Posted on Tuesday 25th February, 2020

Today Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) marked the seventh community event as part of The Celebration Project, where with exactly 6 months to go until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, the achievements of New Zealand’s 209 Paralympians since Tel Aviv 1968 will be officially recognised and celebrated.

In Auckland, 13 New Zealand Paralympians, their families and friends, Parafed Auckland and PNZ commercial partners came together at North Shore Toyota. Together they celebrated 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, their 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. 

The Paralympians joined a group of 76 Paralympians that have now received their official ‘numbered’ Paralympic pin and certificate following the Celebration Project events in Auckland, Whangarei, Hamilton, Tauranga, New Plymouth and Palmerston North during 2019. 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 13 wonderful Paralympians and their families, friends and supporters, representing New Zealand Paralympic Teams from Arnhem 1980 to London 2012 Paralympic Games come together in Auckland. From Paralympian number 34 Latoa Halatau who competed in Arnhem 1980 in Para athletics; and Paralympian number 182 Susan Reid who competed in London 2012 in Para cycling.”

She continued: “We also celebrated a significant milestone with only 6 months to go for fellow Paralympians and Para athletes that are currently preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. There is no doubt the 13 Paralympians here tonight will understand exactly how all Tokyo hopefuls are feeling and hopes to follow in their footsteps and become New Zealand’s next Paralympian.”

Tewai Skipwith-Halatau (Paralympian #38) remembers her Paralympic debut and first long haul adventure alongside husband Latoa Halatau (Paralympian #34) saying: “It was really exciting to be flying as part of the New Zealand Paralympic Team and proudly wearing our uniforms. We all became really good friends and supported each other throughout the Paralympic Games. It’s the people you meet, that is what’s special about sport.”

Skipwith-Halatau went on to win a bronze medal in the discus and also competed in the sprint, long jump, shot put and javelin at the Arnhem 1980 Paralympic Games. Today she is known for her leadership in disability development in the Pacific region and was a founding member of the Pacific Disability Forum — utilising the same confidence and networking skills with diverse cultures that she developed on her Paralympic adventure. 

Robert Courtney’s (Paralympian #48) family were presented with a PNZ Order of Merit pin during the evening after Courtney being awarded the accolade in 2009. The PNZ Order of Merit is awarded to an exclusive group of individuals for outstanding service to Paralympic sport.

PNZ has now staged 7 events (Auckland, Whangarei, Hamilton, Tauranga, New Plymouth and Palmerston North, North Shore Auckland) and will stage a further 5 community events around the country, within the communities that have so openly supported their Paralympic heroes for over 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.

Following the Celebration Project community event, the Paralympics New Zealand team will stay on in the North Shore, Auckland throughout Friday 28 and Saturday 29 February (10am to 4pm) opening and sharing the Para Sport Pop Up with the public at 38 Hurstmere Road, Takapuna.

The Para Sport Pop Up, an innovative initiative is travelling around New Zealand in the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, telling the story of New Zealand’s 50 plus year Paralympic history, increasing awareness of Para sport and positively influencing community perceptions of disabled people. The Para Sport Pop Up includes a variety of fun activities such as blind football VR experience, hand cycle challenge, Wheelchair basketball and ways to show your support of the New Zealand Paralympic Team!

Paralympians who attended the event:

Paralympian #34 Latoa Halatau MNZM

Latoa was born in Niue Island and moved to New Zealand at the age of eight. He was 15 when was injured playing rugby collided, after which his sight deteriorated. A few years later, Latoa went on to represent New Zealand at the Arnhem 1980 Paralympic Games in the Netherlands – alongside his wife Tewai. Latoa competed in long jump, 100 metre sprint, shot put and javelin. After his Paralympic experience, Latoa started working as a welfare officer for the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind, becoming a social worker for the organisation. Since then he has been a true leader in disability development in the Pacific Region, providing support to blind Pacific Islanders, as well as Maori and ethnic minorities living in the central suburbs. In August 2015, Latoa received the Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for service to the blind and Pacific community.

Paralympian #38 Tewai Skipwith-Halatau

Tewai’s journey started as a child attending South Auckland’s Homai College which provided specialist education for blind students. Enjoying sport thanks to a passionate PE teacher she started competing in Blind Sports. In her early 20s, she was selected to the New Zealand Paralympic Team to compete at Arnhem 1980 where she won a bronze medal in the discus. Coming back from the Netherlands, Tewai focused on her studies and started a social work diploma. It helped her pursue her passion for disability development in the Pacific region. In 2003, with Latoa they established Vision Pacific, a charitable trust that helps disabled people live an independent life.

A feature story on Tewai can be found here.

Paralympian #48 Robert Courtney MNZM

After a fall and time at the Auckland Spinal Unit, Rob’s discovered a new interest in wheelchair basketball. He soon found he had the ability to outsprint anyone on the court. Next, he looked towards the athletics track for national success. He quickly achieved great performances on the international stage ensuring well-deserved selection for the New York & Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympic Games. There, Rob broke the world record on the 100m heats and won the gold medal. He also won a bronze medal in the Men’s King of the Straight race. In 2009, Robert was awarded a Paralympics New Zealand Order of Merit for his outstanding services to Paralympic sport. Robert sadly passed away in 2016. His brothers Steve and Carrick received both his Order of Merit and Paralympic pins on Rob’s behalf.

