• Gary Moller

How to Escape from our COVID19 Prison: Pt 2 - who is Gary Moller?

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Gary posing for his stretching and warming up campaign
Gary posing for his stretching and warming up campaign

Or, "why should I be listening to you?"

(I do not want to come across as having some shallow desire to blow my own trumpet, but it is helpful if readers know about some of my background that is relevant to the discussion since the question is being raised).

Please read this, if you have not already, Part one:


What I have to contribute is the experience with taking a whole lot of confusing chatter and turning it into a comprehensible and practical plan. This used to be my job. Let me tell you about it.

The Accident Compensation Commission was founded on 1 April 1974 as a result of the Accident Compensation Act 1972 and based on the report prepared for the Government by Sir Owen Woodhouse. It was the world-first no-fault accident compensation scheme, providing prevention, treatment and rehabilitation cover to all New Zealanders and visitors to our shores. It was revolutionary. During its early days, there was an almost daily procession of esteemed visitors from around the world, eager to see what New Zealand had created.

In 1976, I wrote to Ken Sandford, the Founding Chairman of the Accident Compensation Commission, saying that ACC needed to do something about sports injuries. I was summoned to Wellington for a grilling. The meeting was brief and went kind of like this:

"If you think you know so much, then you can do it!"

Yikes - what an offer!

I accepted the job, and was given the rather imposing title of "Executive Officer Sport and Recreation". My first task was to write my own job description. I had what was the best job in the world. I had so much freedom.

How did I get the job?

I don't really know. I think I was lucky. I guess I was in the right place at the right time.

I had been very involved as a committee member of the NZ Federation of Sports Medicine, working in the health sector and had recently completed a study tour, sponsored by the Federation, to look at Sweden's rehabilitation programmes, especially for the mentally and physically disabled, as well as for every day active people. That trip opened my eyes and I realised, then, just how backwards our own treatment and rehabilitation services were. I also realised that we should never assume that what we are doing now is right or always the best way.

We can always do better and we should always strive to do so. We must always be receptive to new ideas and new ways of doing things and this includes acknowledging that we often get it wrong.

Putting it right is what matters.

The most dangerous people are the ones who refuse to accept that they might be wrong. We all get things wrong. Getting it wrong, acknowledging the fact, then moving on is what drives progress.

One of the biggest impediments to progress in the area of sports and recreation injury prevention back then is most of the knowledge was tied up in academia and professional circles. In medicine back then it was said that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing", which meant patients and the public were best kept in total ignorance and darkness. The use of incomprehensible medical language (professional-speak) and meetings behind closed doors (conferences) ensured that the "knowledge" and the power that it conferred was kept exclusive to a handful of professions.

ACC began to sponsor numerous conferences and seminars that had anything to do with injury prevention, including big ones like the ACC-sponsored international symposium for medical practitioners on the orthopaedic treatment of back pain. Representing the sponsor, I attended just about every one of these conferences and seminars. My strategy was to identify good research and good ideas, then package these as comprehensible programmes that could then be delivered to the public. Here are a few examples.

Ice, Compression and Elevation (ICE)

It was about 1979 when All Black's physiotherapist, Peter Stokes, presented a paper at the annual conference for physiotherapists in Dunedin. His paper was about the use of ice, compression and elevation as the first aid treatment of sprains, strains and bruises. Back then such injuries were treated by rubbing it with liniment, heat and running it out.

I took the idea back to Wellington where we devised a national campaign to take the idea of ICE to the masses, not just sportspeople. Recruiting the assistance of organisations such as St Johns, the Federation of Sports Medicine and the NZ Rugby Union, the way sprains, strains and bruises were treated was changed literally overnight.

Be Safe - Be Seen

Daylight saving became an annual event in 1975. With it came a spate of fatalities and serious injuries. These were largely hidden until ACC began to monitor and analyse the data it was collecting. When the clocks were pushed forward as we entered winter, pedestrians, runners and cyclists were being caught in the dark, literally overnight with many suffering terrible accidents including death. Back then lights for bikes were terrible and so unreliable. The final straw came when we realised that some milk boys and girls who would run behind the milk trucks delivering milk to homes were being run over and killed. I was aware of the development of a new reflective fabric technology by the 3M Company. I began discussions with the manager of the company representing 3M. There was no market for reflective aids in NZ. Our offer to 3M was we would run a nation "Be Safe - Be Seen" campaign aimed at walkers, runners and cyclist on the understanding that they would make available ample supplies of reflective materials in NZ. We also liaised with players, such as the Eagle Driving School in Christchurch which was beginning producing a 3M-based reflective safety vest.

