The Halberg Games: Danielle Aitchison’s story
Image: children competing at the Halberg Games. Credit: Halberg Foundation.
Paralympian #211 Danielle Aitchison grew up loving sport. She enjoyed playing hockey and netball, but eventually found competing tough because of a lack of disability sport opportunities at her school.
In 2017, Danielle took part in badminton, swimming, triathlon and athletics at the Halberg Junior Disability Games. What followed would change her course forever.
You went to the Halberg Games in 2017, aged 16. What words would you use to describe the experience?
I would use the words “amazing and connected”. It was a great opportunity to try new sports and feel like I belong. I had never heard of Para sport before and loved sports. However, in high school, I did not have the greatest experience with sports as I was doing it mainstream. I felt sad as I just wasn’t enjoying it. I then saw a Halberg advertisement and I just thought, wow, what is this, and I signed up for it. Mum and I had no idea what to expect when we went arrived at the games but then the competition started, and it was just so cool to be involved in a competition just for disabled people. I thought I had found my place in sports and could not wait to try all the different sports.
You’d always been sporty, but this was your first big disability sport competition. Was that a big change of heart for you?
It definitely was a big change of heart. I had competed in mainstream sport until I was 16. I went to a Paralympics New Zealand ACC Open Day where there were Paralympians who had competed at Rio 2016. It was the beginning of something exciting. And then Halberg opened up another world I never knew existed, and I fell in love with sport again. It was such a nice opportunity to try various sports and understand which ones I wanted to pursue. It was also a place where I felt connected and where I was not different. I could just partake in sports and just do what I wanted to do.
When you competed in sprinting at the Halberg Games, you caught the attention of a coach. Tell us about what happened next.
So at the Halberg Games, I competed in the sprints and absolutely loved it. Afterwards, a coach came and talked to me and said that I had a talent for running and that I should pursue it, which is exactly what I did. After the games, I connected with a local coach and started training and moving my body. I then started going to competitions and now here I am, 4 years later, having been very successful in sprints.
Are you still a supporter of Halberg today?
Yes, I am still a supporter of Halberg. I support the work that they do for young disabled people. I think their change, awareness and education workshops around New Zealand continue to change lives. I have worked at a few of the Halberg sports days and have loved seeing so many young disabled people getting the opportunity to try different sports. As well as Halberg, I went into schools to talk to classrooms, teachers and parents to spread education around disability to be more inclusive. This is a world where I am excited to see some action being taken to be more inclusive towards disabilities, something I wish that was around when I was a kid.
What message do you have for the young people and their Whānau who are getting ready for this year’s Halberg Games?
I would just say to give everything a go, you never know what you might like. And to have fun and enjoy the moment of the games being with friends and family.