As 2023 is drawing to a close, it’s the perfect moment to reflect on the past few months, which has been a whirlwind of both busyness and incredibly gratifying experiences. Balancing the demanding worlds of wheelchair racing, university studies, and community involvement often challenging, yet exhilarating. Each day marked another step forward in my journey, one I’m wholeheartedly committed to.
The realisation of my life goals has been made possible through the unwavering support of remarkable individuals and organisations who have seen beyond my disability. They haven’t just cheered me on; they’ve been the driving force propelling me forward. Their support for my dreams has enabled me to aim high and give back to the disability community, who have been a constant source of strength throughout my athletic and personal journey.
In August I had the honour of addressing a distinguished audience at The Carbine Club of New Zealand Lunch. This event, hosted by a club that has been a vital source of support for disabled athletes, provided me with a platform to share my wheelchair racing journey and my deep passion for sports. It wasn’t merely an opportunity to tell my own story, but also a chance to shine a spotlight on the invaluable support provided by organisations like the Carbine Club and the Sir Dennis Blundell Charitable Trust to individuals with disabilities. These organisations are the unsung heroes, working tirelessly behind the scenes to turn dreams into reality.
In September, I headed to Christchurch, where I took the opportunity to visit the head offices of Medifab and Spex Seating, as one of their ambassadors. This experience offered me a behind-the-scenes look at the remarkable work being done to transform the lives of individuals with disabilities. It was fantastic to tour their facilities and learn more about their innovative seating solutions, as well as to speak with the staff, sharing my sporting achievements and life journey, and how these organisations have helped me.
The Starship Foundation, an integral part of my life, extended an invitation to their Barfoot and Thompson Auckland Marathon Breakfast. Speaking to the audience, sharing my journey, and hearing the inspiring stories of those raising funds for Starship was heartwarming and reaffirmed the incredible impact of community and collective efforts. The Starship Foundation has not only provided exceptional medical care but has always seen me as a person beyond my disability with dreams and goals to live a full, successful and independent life.
My advocacy efforts go beyond simply sharing my personal story; they are about being a catalyst for change. I’m dedicated to ensuring that individuals with disabilities are not just visible but are actively included and provided with opportunities to pursue their dreams. In September, I had the privilege of participating in the Sport New Zealand Disability Hui, representing the Halberg Foundation Youth Council. Together, we discussed the creation of inclusive and equitable opportunities for young disabled individuals in the realms of sports and physical activities, as well as the many barriers that we face in accessing sport. It was a pivotal conversation, and I was honoured to be a part of it.
In addition to my numerous speaking engagements this year, I took a different approach to giving back. With the support of the Halberg Foundation, I organized and hosted a Family Information and Athletics Day last month. The event was designed for young people with disabilities and their families and featured a range of activities, inspirational athletes, personal stories, and valuable information from various providers within the disability community. It wasn’t just an event; it was a real indication of my commitment to creating an inclusive environment where para-athletes and their families could connect, share experiences, and flourish together.
Although I haven’t had the chance to compete on the athletics tracks in the past few months, I’ve been gearing up for the upcoming season with intense training, a renewed focus on nutrition, and mental performance coaching. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend an emerging racers camp in Canberra, led by Australia’s top wheelchair coaches. This experience validated that my journey is on the right path. I’m feeling invigorated and fully prepared for the upcoming season, which promises more international campaigns as I pursue my dream of becoming a world-class wheelchair racer.
Lastly, just last week, I had the honour of attending the annual Auckland University of Technology Blues awards, which recognize top-performing students in sports, arts, culture, and design. It was very special to be acknowledged as one of these students and receive an AUT Blue Sports Award for Athletics – Wheelchair Racing. During the evening, there came a time when they also announced the major award winners, and I was absolutely amazed to hear my name for Male Athlete of the Year. To be awarded such a prestigious honour amongst incredible talent across 20 different sporting codes, was a moment I will cherish forever.
With just three months left in 2023, let’s maintain our forward momentum. Let’s champion inclusion, advocate for change, and celebrate each victory, whether grand or small. Together, we’ve got this! The future holds boundless opportunities to make a difference and leave a lasting impact. The journey continues, and I’m excited to embrace every challenge that lies ahead.