Real Life

Kiwi Paralympic kayaker Corbin Hart’s unstoppable romance

Corbin opens up about the relationship that’s given him the courage to compete
Nikola Krstic, Getty

When Corbin Hart takes to the starting line at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, few will understand the canoe sprint paddler’s meteoric journey and formidable mental fortitude like his girlfriend Liv Heaton.

A little over a year after the Hibiscus Coast couple got together, they had their world turned upside down when Corbin lost his right leg in a work accident in late 2019. While some would have wallowed in self-pity, the 26-year-old quickly adopted an optimistic can-do attitude.

Refusing to accept his disability would limit his horizons, in July 2020, he took up kayaking on the advice of fellow paddler Caitlin Regal, who went on to win an Olympic gold medal alongside Lisa Carrington in Tokyo.

Just three months later, Corbin entered his first regatta and, in May, just 10 months after he first sat in a kayak, he qualified for the Paralympics.

“He inspires me every day,” says girlfriend Liv, who is proud of Corbin on and off the water.

“To have gone through such a traumatic event and handle it with such strength blows my mind,” marvels Liv, 29. “At no stage has he ever complained. He just approaches life with a positive attitude. He inspires me every day.”

The couple first met at a party three years ago. There was an instant attraction, but a nervous, tongue-tied Corbin confesses, “I must have asked Liv 13 times what she did for work.”

The next day, he asked her out on a date via text, but Liv turned him down. It was only when she heard Corbin was going on a date with someone else that she realised she did have feelings for him. A couple of months later, they reconnected and quickly fell in love.

Corbin recalls, “Liv was the most kind, caring, generous person I’d ever met. She was all I ever wanted in a partner.” And he ticked all the boxes for the physiotherapist’s receptionist too. Livs adds, “Corbin is very level-headed, down-to-earth and solid. He has integrity, plus he’s so cute. I would’ve been crazy to push that away.”

Corbin’s work as a supervisor for a roading company meant he regularly travelled for work, but when he was home, the couple made the most of their time together by enjoying bush walks and hanging out with friends.

However, everything changed on the morning of December 3, 2019, when Corbin slipped while kicking stones off a road-stabilising machine as he was working on State Highway 16, just north of Auckland.

Corbin lost his leg, but not his zest for life. (Photo: Nikola Krstic)

As he fell, his foot was dragged into the machinery.

“I knew it was serious,” he recalls. “My leg must have been in there 10 seconds and I went into survival mode. I was waiting for my leg to snap off.”

With no one around, Corbin called 111 and made a makeshift tourniquet from his shirt in an effort to stem the blood loss. It was 30 minutes before he was airlifted to Auckland Hospital. “I just remember asking them, ‘Am I going to die?’ They said no, although it felt like an awful dream. I wanted to yell but could barely talk.”

Liv arrived at hospital in “shock and disbelief” shortly before Corbin went in for surgery. She remembers, “Corbin was very distressed, which was the hardest part.

He was in a lot of pain and very heavily medicated.”

After the surgery, in which he required four blood transfusions and lost his leg, Corbin asked Liv whether she still wanted to be with him.

It was an easy answer.

“I clasped his face and said, ‘Don’t ever ask me that again.’

I wanted him to know I wasn’t going anywhere. Our love is unconditional. I never had any doubts we’d work through the challenges together.”

Elated by Liv’s love, Corbin quickly readjusted his mindset to his new circumstances. He explains, “I wanted to survive, so I needed to make the most of every day.”

The challenges have been great. He still struggles to walk for more than 20 minutes at a time with his prosthetic leg and suffers “phantom pain”, a constant burning sensation in the toes of his lost leg.

However, when his old surf lifesaving mate Caitlin invited him down to Lake Pupuke for a paddle, Corbin proved a natural in the kayak, despite the significant balance issues a one-legged canoeist faces.

After a few sessions, he was hooked and, on his competitive debut last October, he won the Division 2 K1 500m in Rotorua. Training up to 16 sessions a week, he was aiming for the 2024 Games in Paris until it was recommended he target Tokyo, which saw him attend the World Cup in Hungary.

Despite being “nervous as hell”, sleeping and eating very little in the days before the competition, he placed eighth in the final to book his ticket for the Paralympics in Japan, which he says is “cool and a little surreal”.

So what are Corbin’s hopes and expectations for Tokyo? “In some ways, I’ve done the hard work, so I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” he says. “But I’d be happy with top six.”

Smiling, Liv adds, “I’m super-proud of how well he’s done and what he’s achieved in such a short time frame. But then again, I’m not surprised. He’s so driven and motivated. That’s what makes Corbin unstoppable.”

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