to him the for the last time.

Two months ago he was fit and playing rugby. He felt a stomach pain and thought he had pulled a muscle and as a precaution went to the doctor. What followed is still incomprehensible. He was diagnosed with an aggressive from of Colon cancer, which didn’t respond to chemotherapy, and instead spread to his liver and lungs. Within two months, from the peak of physical health, he was very unwell.

Garth passed away last night, one week after heading back to his native South Africa to be with family. Life’s not fair some times. Really not fair. In two months he tried everything and fought hard, never giving up. That was him. Ten different oncologists, miracle cure drugs, but the stars didn’t come into alignment.

Garth van Niekirk – a true South African Gentleman. After playing a stormer against Bahrain in 2016 and helping the Sarries to a close 12-10 win.


Garth was brought up in Johannesburg, South Africa, the son of Johan and Anita and brother of Gabrielle. Garth attended The King’s School, Robin Hills in Johannesburg where he was chosen as Head Boy in his final year. When you find that out, you ‘get it’, he was that kind of guy. A stand up bloke and role model.

After school, Garth studied a Bachelors Degree in Emergency Medical Care (BTech EMC) at the University of Johannesburg and has since worked saving lives, in both South Africa and later Abu Dhabi where he would regularly visit conflict zones in the region and save lives. Selfless, the guy threw himself into his work – serving society by going to places no one else wanted to go, for the greater good.

Garth – straight from work to a rugby training.

A balanced bloke, when he wasn’t in the helicopter or plane, he was excelling on the rugby pitch where he represented the Golden Lions at 7s and won the national championship with them in 2012. He was also recently the Abu Dhabi Saracens Player of the Year and was widely regarded as one of the stars and best players in the Arabian Gulf and West Asia. He is straight up one of the nicest blokes I have met through rugby in 30 years of playing. 

A keen traveller, Garth has been to over 30 countries, where he loved experiencing and learning from other cultures. His favourites were Estonia, Sweden and Russia where he recently travelled with his family.

A couple of anecdotes that I loved about the guy:

·         Before and after every footy training he would shake your hand and say Hello and Thank You Coach. His parents should be proud of how he conducted himself, every single time. Every single time you caught up with him. 

·         Cake baking, after playing a blinder to beat Bahrain 12-10 in a nail biter. It was chocolate coconut and pretty good.  

·         Making it to the Dubai 7s for bang on 8:30am on Day’s 2 and 3, for kick off – always a struggle. He was always on time.

On behalf of the Abu Dhabi and wider Gulf rugby community, the Sarries and Quins, much love to a mate – much much love to your family – Garth will be hugely missed. Life isn’t fair and it is difficult to make any sense of this.

Garth van Niekirk – you were a champion and one of the best. A legend, mate.

May peace be upon you.


A long road but worth it.

25 March 2011.

The West Asian Championship Club Rugby Final. Doha RFC v Dubai Hurricanes. Six and a bit years’ ago.

It was set to be a good day – a home final for Doha, the team I captained passionately at the time, and going for the club’s first silverware in 40 odd years of history.

The day didn’t turn out as planned. You always remember the day and date. I dislocated my knee in the 10th minute of the final and tore everything (ACL,PCL, Lateral ligament, Hamstring, IT Band, Medial ligament) and was rushed to hospital.

The damage? I have never really gone into it – don’t talk about it at all – it’s been my challenge to own and meet. No one else’s.

 But this week, I have sat back and reflected on it after hitting a bit of a milestone.

It’s been a long road.

Going back six years, to when it happened, I was playing at No.8 tracking our 7 from a scrum. The Hurricanes 10 and 12 did a cut. Our 7 got him and swung him, a big lad, around. I planted my knee and the guys’ legs came around and basically axed my knee in half.