Teaming up with AMP Insurance, every milk boy and girl was given a free reflective safety vest. Posters and pamphlets were printed and distributed wide and far. A reflective triangular sticker featuring a wise owl ("Hooty Owl") was printed by 3M for us - hundreds of thousands. Recruiting the Scout Association by way of a generous donation from ACC they set out to hand a Hooty Owl and brochures to every household in NZ. It was a huge success, it cost ACC hardly anything and it birthed a new industry around reflective clothing and accessories that thrives to this day.

Mouthguards Campaign

This was around 1979 when the wearing of mouthguards in contact sports was about 15% at the most. The research was becoming very clear that the wearing of a mouthguard reduced the severity of injuries, such as dental, brain and to the neck, from blows to the jaw.

Teaming up with sporting associations, including NZ Rugby Union, NZ Coaches Association, school coaching, the NZ Dental Association and the Masterton-based manufacturer of an ingenious heat-moulded mouthguard (Prolon), we ran a national campaign to make the wearing of mouthguards the norm. This campaign included giving every junior playing a contact sport a free mouthguard which any dentist would fit for free. Within two seasons the wearing rate in rugby was nearly 80%.

Hypothermia in Sport

In 1980 New Zealand was shocked when four runners died from hypothermia while out on a Saturday club run in the Akatarawa Ranges. Back then it was thought that an athlete was more or less safe from hypothermia, so long as he or she kept moving. As the ACC representative on the ACC-funded NZ Mountain Safety Council, my response to this tragedy was to write a booklet explaining hypothermia as it relates to sports and run a national education campaign.

I even devised the "Survival Suit" for trail runners. It is a Tyvek fabric coverall that was carried as a bum bag, but no longer in productin. I still have a dozen or so here in storage.

Put that Tooth Back

About the same time, my brother, Gordon, while studying dentistry, wrote a dissertation titled, "The Reimplantation of Avulsed Teeth". Again, this was one of those pieces of research that would probably never see the light of day.

This was another fun project. I took Gordon's paper and devised a "Put that tooth back" campaign, harnessing the assistance of first aid organisations, sporting bodies, schools and the NZ Dental Association. Previously, if a tooth was knocked out, it was thrown away. Within 12 months just about everyone, including dentists knew that an avulsed tooth could be saved so long as the correct procedure was followed from the moment it was knocked out.

Spinal Injuries in Sport

I was monitoring spinal injuries as they came into the two specialised spinal injury units, one based in Otara and the other at Burwood. By compiling what each reported it became apparent that about 20 mostly young men were being paralysed each year after leaping into rivers and swimming pools (mostly appropriately-named Para Pools). As many as one dozen young men were being paralysed each year while playing, mostly while scrummaging.

Water safety

We ran an awareness campaign about the dangers of diving into shallow water. This was through the NZ Water Safety Council which was funded by ACC and which I sat on.


Fortunately for me, this was just before the 1981 Springbok Tour and I was able to gather the support of "Rugby Mothers" and the public, in general, to bring pressure to bear upon the NZ Rugby Union to take action to better protect their players. This included the supporting of research into scrummaging pressures and techniques by the Faculty of Physical Education at the University of Otago.

The results of these programmes speak for themselves with fewer serious spinal injuries per capita from these activities. The efforts to reduce these injuries continue to this day.

Safety Standards

One little-understood strategy that we had for improving sports and recreation safety was our role with funding and being a member of the NZ Standards Association. Safety standards were developed and refined for products like skateboards, bicycle helmets, trampolines and buoyancy vests.

Financial Grants

There were less obvious ways than public campaigns to bring about change for the better. ACC had a Financial Grants Committee. Any applications that were to do with sports medicine and sports and recreation, came across my desk and I would make a recommendation to the Committee.

For example, a young orthopaedic surgeon, Russell Tregonning, applied for a research grant to travel to North America to study a new form of knee surgery called arthroscopy. Back then knee surgery was akin to butchery. The application was accepted and arthroscopy eventually became the norm in NZ.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Chiropractic 1978-79

The Royal Commi