Six Paralympians recognised with their official number in Waipā ceremony
Photo: (left to right) Paralympians Anna Taylor, Nicole Murray, Danielle Aitchison, Sarah Ellington, Eltje Malzbender and Robert Hewitt wearing their official numbered pin at the Waipā ceremony. Credit Philipp Döhrn.
Waipā District Council was proud to host an impressive array of New Zealand’s finest Para sporting talent last night, in a moving ceremony held in the Sir Don Rowlands Centre in Karapiro.
The six Paralympians debuted in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in August last year. This was their moment to receive the official numbered pin that is presented to every individual who represents New Zealand at the Paralympic Games. They are:
- Danielle Aitchison – Paralympian #211 (Para athletics)
- Sarah Ellington – Paralympian #213 (Para cycling)
- Robert Hewitt – Paralympian #216 (Wheelchair rugby)
- Eltje Malzbender – Paralympian #220 (Para cycling)
- Nicole Murray – Paralympian #222 (Para cycling)
- Anna Taylor – Paralympian #225 (Para cycling)
The official Paralympian ‘number’ is a number that is given to a Paralympian once they have competed at their first Paralympic Games. Paralympics New Zealand assigns numbers to Para athletes in alphabetical order within each Paralympic Games.
One of the Paralympians to receive their pin was Para cyclist Nicole Murray. Nicole’s family applauded loudly when she arrived on stage.
Waipā District Council mayor Jim Mylchreest helped present the pins to the Paralympians on stage. He shared how moved he was to see the talent and tenacity of the Paralympians, most of whom live in the area.
“Witnessing your talent, and your tenacity, as you represented New Zealand with the greatest dignity in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games – I am humbled and proud to be able to celebrate you receiving your official numbered pin tonight.”
Paralympics New Zealand CE Fiona Allan added:
“Since 1968, 226 New Zealand Paralympians have stunned supporters and competing nations, with determination, heart and courage. They have competed across 26 Paralympic Games winning a staggering 236 medals. Through their performances and personal stories, New Zealand Paralympians have inspired all New Zealanders to think differently about disability. By doing so they have contributed to creating a more inclusive New Zealand.”
Find out more about Paralympian numbers and why they matter:
Paralympian #211 Danielle Aitchison
Coming from a physical family where sport plays an important role, Danielle participated in ballet, netball and hockey as a young athlete, along with competing at Te Aroha Athletics Club. After leaving team sport in 2016 due to the challenges from her lack of hearing, Danielle’s Mum encouraged her to attend several disability camps in Auckland to re-engage her interest in sport. Danielle’s love for sprinting, which had began on the track at Te Aroha, was cemented after she competed at the 2017 Halberg Games.
Danielle focused her energy on the 100m and 200m. On her international debut, it took a world record breaking performance to beat the 18 year old to the gold medal. With a silver under her belt, Danielle then lined up in the Women’s 100m T36, securing 4th in the final.
At the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Danielle produced some phenomenal performances to claim a silver medal in the Women’s 200m T36 and bronze in the Women’s 100m T36. Her qualifying time of 14.35 in the Women’s 100m T36 Heats also earned her an Oceania Record.
Paralympian #213 Sarah Ellington
In 2015, Sarah Ellington fell from an apple tree, fracturing her T11 and T12 vertebrae, and had just a 2% chance of walking again. She was paralysed from the waist down and spent a long time in rehab regaining movement of her legs. Sarah can now walk again, however has an incomplete paraplegia resulting in a loss of muscle power in both legs, and restricted ankle movement.
Before her injury, she raced triathlons and half ironman events, but with running now off the cards, Para cycling is allowing her to compete on the world stage. Since her international debut at the 2017 UCI Para Cycling Road World Championships, Sarah has competed at multiple World Championships and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
In Tokyo, Sarah set a Personal Best time of 4:12.506 in the Women’s C1-3 3000m Individual Pursuit. Sarah then demonstrated her skills on the road, placing 10th and 12th respectively in the Women’s C1-3 Time Trial and Women’s C1-3 Road Race.