Initially it was the pain. I have a pretty high pain threshold I reckon but when that knee was dislocated out, I was screaming. For a good 5 mins. It was out for two hours until it got put back in when I was in hospital and xrays had confirmed what the scenario was. By then the screaming had quietened  to a dull whimper. The reason was my common peroneal nerve was being crushed by my femur which had shifted an inch down and was close to compound. I put the pain up there with being electrocuted – true story – an indescribably horrible feeling that you can’t escape from because the electricity has got hold of you and you can’t let go. 240 volts for 10 seconds back in 2007.  That story is for another day. I still touch any door before I open it so I don’t get one of those little shocks when I touch the handle.

Back to Doha. When the knee was finally put back in the damage was done. Seven centimetres of nerve was crushed. What this meant was that I was numb from the knee down and couldn’t pull my foot up from the ground. If you sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground and then pull your foot up, mine stays flat.

It means I walk with a little bit of a jilted gait and have to flick my foot a little before I put it down. It has taken a while to get used to it. Six years.

We lost the West Asia Championship final by the way, 24-20. Devastated would be a way to put how the season ended up for the DRFC. Losing is hard to take when you put so much effort into something. But such is life sometimes.

And life had thrown me a challenge.

In those first two years, because the nerve wasn’t working (and still doesn’t), my calf muscle had atrophied (wasted away a lot). After two ops I had to get used to walking again, and was living in New Zealand at the time with a young family, on Whangaparaoa Peninsula. They were hard days on the recovery front. I would try and go for a jog from Big Manly Around to Little Manly and would pull either calf muscle within a couple of hundred metres. It was always a slow, frustrated walk back to the house, especially during winter.

After this had happened a few times, and frustration levels were sky high, I resolved to start off slowly and walk before I could run so to speak. With a very understanding and supportive wife, and  spirited two and one year old daughters at the time, I started walking initially, needing to  build up the muscle again on the calf. We would go out to Shakespeare and Tawharanui Regional Park, and hike the hills. There were a few mishaps, falling over with my daughters and rolling down the hill a bit. The family was key. Sometimes you have to go down to get back up.

At the time and feeling like I was making progress, I made two goals, this was back in 2012-2013. The first was to surf some solid waves like I used to pre injury, and the second was to try and play a high level of rugby again. Both were looking doubtful at the time.

On the surfing, in January of 2013 a solid cyclone swell hit the East Coast of Northland. Six to eight foot. Offshore. I had a mare of a session. Every time I would go to take the drop, I’d  be thinking, ‘Up, flick foot, stamp, then go.’ I must have fallen on 9 out of 10 and got absolutely rinsed in what was a sizey swell. Like those initial runs when I pulled my calf, I was so frustrated. The two things I loved doing the most – and used to be pretty good at – surfing and rugby, I couldn’t do either.

Northland. Surf.

That swell. Northland, New Zealand. Things didn’t go according to plan.

For me there was nothing more frustrating than not being able to do what I loved.

Over the next six months I worked hard. Morning and night I would be doing exercises to strengthen the calves. Walking and then running a slow jog around Shakespeare or around Big Manly Park. I had to stick to the grass as the road jarred too much. I also learned to balance on a paddle board.

I would catch up with people and I got the feeling that they felt sorry for me because I walked with a bit of a limp. Stuff that. No one was going to feel sorry for me. Pride can be a good motivator.

Worked harder. And harder and harder.

About that time we made the decision to return to the Middle East, Abu Dhabi. I was due to have a third operation a month before this; this time to tie my foot into neutral with a ligament from another part of my body.

A big winter East Coast swell hit – bigger and hairier than the failed January session. Me and a mate hit the coast. I was feeling pretty good although it was huge. My mate got injured early and sat on the beach so I was out there by myself. I went for it, didn’t overthink it, just charged and backed the hard yakka that had been put in over the previous two and a half years, and particularly the preceding 6 months.

It was a special day that. I surfed for six hours straight.

I was back.

I saw the doctor the next day for the pre-op check up. I told him I didn’t want to have the op anymore. I told him about the surf. He told me that another op, to permanently alter my foot would be another year of recovery and rehabilitation.

