Posted on Friday 21st August, 2020

Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) today marks ‘1 year to go’ to the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games with a celebration of all those Kiwis that support Paralympians and Para athletes up and down the country.

Fiona Allan ONZM (Chief Executive, PNZ) said: “We are proud to celebrate and thank the many Kiwis that have throughout our 52-year history of the Paralympic Movement in New Zealand shown their support and passion. This may be through working with individual Para athletes to support them to be the best they can be; family members acting as the taxi driver to endless training sessions; or as an arm chair supporter watching the New Zealand Paralympic Team in action taking on the best in the world.”

She continued: “At a time when Kiwis are being asked to come together, be kind and think of others we wanted to provide an opportunity for everyone to continue to show their support or perhaps connect with the New Zealand Paralympic Team for the first time. Today we launch the ‘Kiwi Crew’, the first ever supporters club of the New Zealand Paralympic Team and encourage all New Zealanders to sign up.”

Paula Tesoriero MNZM (Chef de Mission, New Zealand Paralympic Team – Tokyo 2020) said: “As a Paralympian and having competed at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games I truly understand how important and impactful knowing you have the support of your nation behind you can be.”

Tesoriero (NZ Paralympian #168) achieved at the highest level in Para cycling winning a gold and two bronze medals at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, as well as winning two World Championships titles in 2009. She was the first New Zealand Paralympian to win a gold medal at a Paralympic Games in Para cycling.

She continued: “With the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games to 2021 our Paralympians, Para athletes and support staff are re-setting and focussing on one goal at a time. Domestic events have provided an opportunity for competition and training camps have brought Para athletes together to continue their build up.” 

Throughout the country individuals and organisations that support Paralympians and Para athletes have joined in the celebrations by telling their stories across social media.

Group of 3 people standing and smiling at the camera
Paralympian Nikita Howarth and her supporters Rod Corban and Caleb Dobbs

Three such stories are that of NZ Paralympian #179 Nikita Howarth and her supporters Rod Corban (Performance Psychologist) and Caleb Dobbs (Strength and Conditioning Coach); Para athlete Gareth Lynch and his supporters Shae Lightwood-Morris (Partner), Greg Mitchell (Wheel Blacks Coach) and most recently Scott Vaughan (Employer) at Riley Consultants; and Para athlete Ben Tuimaseve and family network – his village including Jayde Tuimaseve (Sister), Marama Takai (Cousin), Christian Tukutama (Cousin).

NZ Paralympian #179 Nikita Howarth (Para swimmer)

Nikita Howarth (Cambridge) – NZ Paralympian #179 – is a Para swimmer aiming to compete at the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games taking place from 24 August to 5 September 2021. Howarth’s disability is a bilateral upper limb deficiency, meaning she does not have a right hand and her left arm ends below her elbow. She competes in the sport class S7 within Para swimming.

Howarth is a two-time Paralympian having competed at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. She was only 13 years of age when she made her Paralympic debut – New Zealand’s youngest Paralympian. As a member of the New Zealand Paralympic Team in Rio 2016, she won gold in the Women’s 200m Individual Medley SM7, and bronze in the Women’s 50m Butterfly S7, helping the team to the position of 1st in the world for medals won per capita.

In early 2018 Howarth traded one black line for another in the next step of a remarkable sporting career. She decided to pursue an interest in Para cycling that had first been stoked during a school visit by world, Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion cyclist Sarah Ulmer when Howarth was just eight years old. She went on to produce personal bests and a world record during her time competing in Para cycling breaking the Flying 200m world record in December 2018 with a time of 12.95 seconds. But the pull of the pool was too strong and during 2019 she returned to the pool with her eyes set firmly on Tokyo 2020.

With a Paralympic career that has already spanned 6 years we asked Howarth what support it takes to be the best in the world – excelling across two Para sports.

Howarth said she has had so much support to date from so many people that have been key to her achievements so far including her family, friends, partner, coaches and other amazing Paralympians. However, two individuals who stand out for Howarth who have been working with her for over 6 years are Rod Corban (Performance Psychologist) and Caleb Dobbs (Strength and Conditioning Coach). “Rod is incredible and he will help me with anything. Whether it is a small problem or something to do with competing he is always there for me. Caleb is always pushing me to be better and has an absolute belief in me and my abilities.”

Rod Corban (Performance Psychologist) said: “I’ve worked with Nikita since she was 12. She is an example of one of those individuals born with a disability, she has had to grow up with that. To cope with that as a youngster and then still achieve on the world stage is an inspiration.”

Caleb Dobbs (Strength and Conditioning Coach) said: “I’ve been working with Nikita since she was 13 although training her is not in my current job description. I have chosen to continue training Nikita on top of my other commitments. This speaks to the quality of her as an individual and how I feel about her.”

Howarth added: “Rod and Caleb are going to be very important to me on my journeys towards the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. With their support I’m going to be able to perform at my very best.”

NZ Para athlete Gareth Lynch (Wheelchair rugby)

Gareth Lynch (Auckland) is a Para athlete who competes in the sport of Wheelchair rugby as part of New Zealand’s Wheel Blacks. Four years ago, Lynch had an accident diving into a swimming pool that resulted in a C5 – C6 level spinal cord injury from which he has loss of power in his limbs. He competed in the 1.0 sport class within Wheelchair rugby.

