Pictured: Laura Thompson & Rhys Wyles (Photo: Getty Images)
Large groups of Waikato natives streamed through the Avantidrome in Cambridge today, to meet five members of the successful New Zealand Paralympic Team, following their triumph at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in September. Gold and bronze medallist, Cambridge local Nikita Howarth, was joined by silver and bronze medal winning Para-Cyclist Laura Thompson and debutants, Paralympians Jacob Phillips (Para-Athletics), Jesse Reynolds (Para-Swimming) and Jason Eales (Para-Shooting).
Today’s ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day was the second in a three-part series, with the first event taking place two weeks ago at the AUT Millennium in Auckland and the third taking place at Cowles Stadium in Christchurch on 18 February. Disabled people young and old were able to try a range of Para-Sport and disability sport opportunities available in the region and find out how to get involved. Several organisations exhibited, including ParaFed Waikato, Blind Sport New Zealand and more. Interactive sessions included Wheelchair Basketball, Wheelchair Rugby and Para-Badminton.
ACC is proud to be supporting people with disabilities into sport at all levels. Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) continues to use the series as a way to spot potential Paralympians, as the organisation eyes the start to its four year build up toward the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
We caught up with the Paralympians to hear their thoughts:
Nikita Howarth, Para-Swimmer (lives: Cambridge)
New Zealand’s youngest Paralympian four years ago at London 2012, at Rio 2016 the 17-year-old won a GOLD in the Women’s 200m Individual Medley SM7 and BRONZE in the Women’s 50m Butterfly S7.
“I remember how I felt in Rio, it felt pretty amazing. I mean, it was my first Paralympic gold medal, I was so stoked when I touched the wall first – it was such an emotional moment. Paralympians definitely want to inspire people to have moments like this. Now, I have everyone coming up to me here at the ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day saying how I inspired them and… it’s just really nice to hear. As a young 17-year-old you do not get to hear that very much. But now that I am a sporting champion… it’s quite different.”
Laura Thompson, Para-Cyclist tandem with Emma Foy (lives: Cambridge)
New Zealand’s leading tandem pairing won silver on the final day of racing at the Rio Velodrome in the Women’s B 3000m Individual Pursuit later, a bronze medal in the road cycling Women’s Road Race B.
“It’s great to see so many new potential Para-Athletes here at the ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day. They are coming out, having a go and getting some information about the different opportunities to get into sport. On the Para-Cycling stand we’ve definitely seen a few new people come through and several are interested in trying out at the Paralympics New Zealand Development Camp we have coming up. You never know, there could be a few potential future medallists in there!”
“Sport has been a huge part of my life and I feel quite privileged to have had the opportunities I have had through sport, especially the growth and development. I guess for me, it’s important to see that as many people as possible experience that in whatever way they want to.”
Jesse Reynolds, Para-Swimmer (lives: Hamilton)
Debuted at the Rio 2016 Paralympics Games – 7th in the Men’s 100m Backstroke S9 in a personal best (PB) time of 1:05.57, breaking his previous PB by over a second. PB the Men’s 100m Butterfly S9 Final.
“It’s been really awesome. We’ve meet a lot of kids that haven’t had much of a chance in sport before now. It’s been great to talk to them and show them there is a future for them if they want to get involved in sport. I got picked up when I saw someone else at the Paralympic Games and I thought, well that’s pretty cool! I went along to a ‘have a go day’ and I was picked up by a talent scout. If I can do that, then anyone can and it can really change their life.”
Jason Eales, Para-Shooting (lives: Hamilton)
The Paralympic debutant at Rio 2016 shot in the R5 – Mixed 10m Air Rifle Prone SH2, finishing in 17th.
“We have worked with so many people that have come to the ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day today, many of them are trying Para-Shooting for the first time. They are using the rifles and shooting against electronic targets which clock what they are aiming at so they can get real time feedback about what’s going on. We want to them to see what the sport of Para-Shooting is all about. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of concentration, but its relatively easy to get involved in.”
Jacob Phillips, Para-Athletics (lives: Hamilton)
The 19-year-old debutant finished 8th in the Men’s 100m T35 and 8th in the Men’s 200m T35 final.
“There has been a lot of emerging talent here today and a lot of interest coming through for sports like athletics, since the success we had in Rio. This bodes well for the future. We may see some real stand-out potential soon, emerging for Tokyo 2020 and beyond. I got into athletics by attending an Open Day and it was suggested I would suit athletics. I very much took that on board and the rest is kind of history! If I was to give new Para-Athletes advice, it would be to try everything until you find something you enjoy and run with it – the world is your oyster so grab every opportunity!”
Fiona Allan, Chief Executive of Paralympics New Zealand
“We are thrilled with the great turn-out across the first two ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Days and we are confident we have uncovered some new people that may have Paralympic potential.”
Adele Blackwood, Head of Injury Prevention in the Community, ACC
“It’s been great to see people from all across the Waikato region and Bay of Plenty here at the Avantidrome today. We have even had people from as far afield as Taupo and Taranaki. It’s been fantastic to see so many kids and families, and people of all ages, having a great time and taking part in the activities on offer. This is the second ACC Paralympics New Zealand Open Day, and we are looking forward to the third one in Canterbury on 18 February.”
If you would like to find out more about Para-Sport please go to www.paralympics.org.nz