Paralympian #77 Gavin Foulsham 

As a youngster Gavin was a passionate rugby player despite the challenge of playing on prosthetics. But it was wheelchair racing that soon became his sport of choice. Gavin competed at two Paralympic Games, Barcelona 1992 and Sydney 2000 and in many World Championships until 2006. Today, the General Manager at Napier’s Classic New Zealand Sheepskin Tannery has not left his passion for sport behind. Last year Gavin decided to return to international Para sport but this time in Para rowing. He states that it is always a huge honour to wear the silver fern, but the bigger challenge is constantly being able to do justice to that honour. Gavin is also very well supported by his family. The love of Para sport  runs in the family as his wife Rebecca has been involved as a classifier with Paralympics New Zealand for many years.

Paralympian #88 Reweti Cameron

Para swimmer Reweti Cameron competed at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games along with 6 other New Zealand Para swimmers who collectively won 12 medals. Today, Reweti still holds several NZ records in the 100m and 400m Freestyle S10, 200m breaststroke SB9 and 50m butterfly S10. He has held them since 1997! 

Paralympian #93 John Dowall 

Originally from Hamilton, John lost his foot in a lawnmower accident when he was five. John made his debut at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games in Para athletics. 4 years later, in his best form at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, he won gold in javelin and silver in shot put. He finished 8th in the discus. John still remembers the shouts and many flags of the kiwi supporters in the crowd in Sydney, a wonderful experience. Today John lives in Australia.

Paralympian #95 Steve Guthrie 

Steve was part of the New Zealand Wheelchair rugby team – the Wheel Backs at three consecutive Paralympic Games. His first appearance was at Atlanta 1996 when Wheelchair rugby was a demonstration sport. He then won a bronze medal in Sydney 2000. His final appearance was at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games where the team claimed gold against USA. Finishing his sporting career, Steve found a new passion – art. Along with his wife Miriam, who is a graphic designer but also traditional raranga flax weaver and photographer, the two artists exhibit their talents in Northland.

Paralympian #107 Grant Sharman MNZM

After a rugby accident at school, Grant became the first patient at the Otara Spinal unit that has since provided rehabilitation and support for many New Zealanders. Fast forward and Grant became the captain and teammate of the Wheel Blacks team that won bronze medals at the Paralympic Games in 1996 and 2000. He then coached the team to a gold medal at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. Retiring from Wheelchair rugby, he returned to competitive sport being introduced to Shooting Para sport by New Zealand Paralympic champion Michael Johnson. Dedicated, and a man of many talents, Grant served as chairperson of Parafed Auckland, as high performance director for Paralympics New Zealand, he received the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to people with an impairment and is also an internationally recognised mouth painter. 

Paralympian #117 Dean Booth 

Dean started swimming as a 14-year-old, taking it up seriously soon afterwards, inspired by a documentary on the Barcelona 1992 Paralympic Games with a goal to win a Paralympic gold medal. After winning two gold medals at the World Para Swimming Championships in 1998, Dean made his own Paralympic debut at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. Dean claimed two medals, gold in the 400m Freestyle S7 where he broke the world record by over 9 seconds, and a bronze in the 100m Freestyle S7. Dean retired from swimming after Sydney 2000 with his goal being achieved and now works as an IT service delivery manager.

Paralympian #127 Paul Van Den Munckhof MNZM

Paul was part of the team of 42 Paralympians who competed at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. He competed in Boccia and placed 4th in the team event. Paul retired from Boccia for 7 years but came back and qualified for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games with the help of his right-hand lady in the sport, Gabrielle Heaslip. Unfortunately, due to health issues Paul was unable to compete at Beijing 2008. Paul was acknowledged for services to athletes with disabilities in 2006 when he received a New Zealand Order of Merit.

Paralympian #172 Timothy Dempsey 

Tim started sailing in the youth classes at the Rotorua Yacht Club, before finding his love for sailing again as an adult through Sailability Auckland. Tim made his debut at the London 2012 Paralympic Games along with 2 other New Zealand Para sailors. He joined forces with teammate Jan Apel to race the two Person Keelboat event. Tim is still heavily involved with Sailability Auckland promoting the sport and providing opportunities for disabled sailors to follow their sporting dreams.

Paralympian #175 Paul Francis

Paul’s first major regatta victory was at the Tauranga Cup in 1974, he then represented New Zealand at the 1977 ISAF Youth Worlds racing a catamaran. He then went on to compete at 11 Sailing World Championships before representing New Zealand at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. He placed 13th in the one Person Keelboat event. Paul particularly enjoyed being surrounded by ‘so many inspirational athletes’ during his first experience at the Paralympic Games. Paul is also still very involved with inclusive sailing in New Zealand.

Paralympian #182 Susan Reid 

Susan also made her Paralympic debut at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in Para cycling. She narrowly missed a place on the podium when she achieved fourth place in the time trial. Just two days later, she crossed the finish line in eighth place, following an outstanding ride on the 50 km road circuit. After this first experience, Sue went on to win several World Championship medals, she was naturally suited to the demands of handcycling. Throughout this time, she managed to juggle her Para cycling commitments as well as her career as a veterinarian that she is still highly committed to in Bay of Plenty.