This evening Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) marked the second community event as part of The Celebration Project, where over the next 12 months in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020, the achievements of New Zealand’s 209 Paralympians since Tel Aviv 1968 will be officially recognised and celebrated.
In Whangarei, 6 New Zealand Paralympians, their families and friends, PNZ commercial partners and business leaders came together to celebrate over 50 years of Paralympic history in New Zealand acknowledging the incredible 209 Paralympians that have represented New Zealand. Since 1968 New Zealand Paralympic Teams have stunned supporters and competing nations with their determination, heart and courage and ultimately, success. Paralympians have contributed to New Zealand Paralympic Teams success by representing Kiwis with pride and dignity and bringing home a staggering 221 medals. Through this success they have inspired Kiwis to think differently about disability.
All 6 Paralympians were acknowledged and celebrated and joined an elite group of Paralympians that have now received their official ‘numbered’ Paralympic pin and certificate. This group now totals 25 following the first Celebration Project event in Auckland on 2 May. The official Paralympic ‘number’ is a unique number that is bestowed only once a Paralympian has competed at their first Paralympic Games. Athletes are then ordered alphabetically within each Paralympic Games.
Fiona Allan (Chief Executive, PNZ) said: “We were privileged to have 6 wonderful Paralympians and their families, friends and supporters, from New Zealand Paralympic Teams since Arnhem 1980 come together in Whangarei tonight. There was Paralympian number 33 Brian Froggatt who competed as part of New Zealand’s 4th Paralympic Team in 1980, through to Paralympian number 164 Cameron Leslie who still has his sights set on the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”
Brian Froggatt (Paralympian #33) said: “Representing New Zealand at the Paralympics was the ultimate experience. It really meant a lot to me and a lot to Dargaville, too. The support, interest and passion that the locals showed for the Paralympics was incredible. When I was selected for the New Zealand Paralympic Team, people were donating money all the time to help me get there. It was getting very embarrassing but it was hugely appreciated. I would walk down the street and people would just hand me money!”
PNZ has now staged 2 events (Auckland and Whangarei) and will stage a further 10 community events around the country, within the communities that have so openly supported their Paralympic heroes over the past 50 years. The project has been made possible thanks to funding and support from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, New Zealand Chambers of Commerce and Toyota New Zealand.
Paralympians who attended the event included:
Paralympian #33 Brian Froggatt
Brian has represented New Zealand in both Para athletics and Para powerlifting at the Arnhem 1980 and Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games. This was the ultimate for Brian to become a Paralympian for your country. Outside of the Paralympic Games his achievements are extensive including setting a world record for the fastest time by an amputee at the New York City Marathon in 1985, then beating his own record the following year. At 61, Brian is still winning titles and challenging his body to go beyond its limits. Now competing at Masters level in power lifting, he also holds many able-bodied New Zealand records. Brian will be well known to you all as the face of Brian’s Gym & Fitness Centre that he owns and runs with his wife Karen.
Paralympian #103 Gary McMurray
Gary was a member of the highly successful Wheel Blacks wheelchair rugby team winning bronze and gold over two Paralympic Games. Gary has competed at 3 Paralympic Games – Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004. When asked about the Paralympic Games Gary says “It’s the ultimate in the New Zealand Spirit…to see people creating solutions to their lives…we can focus on what can happen to a person but what is more important is how they can adapt to it…” Gary started out in the sport of Wheelchair rugby in 1991 with a bunch of mates learning a new game. It led to Gary setting up the New Zealand wheelchair rugby structure for the domestic competition which is still used today. In his professional life Gary was part of the Laura Ferguson Trust executive team for five years taking the organisation from a team of 70 to 270 employees. Gary is now hand cycling and kept busy with 5 acres of fencing, gorse and sheep that requires his constant attention.
Paralympian #133 Garth Reynolds
Garth is a man of many talents and passions, including horses and the water. His love of horses led him to being the whip for the Northland Hunt Inc. But it was Garths love for the water and anything to do with it that took him to the top. Thanks to the New Zealand Blind Foundation sailing programme he got the opportunity to sail and loved it! Garth competed at 3 Blind Sailing World Championships winning gold medals on his second and third attempts in 1999 and 2002. It was the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games that were a career highlight competing at the highest level in Para sailing. Garth describes the Paralympic Games as an unforgettable experience that made all the hours of training worthwhile.
Paralympian #154 Fiona Southorn, MNZM
Fiona has lived in Northland since 2000 will be well known to many as a dedicated real estate agent. Fiona competed in dressage and jumping from the age of 18 to 29, then made the switch to mountain biking, followed by Para cycling at the age of 31. It was on the track and at her third Paralympic Games that Fiona realised her dream of winning Paralympic medal - Bronze in the 3000 metre Pursuit. She has competed at the Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Paralympic Games. Cycling masters is now a big part of Fiona’s life and she is recently home from a competition in Los Angeles for the Track Worlds, and one in Spain for the Duathlon Worlds. Fiona gives a lot back to her community regularly speaking at schools. She is also a regular active fundraiser with the BDO Corporate Annual Fundraiser, a mere cycle from Auckland to Wellington.
Paralympian #164 Cameron Leslie, MNZM
Born and raised in Whangarei, Leslie took up swimming aged 11 but after he was soundly beaten on his debut international appearance in 2006 he “nearly gave the sport away” only to be persuaded to carry on by his parents. And as they say, the rest is history as Cameron is now a 3-time Paralympic gold medallists and world record holder. He won the 150m Individual Medley SM4 event at the Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in world record time. Cameron is also an avid Wheelchair rugby fan and member of the Wheel Blacks wheelchair rugby team. He currently balances training for both sports, working full time for Swimming New Zealand and running a small lifestyle block all with his sights set firmly on Tokyo 2020.
Paralympian #206 Chris Sharp
Chris Sharp started sailing up though various classes as a young boy. He raced Sport Boats, and Flying 15's, until he had a motorbike accident 9 years ago and became a paraplegic. 3 years after his accident he meet up with Richard Dodson a former Team NZ strategist and Paralympian Andrew May. He was ready to get back into the world and sailing competitively again. Chris made his Paralympic debut in Rio 2016 competing in the 3-person keelboat event (Sonar) placing 4th and missing the bronze medal by the narrowest of margins against an incredibly competitive field. Chris now spends time coaching disabled sailing, taking sailors to international regattas. He can be seen regularly on the water in his favourite Weta class boat, in which he competed in the 2017 World Masters Games, and he loves nothing more than beating the able-bodied athletes, regularly!