Duo's Rapid success
BY ADRIAN MILLER
WHEN Philip Benfield set out at the end of high school with a one-way train ticket to Cairns and only $120 to his name, he never imagined he would become an Australian whitewater rafting representative.
But now, nearly a decade on, the former Grafton High School student and another former Grafton High student, Sean Gill, have been selected in the Australian team to compete in the Teva Cataract Extreme Race world championships, to be held in Ecuador, South America in October.
Kayaking since the age of 14, both Benfield and Gill moved north to Cairns after Year 12 to work as whitewater rafting guides in the tourism industry.
But they didn't go for the competition, at least not at the beginning.
"I just wanted to be a full-time river guide," Benfield said.
"I didn't really think about competing until I heard of the rafting championships. I ended up with a win, and it's sort of gone on from there."
Representing Australia at world championships is not new territory for the pair. For Gill, son of Sue Gill and former Grafton teacher Graham, who passed away in 2000, this is his second appearance in an Australian team, after being a member of the 2001 Zambezi River Africa world championship-winning contingent.
Benfield, a highway patrol officer with the NSW Police Force, has represented Australia on two previous occasions. In 1997 he placed seventh in the world for rafting and second in individual kayak at the Zambezi River Africa world championships, and in 1998 he was in the Australian team which placed 14th overall at the Costa Rica Central America championships.
"We should do pretty well at the worlds I should think, because with our crew we've got four top quality white water slalom kayakers," he said.
"Everyone is saying we are the best team to represent Australia, so we have got a reasonably good chance of winning it."
Now living in Sydney and training at the purpose-built Penrith White Water Stadium, the team is training hard for the championships, even though there is no guarantee they will make it to South America.
"Money is the big thing we need at the moment because without it we can't get flights to Ecuador to compete," he said.
Benfield said the team had received a small sponsorship from company Teva, but more is needed. To sponsor the team or help out in any way, contact the Australian Rafting Federation or Phil Benfield direc