The Paralympics New Zealand Board, Order or Merit Members and Staff wishes to pass on our sincere condolences to the family of Robert Courtney. Sadly, Robert passed away this morning.
Robert was New Zealand's 48th Paralympian and PNZ Order of Merit member.
Rob Courtney “Rocket man” was born in 1959. In 1977 at 18 years of age he fell off a flying fox in the Coromandel in an accident that left him with a T12 spinal cord injury. He was actually the first patient to be admitted to the newly opened Otara Spinal Unit after being transferred from Middlemore Hospital.
After being discharged, wheelchair sports beckoned Rob & he tried his hand at track racing to find he was “quite fast” & had the competitive spirit needed to succeed in this sport.
After competing regionally & at National track events and Australian National Rob gained the expertise of Jim Munns as his coach with the 100m and 200m becoming his specialty. He had the right attitude and over the next 3 years he trained like a demon and after perfecting the right sports equipment he was on the road to “Gold”.
He competed at the Australian National Games in 1982 returning with 1 gold, 6 silver and 1 bronze medal. He then qualified for the Fespic Games in Hong Kong in 1982 & again returned with 4 golds & 1 silver medal. He also broke world records in the 100m & 200m & earned the nickname of “Rocket man” by the Hong Kong press fondly dubbing him “the fastest man on wheels”. Unfortunately it was quite a struggle to get his name in the records book as officials said the wind assistance was too great on that particular day.
Back home in 1983 Rob competed locally at Mt Smart Stadium Nationals and was the first recipient of the bronze “Carbine Trophy” for the person out of all disabilities being closest to the world record. His time then was 16.91s in the 100m.
Medals continued to come thick and fast after that. In 1983 the NZ team went to the Worlds in Stoke Mandeville where he won gold in the 100m and a silver in the slalom.
1984 saw him become selected for the Paralympics in England. Again he won gold in the 100m in his class. At the end of the games all the top athletes of track came together for what was known as “King of the Track”. He won this race as well.
In 1985 Rob decided to head to more competitive waters & see how far he could go with his racing. He quit his job at Managua City Council & moved to Houston in the States. He got himself a new coach & attempted new distances & more sports.
He continued to compete at various regional & National events in the USA shaving points of a second off his 100m sprint times. In 1985 he achieved a time of 15.97s as part of the SWAA Team in Houston TX at a regional championships.
Wheelchair basketball became a cross training sport in his off season along with wheelchair tennis. Rob also became very active as a sports coordinator & got a job helping organise their National games.
It was at this time he was notified he was to become the first disabled person in NZ to be honoured with being a Sports & Cultural Ambassador to NZ.
In 1986 Road Racing became a pleasurable yet highly competitive pastime for Rob and he competed in all the famous marathons in the US including the Boston Marathon with a time of 1 hr 58.45sec. The New York Marathon was another big one along with the Gasparilla, Seattle wheels of fire, Peach Tree and the LA Marathons.
Track continued to dominate for Rob & he tried his hands at the longer distances being the 800m and 1500m. He was a part of the USA track team at the Pan American games in 1986 and also went to the USA Paralympic Games in Seoul winning various medals across all distances. Rob stayed in the USA for 17 years as it held the greatest opportunities in sport for him.
1985-86 were particularly big years for Rob in track. In the Green Country Annual Wheelchair Games he achieved a phenomenal 1st place in every race he entered being the 100m, 200m 400m 800m and 1500m. He distinguished himself as a world class competitor and an outstanding athlete.
He also competed at the Houston National Wheelchair games & the USA National games & collectively at these & other sporting fixtures he collected 9 gold 6 silver and 4 bronze medals. He competed in 4 road races with 4 wins.
In basketball he played for the Houston Cougars & travelled all over the USA competing in tournaments. He was also included in the International “Spitfire Challenge” Wheelchair basketball Tournament held in Toronto, Canada. At the conclusion he was selected to play in the “All Star Team”.
10 years later when he had moved to Fresno he played for the Fresno Red rollers basketball team winning a National championship in 1996. Basketball was a fun yet highly competitive team sport in the states.
Tennis also featured greatly in Rob’s life. Again he competed in all the major tournaments like Reno, Atlanta, Flushing Meadows and at one point he achieved a world ranking of 10 in the men’s open division.
In May of 85 he was also selected (by invitation) to participate in the wheelchair exhibition 1500m at the “Pepsi” Invitational meet. Carl Lewis was present along with many other American and International track stars and as a result he appeared on the T.V network and was invited to speak on a number of occasions following this.
Along with his many sporting accolades Rob became involved with the administration of sport both in the USA and back home.
In 1986-7 he was a board member and Treasurer of the Southwest Wheelchair Athletic Assoc. He was also administrative Director of the National Wheelchair Assoc and became elected to the Exec Organising Committee to set up and organise the USA Wheelchair National Games in Houston, Texas.
He was also a board member of the Auckland Paralympic and Physically Disabled Assoc in NZ from 2001-2006 spending 2 years as Treasurer and 3 years as President.
Rob believes in giving back to sport and is still an active contributor to disabled sport and recreation today. He is the first to help out at an event or volunteer his time at the Otara Spinal Units annual “Show Off” day which he participates in every year.
Photo credit - New Zealand Herald.