“I’m not doing it,” I said. He shook my hand and backed me.

“Good on you,” he said.

I think my family were pretty surprised I didn’t have the op. I’m pleased I didn’t. I was getting where I needed to go.

Fast-forward to 2014. And not being satisfied with the status quo, I travelled to Indonesia with a good mate and pushed the surfing harder at Gland, East Java, a renowned big wave spot. After a couple of near drownings, including my fin nearly chopping my wrist off, and getting coral cut fever, I got in the flow and got some good waves.

Winston Cowie surfing GLand, Indonesia

Getting back in the mix. GLand, Indonesia

Goal 1, achieved. I could surf again.

And then there was the rugby dream….goal 2……

We moved to Abu Dhabi with our young  family. I helped coach one of the local footy clubs, the Harlequins initially. It was good for me that, and the knee rehab. I would do the fitness with the boys – and after Year 4 since the accident had reached a pretty happy medium.

Occasionally I would get a bit of nerve flaring, and the numbness was always there – at night it would annoy me a bit, but it was manageable. Through regular exercising I could just hold the foot in neutral.

With the goal at the back of my mind, to play some good rugby again (not really having defined to myself what this meant), I tentatively started again. Admittedly I was a lot edgier about playing a game of footy than surfing – the landings in rugby are hard, especially on the pitches in the Middle East.

I started with Sevens, and with a group of mates we set up the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors – a charity team to support our mate, Mike Ballard, who suffered a serious spinal injury in 2014. Mike’s story is inspirational – the guy is incredibly mentally tough – since his injury, and six operations, he moved back to Abu Dhabi to take up his old job and now is a huge part of the fabric of the community. Mike epitomises the words ‘positive attitude.’ He inspires all around him and has certainly inspired me on this journey. Four and five years on from the injury I played in the Dubai 7s with the Conquistadors. It felt good to be playing footy again and the body got through ok, with Mike and a great bunch of lads.

In 2016, five years after the injury, I moved over to coach the Abu Dhabi Saracens, a good bunch of lads with a real family vibe. I started the season as coach – that was the intention initially. I still wasn’t one hundy into Goal 2. During Match 2 of the 2016 season that all changed when we travelled to the same field that I had initially got the injury, to play my old Doha mates.

Eight of our team’s visas were rejected, so we had a bare 17 to play Doha in Doha, including our physio. Not having too much time to consider it, I went for it, not wanting to forfeit. Not in the DNA. I played 80 minutes at No.8 in 40 degrees.

After getting through that game, and the knee feeling solid, I sat back and after knocking that monkey off the back, I wanted to play better.

A good article on that Doha shift was written by Paul Radley at The National.

We had a few injuries during the course of this season – 2016-2017, so I ended up playing at least 20 minutes of every game – 12 in total.

Admittedly at the start I was a little tentative, and I think naturally so after the rehab frustrations and the numbness, but by the start of this year, 2017, I was throwing myself into games like I used to. Six year’s older, a little slower, but getting stuck in. While the numbness was still there, I ignored it and got on with it. Goal 2, playing a high level of footy, was starting to look like a possibility.

At this time I had just clocked over three years in the United Arab Emirates, which made me eligible for the national side.

Like surfing at Gland, I thought Stuff it, I was going to have a crack.

I pitched up to the first UAE trial training in January 2017. The UAE, ranked No.72 in the world, was coached by former Samoan dual international superstar Apollo Perelini, and had earned promotion to Division 1 in Asia, where they would be competing with Malaysia (54), Sri Lanka (40) and the Philippines (58).

Attending that initial training, and as a loose forward and hooker, the quality of players was high – I thought that this was going to be a hard team to make – there were good players in all of these positions.  I went hard, trained hard, doing a lot of extras on the grass field at the compound our family lived in. I must have done over a hundred set of sprints on that 80 m patch of grass under the Palm Trees.

