I had a pretty good idea what where I wanted to go once I finished University.
I had no idea though, of where that journey would take me.
I’d just spent a few years in Australia and seen the emergence of the Australian Institute of Sport. Sports were transitioning from amateur to professional, others were becoming more professional, right before my eyes I could see the whole sporting landscape was about to change.
So, with my long-held interest in Physiology and Strength and Conditioning, I returned to New Zealand and enrolled at Otago to study a Bachelor of Physical Education.
As an older student I got in and knuckled down, while my class mates were out enjoying the spoils of the Dunedin nightlife, I was getting a head start on the other soon to be graduates, by working every spare moment with any sports team that would have me. The Otago Cricket team, the Otago Nuggets, anyone. Then, before I’d finished my final year I was offered a role at the University of Canterbury Sport Science Centre with a focus on Para sport High Performance programmes
I got to work alongside the Wheel Blacks in the lead up to Athens. Looking back, they were probably a team ahead of their time, six of the eight lived in Christchurch and they also had a full-time coach in Grant Sharman. They knew everything there was to know about each other. They trained together all the time and it showed out on the court, man they were good to watch. Ranked 6th in the world at the start of the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games they surprised a lot of people when they won Gold, but not us, not those who’d watch their build up. Their ability to play as a team was world class.
I joined Paralympics New Zealand soon after that, and suddenly, I’m staring down the barrel of my 4th Games, Tokyo 2020. The thought of that has me excited, nervous and hopeful for the future.
You see, for a kid from Halswell, this is possibly one of the most challenging, yet rewarding roles in the country.
On one hand, I’m an able-bodied guy trying to paint a positive picture for someone who has completely different level of function than me. Trying to sell them on the dream of what they might achieve. Maybe now, as a disabled person, they have a chance to represent New Zealand, something that before their accident or whatever led them to me, they could never have dreamed of.
Whilst on the other hand negotiating the demands of high-performance goals and targets and what those deliverables entail.
Whilst being stoked to see our athletes get to the start line, I’m the guy pushing them and their coaches to go even faster, to throw further or to lift heavier or higher.
I’m also the guy on the end of the phone who has to say, I’m sorry you didn’t make it.
I’m not one to predict the future, as I said I would have never dreamed that I would have spent a third of my life at the pointy end of Para sport, but if the past is anything to go by the rate of change will continue at a rapid pace.
Early last year America announced performance payment equity between their Olympic and Paralympic athletes, in some cases a 400% increase. We were then able to ensure that parity was achieved here in New Zealand in October, so change is happening right across the sport and across the world.
What I can see coming though is some real validation through integration within some of the major sports in New Zealand. For the first time we’re holding camps for able-bodied cyclists to join our campaign as pilots for visually impaired athletes.
In the past we’re been extremely grateful to the many athletes who put their hands up to join. But now we are targeting young cyclists already in the high-performance system or offering opportunities for others coming to the ends of their careers to continue to be involved. Just imagine having the likes of Eddie Dawkins on the front of one of our tandems in the future! Now that could be the base of some extremely important combinations.
Despite being ok at sport, I knew I’d never be an Olympian, but I’m super proud to say I’m part of helping many athletes both able-bodied and Para athletes represent their country and the joy that brings to so many.