Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM)

AARON ROGER NICHOLSON (Wānaka) – Services to New Zealand Police and Search and Rescue

Wānaka’s former Land Search and Rescue (SAR) chairman and co-director of the Contact Epic mountain bike race has been named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year Honours list.

Aaron Nicholson has been involved with the award-winning Wānaka LandSar team for 22 years, first as a police sergeant providing operational support, and continuing as a civilian volunteer after his retirement from the police in 2018.

Mr Nicholson resigned as Wānaka SAR chairman earlier this year after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, so he could focus on treatment and recovery.

Mr Nicholson said he was “super humbled to be recognised and nominated for this award by my peers but nothing you achieve in SAR is done in isolation”.

“It’s a great big team game.You need good people behind you, beside you and looking ahead, in front of you to ensure that great work gets done and there is a lasting legacy.

“I’ve had the pleasure to be able to stand on the shoulders of giants, which has made my 22 year SAR tenure so much fun — Alan Gillespie, Stu Thorne, Geoff Wayatt, Gary Dickson, Phil Melchior and Bill Day to name but a few.

“Wānaka SAR is a great organisation, built on the principles of service and helping those in need in the back country but what I very much enjoy is the shared ethos in the relentless pursuit of excellence within the group.

“Being good is not always good enough when people’s lives may be at stake. We can and should always try to be better,” Mr Nicholson said.

AARON MURRAY FLEMING (Queenstown) – Services to community and sport

For Aaron Fleming, his New Year’s honour is for everyone who supported him — from the hospital bed to the finishing line.

Mr Fleming has become a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the community and sport.

“I found out when I got a letter from the Governor-General — it was quite the surprise. I’m very humbled.”

He has competed in 16 Ironman competitions, led several fundraising and community initiatives, and is the Southern South Island director for the Department of Conservation.

Mr Fleming was inspired to compete in Ironman competitions in 2004 by a competitor raising funds and awareness for cystic fibrosis.

“Everything I have done in my life would not have been possible without the support of someone.

“It doesn’t matter whether they’ve been there for me at the finish line, or seen me when I was at my hospital bed, they’ve all been there when it has mattered.”

Mr Fleming authored the book Purpose and has done motivational speaking in schools throughout New Zealand for charities such as Proud to Play, which promotes inclusiveness and diversity in sport and recreation.

“I had a tough time as a teenager, and I was driven to help others realise their potential.

“There’s always been someone in my corner, so I wanted to be there for other people.”

Despite suffering from his own serious health condition, he trained for his first Ironman in 2006.

“I went through a difficult period, but ultimately the experience told me that life is short.”

He described his work for Doc as the “best job in the world”.

“I have the privilege of looking after the most spectacular parts of the country.

“It’s why people come to New Zealand to visit. It’s so special.”

But for Mr Fleming, there was more work to do.

“This is absolutely about working with others.”