Sarah was elected to the inaugural Paralympics New Zealand Athletes’ Council in November 2021, and was then elected as Chair of the Council when it first met.
Paralympian #216 Robert Hewitt
Robbie had played rugby all his life and in 2009, at the age of 26, a poor play by an opponent went badly and changed Robbie’s life from that point onwards.
Robbie has been involved with the Wheel Blacks since 2010 and made his international debut in 2012 in South Africa. He loves Wheelchair rugby because it’s a team sport with like-minded individuals all striving to achieve the same goal. He also enjoys the opportunities that Wheelchair rugby provides to travel around the world.
Robbie competed the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as a team member of the first Wheel Blacks side to compete at the Paralympics since 2008. The team placed 8th overall and gained valuable experience to build on for their journey to Paris 2024.
Paralympian #220 Eltje Malzbender
Eltje lives with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) after a crash during a training ride. Her recovery from a coma was classified as the lowest survivable outcome.
Eltje’s TBI means she has challenges with many aspects of mobility and life. She is renowned for her determination and work-ethic, which hasn’t changed. Eltje works constantly to improve her abilities for hours every day and views the world and its challenges more profoundly than most.
Despite doctors’ scepticism, coach Michael Bland introduced Eltje to riding a tricycle in the Velodrome in Cambridge. In 2019, she won two rainbow jerseys and two gold medals at the UCI Para Cycling Road World Championships.
Making her Paralympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Eltje superbly navigated a very technical course to finish the Women’s T1-2 Time Trial in 5th place, with a time of 38:52.55.
Paralympian #222 Nicole Murray
Waikato-based Para cyclist Nicole Murray made her international debut in Rio de Janeiro at the 2018 UCI Para Cycling Track World Championships. Nicole exceeded all expectations including her own, winning a silver medal and smashing many personal best times.
Riding with a C5 classification, her left hand amputated below the wrist, she rides with some modifications and adaptations on her bikes.
Nicole earned a place on the New Zealand Paralympic Team for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. She competed in track and road race events, including only narrowly missing a bronze medal in the Women’s C5 3000m Individual Pursuit. She also set a Personal Best time of 37.657 in the Women’s C4-5 500m Time Trial.
In 2022, Nicole was selected to the New Zealand teams for both Road and Track World Championships. After winning gold – her first road racing medal ever – at the Elzach 2022 Para Cycling World Cup in May 2022, Nicole went into the 2022 Para Cycling Road World Championships with increased confidence. It paid off, as she took home a silver and a bronze medal from the event.
Nicole enjoys caving and surfing in her spare time.
Paralympian #225 Anna Taylor
Anna had a history as a highly accomplished rower prior to her injury. This included winning medals at USA National Club Championships and selected to the exclusive All American Rowing Team. Her rowing prowess saw her receive a full student athlete scholarship to Oregon State University.
in September 2016 Anna had Acute Cauda Equina Syndrome – severe disc prolapse that compressed the spinal cord. She underwent emergency decompression disc surgery and has subsequent weakness in the left leg, and minor weakness in the right.
Anna had a significant rehabilitation journey ahead of her following her surgery. She began her Para sport journey by taking up a new sport – Para cycling. In January 2018 she attended her first ever Para cycling camp, going on to make her international debut at the 2019 UCI Para Cycling Track World Championships. Anna was selected to the PNZ Para Cycling High Performance Squad in late 2019, following her success at the UCI Para Cycling Road World Cup in Canada in August that year.
Making her Paralympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Anna placed 5th in the Women’s C4 3000m Individual Pursuit. She set a new Paralympic Record in 3:54.167 (later beaten by another competitor).
This year, Anna has been selected to the New Zealand team heading to the 2022 Para Cycling Track World Championships in October in Paris.