Rio 2016 Paralympic Games gold medallists Sophie Pascoe, Liam Malone, Cameron Leslie and Nikita Howarth are throwing their support behind a new series of local events set to help disabled people get involved in sport. It’s hoped that the series will help increase interest and participation in community sport activities run by ParaFeds, National Sports Organisations (NSOs) and disability sport organisations, but also give Paralympics New Zealand the opportunity to spot talent that could move into a pathway focussed on developing future Paralympians.
The ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day series will kick off this Friday 21 October at the AUT Millennium in Auckland, with the second event in the current series taking place at the Avantidrome in Cambridge on 5 November and the third event at Cowles Stadium, Christchurch on 18 February 2017. Participants will have a chance to meet and hear from New Zealand’s top Paralympians, try out various Para-Sports and talk to various organisations about opportunities available to them in the community.
The launch of the new series comes exactly a month after the end of New Zealand’s most successful Paralympic Games, ever. The Team secured a stunning 21 medals across 12 individual medallists – 9 gold, 5 silver and 7 bronze – beating its pre-Games target of 18 by 3 medals. Overall, the New Zealand Paralympic Team placed 13th on the medal table, its highest placing in history, and defended its title of number 1 in the world medals per capita won at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Pascoe herself won 5 medals, including 3 gold, and by doing so became New Zealand’s most decorated Paralympian with 15 medals. Blade runner Malone exploded onto the international sporting scene, winning 3 medals, including 2 gold. Leslie won his third gold medal across three Games and broke his own World Record. Howarth won her first ever Paralympic medals, bringing home 2 medals including 1 gold and 1 bronze.
Malcolm Humm, High Performance Director at Paralympics New Zealand said: “We had an exceptional Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, but this kind of success does not happen overnight. We begin every four-year cycle at this point. The ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Days will have two objectives: firstly, to help disabled people discover the joy of local community sport, regardless of whether they have Paralympic ambitions. Secondly, we will be looking for those that display strong competitive potential.”
Pascoe, Leslie and Howarth will attend the first ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day this Friday, along with Rio 2016 bronze medallist Rebecca Dubber and Paralympic gold and double bronze medallist, Michael Johnson (Athens 2004; Beijing 2008; and London 2012).
Sophie Pascoe said: “The success that the team had in Rio really brought Para-Sport into the mainstream for the first time and we saw so much amazing support from New Zealanders. If through that we can inspire other disabled kiwis to come along to these Open Days, try Para-Sport and maybe go all the way to a future Paralympic Games, that would be huge for all the athletes that have paved the way.”
Liam Malone said: “I am living proof that it’s possible to smash an impossible goal. I had never run on blades before. I didn’t know if I would be fast. I’d always finished last at school cross country and when I was a kid, I was laughed at for being slow. But I made a promise to myself to try. Fast forward three years and I made the New Zealand Paralympic Team and now I’ve won medals. I am just a bloke from Nelson and if I can make it happen, anyone can. You start out by attending an event like an Open Day.”
Cameron Leslie said: “All my life I have been about proving people wrong. Yes, I have a disability, but that doesn’t stop me from doing anything I want. I really want to urge any disabled people out there who watched us in Rio – have a go. Not only is Para-Sport an awesome way to make friends and build strength and fitness, but if you can catch the eye of a talent spotter during something like the ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day, then you might find yourself on a path to a great sports career.”
Nikita Howarth said: “I clearly remember the day 14 years ago when I decided I wanted to win a Paralympic gold medal. Olympian Sarah Ulmer visited my school and I thought she was amazing. The rest is history really. I am excited to think that many other New Zealanders could get to experience the success and fun I have from competing in Para-Sport by making a start and coming along to one of the Open Days.”
Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) and its major partner ACC have developed and will be jointly staging the events, with PNZ supporting partner Invacare supplying equipment. Several other providers, including local ParaFeds and National Sports Organisations, will be on-site to showcase opportunities for disabled people. PNZ classifiers and high performance team members will also be there working with participants to explore their physical capabilities and interest in the various Para-Sports available. The events are designed to be fun and interactive, with friends and families also encouraged to attend.