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News posted on Thursday 23rd May, 2024

New Zealand names first ever Para badminton player to the NZ Paralympic Team

male wearing light blue tshirt and red shorts swings badminton racket

Photo: Paris 2024 selected Paralympian Wojtek Czyz. Credit: Badminton Oceania

Four-time Paralympic champion Wojtek Czyz will create New Zealand sporting history as the first Para badminton player to represent New Zealand when he competes at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) today named 43-year-old Czyz to compete at his fourth Paralympic Games, but the first for his adopted country of New Zealand.  

A lower-leg amputee following a football accident when he was 21, Czyz represented Germany at three Paralympic Games (in 2004, 2008 and 2012), where he won seven medals in Para athletics as a sprinter and long jumper. He only took up Para badminton three years ago, after settling in New Zealand with his wife and son.

Czyz says he is proud to represent New Zealand on the world stage and compete at the Paralympic Games for a fourth time, but in a completely new sport.

“I simply want to show everyone in New Zealand and beyond what is possible. You need to want it, and the moment you really dedicate yourself to something and really fight for it, success will come to you,” he says.  

“That’s the main reason why I’m doing it. I’m really looking forward to inspiring the next generation and helping New Zealand to grow new athletes in Para sport.”

Greg Warnecke, Paralympics New Zealand CEO, said: “We’re thrilled Wojtek will be our first Para Badminton player in the history of the New Zealand Paralympic Team.

“To have an athlete of Wojtek’s incredible sporting calibre representing New Zealand is tremendous for the Paralympic Movement in our country. Wojtek has been so involved in helping shape the lives of amputees around the world, he will no doubt inspire many more in Paris, and we can’t wait to see him bring his wealth of Paralympic Games experience to the world stage again.”

Czyz’s background in sport is immense. Growing up in Germany, he realised his dream to become a professional football player at 21, but in his last club game before taking up his professional contract, he broke his knee in a collision with a goalkeeper. The injury led to the amputation of his left lower leg.

Six months later, with a prosthetic and his same passion to succeed, Czyz became the German champion in the 100m T42 and long jump F42/44. Two years later, he won three gold medals in long jump and sprints at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. In Beijing four years later, he won another gold, followed by a silver and two bronze medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

“I then retired from Para athletics, to sail around the world with my family and help amputees to receive prosthetics. Living on a boat for five years, we supported 90 people with prosthetic legs,” says Czyz, who now lives in the Hamilton settlement of Eureka.

“Arriving in New Zealand, we fell in love with the country, and I was very interested to see how Para sport was set up in New Zealand. Badminton had always been a hobby of mine since I was a boy, but I’d never played it professionally. When I discovered it had been included in the competition schedule for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, I reached out to Badminton New Zealand and asked them to assess my skills.”

After beating other Para badminton players in New Zealand, Czyz decided to pour everything into competing internationally, with the goal of qualifying for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games. He played his first Para badminton international for New Zealand in Dubai in 2022.

“Everyone who knows me, knows I don’t do anything at 20 or 50 per cent. If I do something, I commit to it 100 per cent. So, I started to train twice a day, and this passion and commitment over such a short time brought me to the level where I was able to qualify for Paris,” he says.

“It wasn’t easy. The qualification criteria is demanding, and I was competing against people who had been playing badminton day in and day out for 15, 20 to 25 years.  But I was lucky to share my vision and my passion with others and create a team around me, and with a big team effort we all made it happen.”

Czyz is now ranked 14th in the world in the men’s singles SL3 classification; his best performance was a quarterfinal finish at the 2023 Japan Para Badminton International.

A certified diving instructor, Czyz has also set five world records in free diving as an amputee, diving to 50 metres with a single breath.

Stephen Nelson, Badminton New Zealand Chief Executive, said: “Badminton New Zealand is proud and absolutely delighted to have our first ever Para athlete competing in Paris. This is a huge achievement by Wojtek, and we are sure he will lead the way to inspire other Kiwis to give badminton a go.”

Czyz joins 11 Para athletes already named in the NZ Paralympic Team, in the sports of Para athletics, Para equestrian, Para swimming and Para table tennis.

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