Lynch is grateful for the opportunities that have come his way and he has pursued them with determination since his accident. He has always played sport and has loved competing in a team environment again which is something he says he didn’t think he would be able to do after his injury. “The physicality of the sport is great to really get your emotions out on the court.”

He attributes his love of Wheelchair rugby and opportunity to be part of the Wheel Blacks to many supporters that have been there for him in the last 4 years as he undertook his rehabilitation and new Para sport journey. In particular, Shae Lightwood-Morris (Partner), Greg Mitchell (Wheel Blacks Coach) and most recently Scott Vaughan (Employer) at Riley Consultants.

Lynch said: “I am so lucky to have the unwavering support of my partner Shae on the journey to Tokyo. I could not be more grateful to have her in my corner! She comes along to my games and on the weekends we often train together as she is preparing for an Ironman. If Shae is going for a run, then I will go for a push and meet up again in a couple of hours.”

Shae Lightwood-Morris (Partner) said: “It’s been really awesome to see Gaz’s journey. I support Gaz to be the best he can be. Over the years he has grown so much – physically and mentally. It has also been great to be part of the Wheel Blacks team, the family atmosphere. If the dream of going to the Paralympics became a reality for the Wheel Blacks I would be so proud. I would try my best to get over there and support them. It would be very special.”

Group of wheelchair rugby players in circle listening to the coach kneeled down in the middle
The Wheel Blacks listening to coach Greg Mitchell

Lynch said: “My coach Greg was so encouraging right from the beginning when I first tried Wheelchair rugby in Christchurch. In the early days I was so slow, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to contribute to the game. He would keep encouraging me to come along. I feel so fortunate to be coached by Greg for the New Zealand Wheel Blacks.”

Greg Mitchell (Wheel Blacks Coach) said: “Gaz has changed a lot as a player since he started. He reaches for the stars; second best is never good enough. He focusses on being the best and he works really hard to get to that point.”

Lynch said: “My employer supports me by allowing me to work flexibly in my role as an Engineer around my sporting commitments and attend my training sessions when I need to. I couldn’t be more grateful for this support.”

Scott Vaughan (Employer) is the Managing Director at Riley Consultants and is delighted to have Gareth as part of the team and support his quest to compete at the Paralympics in 2021. He said: “It’s been a really positive influence having Gareth on board. For people to see what he is striving to achieve and given that the rest of our staff are able-bodied, I think it is inspirational.”

NZ Para athlete Ben Tuimaseve (Para athletics)

Ben Tuimaseve (Auckland) is a Para athlete that competes in Para athletics, with a focus on shot put. Tuimaseve has hemiplegic cerebral palsy and it affects function in the left side of his body. He first attempted Para athletics in early 2018 to try something new and then came back to stay in 2019. He competes in the F37 sport class within Para athletics.

Tuimaseve is a man of many talents and prior to taking up Para athletics, he loved dancing and became known for living on the many dancefloors in the New Zealand music scene whilst also singing and rapping under the name ‘BeNZa’, which he still enjoys as a hobby today.  He has also represented New Zealand in Physical Disability Rugby League and took part in the 2018 Rugby League Emerging Nations World Championships in Sydney.

The last 6 months have been a big learning journey for Tuimaseve due to an operation in late 2019, he had to stop training and come to terms with the fact that Tokyo 2020 was no longer an option for him. However, with the postponement of the Paralympic Games to 2021 he has an additional 12 months to prepare and has a chance to push for selection. He has now reset and is back to training along with his coach John Eden (NZ Paralympian #31).

Tuimaseve is grateful for the incredible family network that he has – his village aka the choir. Although the entire family are 100% behind his Paralympic dream, he highlights Jayde Tuimaseve (Sister), Marama Takai (Cousin), Christian Tukutama (Cousin).

Tuimaseve draws on his love of music to describe his support network: “They are the background vocalists of the band, my support to staying in key when trying to crack Tokyo.”

Group of 30 people pausing together in a family style photo in a garden
Ben with his family of supporters

Jayde Tuimaseve (sister) said: “It was something quite new for us when he told us that he was going to give shot put a go. We are really excited for him and we will just be there for him every step of the way, physically and mentally.

Marama Takai (cousin) said: “He is wanting to pursue his dream to get to Tokyo. We would always want to support any family member who is striving for greatness.”

Christian Tukutama (cousin) said: “This is just something that he has taken with both hands and he has just run with it. He is really committed, and we have seen a change in his eating, getting to training a lot more often. We are all just really proud of him and more than anything, just really enjoying his journey.”

When Tuimaseve was asked why he is taking on this challenge and pursuing his Paralympic dream he said: “I just have to do it, I have to jump and as a Pacific Islander represent my people because no one I know has had a chance to do something like this. What’s the worst that is going to happen? I’d be healthier and just fall into a solid foundation of love. I have to be able to say I gave this an honest crack.”

New Zealanders can now show their support of the New Zealand Paralympic Team by joining the ‘Kiwi Crew’ supporters club.  Kiwi Crew members will receive exclusive content, offers and much more. Sign up here.