There and back. There and back.

Apollo, an outstanding coach, asked me if I could play prop. In day’s gone by, a loose forward may have taken such a query to heart – prop is not the most glamorous of positions. I was just stoked to be in the mix.

Yes I said, only having played it a couple of times 10 years earlier when at Oxford University in the Varsity Match campaign.

I started watching a lot of footy, in the evenings when the kids were in bed. I mainly watched the scrums, trying to learn as much as I could. I also enlisted the help of my team mates at the Abu Dhabi Saracens for some technical scrumming tuition. I also started smashing the gym.

Rather quickly I found that playing prop is hard. Respect to all props around the world. You don’t get a rest. When its scrum time, you are pushing with every ounce of energy you have, and then you have to get up and run around the field as well. It’s physically challenging. You walk off the pitch absolutely shattered.

A long story, short, after six years since that day in Doha, on 20 May 2017, numb knee and all, I made my international rugby debut as a loose head prop, representing my adopted home, the United Arab Emirates v the Philippines.

Winston Cowie rugby UAE

Winston Cowie. International rugby debut for United Arab Emirates v Philippines. May 2017.

Goal 2 knocked off.

A really well written article was written on the journey by Matt Jones at Sport360.

A big thank you to everybody who has supported me in eventually getting there over the past six years.

My family, Lucy Jones, who must be the most understanding wife in the world, and our kids Issy, Evie and Zac for not rolling their eyes too much when Daddy had to go to another rugby training, especially the past six months.

My friends who have kept me motivated and consistently pushing myself.

The Doha Rugby Community were incredibly kind in supporting me with my operations back in 2011. I am always indebted to you. And this year the Abu Dhabi Saracens family have been just that, a family of mates.

And four months ago I met a great bunch of gents from the different clubs in the UAE. We became a team, a close knit bunch who for the past 10 days have represented out adopted country, the United Arab Emirates, in Malaysia with pride. Thanks to all of these gents, now mates, for sharing that journey. Thanks to Apollo Perelini, our coach, and management for doing an outstanding job in preparing us. While the results didn’t go our way, we learned how competitive this top level in Asia is, and will be better for it next year….there is always next year….

UAE Rugby Team v Philipinnes. May 2017.

UAE Rugby Team v Philippines. May 2017.

This was a story I was keen to share.

A long road but worth it.

Never say never.

If it’s your challenge, own it, work hard. And nail it.







Conquistador Puzzle Trail translated into Spanish and gifted to 350 schools and universities in New Zealand

The Embassy of Spain in New Zealand and author Winston Cowie have collaborated and translated Cowie’s book, Conquistador Puzzle Trail, into Spanish. Conquistador Puzzle Trail proposes that Spanish or Iberian navigators may have been the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand, over 100 years pre Abel Tasman. 

The Spanish version is entitled “Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanoles,” which means: “New Zealand, a history puzzle: After the traces of the Spanish Conquistadors.”

As part of the celebration of launching the Spanish version, the Embassy of Spain and Cowie are sending a free English version to 350 secondary schools and universities in New Zealand.

Former Ambassador of Spain to New Zealand the honourable Manuel Viturro De La Torre; author Winston Cowie; and Dr Juan Pineiro. at the launch of the Spanish version of Cowie’s book in La Coruna Spain.

The Ambassador of Spain comments that “this book focuses on the cultural relations between our two countries that despite being in the antipodes they might have shared a common history. It is really a food for thought not only for scholars but also for students in the schools of New Zealand”.

Author Winston Cowie, states “I am incredibly grateful to the Embassy of Spain, New Zealand for their ongoing collaboration and cooperation. To have Conquistador Puzzle Trail now translated into Spanish and distributed across Spain, and the English version now in most secondary schools and universities in New Zealand is a proud moment. My hope is that students will read the book, and in time become teachers themselves, and perceptions changed in respect of the European discovery of New Zealand. What is needed is a robust public debate on the subject, and more research, in order to move knowledge forward. Everybody has a role to play.”

