Rio 2016 Paralympic Games gold medallists Sophie Pascoe, Cameron Leslie and Nikita Howarth today welcomed crowds to AUT Millennium as the first ever ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day was launched. Following New Zealand’s most successful Paralympic Games ever in Rio it was clear the public were interested in not only trying out various Para-Sports, finding out about opportunities in the community but also getting up close and meeting their Paralympic heroes.
The event is part of a new series of local events set to help disabled people get involved in sport. 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 public had the opportunity to discover Para-Sport in the indoor sports arena including Para-Athletics, Para-Cycling, Para-Swimming, Wheelchair Rugby, Wheelchair Basketball, Para-Shooting, Para-Sailing, Boccia, Winter Para-Sports, a variety of sports for visually impaired athletes including blind football and speak with a variety of disability sport organisations such as Halberg Disability Sport Foundation and Special Olympics NZ.
A highlight of the day for many was the fascinating Q&A session with six New Zealand Paralympians. They shared some insights into what made the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games so special, how it felt to compete in front of the raucous Brazilian crowds, behind the scenes Paralympic Village stories and what lies ahead for these champions.
Fiona Allan, Chief Executive at Paralympics New Zealand said: “It is fantastic to see such a great turn out today following an exceptional Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. It is exciting to be able to help disabled people discover the joy of local community sport, regardless of whether they have Paralympic ambitions. Importantly, we have certainly seen a number of individuals today that display strong competitive potential which is exciting for the future.”
Adele Blackwood, ACC Injury Prevention Portfolio Manager – Community said, “It was fantastic to see so many people from the community here today. They were able to have a go at a wide range of sport available for people with disabilities in the Auckland region. One young boy I met said that for him it was a dream come true, and he didn’t want it ever to end. Hearing things like that is so powerful for the ACC staff here today, who all know that participating in sport has benefits for everyone.”
Pascoe, Leslie and Howarth attended the first ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day today, along with Rio 2016 bronze medallist Rebecca Dubber and Paralympic gold and double bronze medallist, Michael Johnson (Athens 2004; Beijing 2008; and London 2012) and Rio 2016 Paralympian Chris Sharp.
Sophie Pascoe said: “It is so exciting to see that the success that the team had in Rio has inspired other disabled kiwis to come along to the Open Day, try Para-Sport and maybe go all the way to a future Paralympic Games. It is a great feeling for all of us as Paralympians to know that we have paved the way.”
Cameron Leslie said: “There was such a range of people here today and it was great to have the opportunity to speak to them about my journey and what might be possible if they find themselves on a pathway to a great sports career. We have two more ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Days coming up in Cambridge and Christchurch, and it would be great to see Waikato locals and Cantabrian’s join us.”
Nikita Howarth said: “Today was a wonderful opportunity for disabled people to come to an event and experience a huge number of Para-Sport opportunities under one roof. For so many of those that attended today they were excited about the variety of opportunities that could lay ahead for them. I was lucky enough to join in and was pretty happy with my Para-Shooting skills, scoring close to a perfect 10.”
Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) and its major partner ACC have developed and are jointly staging the events, with PNZ supporting partner Invacare supplying equipment. Several other providers, including local ParaFeds and National Sports Organisations, were on-site to showcase opportunities for disabled people. PNZ classifiers and high performance team members worked 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. 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.
The launch of the new series comes just over 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. 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.
Click here for more information on the ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day's.