The Embassy of Spain and Cowie have also offered a free personal copy to the first 10 history teachers that volunteer to write their own objective review on Conquistador Puzzle Trail.

The Embassy of Spain and Winston Cowie look forward to the ongoing discussion on the theory that the Spanish and other Iberians were the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail is available through Paper Plus stores, good independent bookstores and online at Those overseas can contact to order a copy.

 “Plus ultra,” ‘Beyond’, as the Conquistadors would say. Onwards.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail translated into Spanish and launched in Spain!

Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole by Winston Cowie.

Proud moments in La Coruna, Galicia, northern Spain.

 The Embassy of Spain in New Zealand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, the Spanish Organisation for International Cooperation on Development, and author Winston Cowie have collaborated and translated Cowie’s book, Conquistador Puzzle Trail, into Spanish. 

Winston Cowie book

Conquistador Puzzle Trail proposes that Spanish or Iberian navigators were the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand, over 100 years pre-Abel Tasman, in circa the 1520s.

The Spanish version is entitled “Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanoles,” which means: “New Zealand, a history puzzle: After the tracks of the Spanish Conquistadors,” and was launched on 24 March 2017 in the Spanish coastal city of La Coruna. The port is the same place that the Spanish ‘Loaisa expedition’ embarked from on its 1525 around the world voyage of discovery, and also the place where a large New Zealand pohutukawa can be found.

Nueva Zelanda, In Puzzle Historico by Winston Cowie


Winston Cowie at the La Coruna pohutukawa with both versions of his book: Conquistador Puzzle Trail

Winston Cowie with the two versions of his book at the La Coruna pohutukawa

The La Coruna police officers who look after the tree and the Greenstone taonga gifted to it on Cowie’s 2013 visit.

The initiative to translate Conquistador Puzzle Trail into Spanish has been a collaboration between the Spanish government and Winston Cowie since the successful launch of Cowie’s book in 2015. Conquistador Puzzle Trail has since been added as a source on the early discovery of New Zealand on Te Ara, the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand, and praised by Spanish and Portuguese governments.

 The launch was attended by the honourable former Spanish Ambassador to New Zealand, Ambassador Manuel Viturro De La Torre; the honourable Maria Garcia, Vice Mayor of La Coruna; Spanish historian Xose Alfeiran; Juan Pineiro, who has helped Cowie tremendously over the years with his research and a number of other Spanish dignitaries and members of the public.

La Coruna Book Launch – Nueva Zelanda, In Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole

The current Ambassador of Spain, the honourable Manuel Pradas Romani, comments that “this book focuses on the cultural relations between our two countries that despite being in the antipodes they might have shared a common history. It is really a food for thought not only for scholars but also for students in the schools of New Zealand and Spain”.

Author Winston Cowie, states “I am incredibly grateful to the Embassy of Spain, New Zealand for their ongoing collaboration and cooperation. To have Conquistador Puzzle Trail now translated into Spanish and distributed across Spain, and the English version now widely distributed is a proud moment.

 And to be able to travel to La Coruna after research trips here in 2009 and 2012, and share the moment with some of the lovely Galician people that have helped me over the years, I am very grateful. It was a really special and proud moment.

 Looking ahead, my hope is that students will read the book, and in time become teachers themselves, and perceptions changed in respect of the European discovery of New Zealand. What is needed is a robust public debate on the subject – in both Spain and New Zealand, in order to move knowledge forward. Everybody has a role to play.”

Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole, is available in Spain through the Liberia Arenas bookstore. Email to order. The English version is available in good New Zealand bookstores, online at Fishpond, or through

Liberia Arenas, La Coruna, where Nueva Zelanda, In Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole by Winston Cowie is available. Owner Manuel Arenas, Juan Pinerio and Cowie.

“Plus ultra,” ‘Beyond’, as the Conquistadors would say.

And another exciting initiative just around the corner….