Posted on Thursday 26th September, 2019

This evening Paralympics New Zealand (PNZ) marked the fifth community event as part of The Celebration Project, where in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020, the achievements of New Zealand’s 209 Paralympians since Tel Aviv 1968 will be officially recognised and celebrated.

In New Plymouth, 3 New Zealand Paralympians, their families and friends, Parafed Taranaki, PNZ commercial partners and business leaders came together at Tasman Toyota in partnership with Taranaki Chamber of Commerce. 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. 

All 3 Paralympians were acknowledged and celebrated and joined a group of Paralympians that have now received their official ‘numbered’ Paralympic pin and certificate. This group now totals 58 following the Celebration Project events in Auckland, Whangarei, Hamilton and Tauranga. 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.

Paralympians and guests were warmly welcomed by the Hon Carmel Sepuloni as she congratulated the Paralympians on their achievements and the role they play in society to encourage a more inclusive New Zealand.

Fiona Allan (Chief Executive, PNZ) said: “We were privileged to have 3 wonderful Paralympians and their families, friends and supporters, from New Zealand Paralympic Teams that span 2 decades since Athens 2004 through to Rio 2016 Paralympic Games come together in New Plymouth. Tonight we celebrated Paralympian number 144 Theresa Herd and Paralympian number 156 Jai White who competed in Athens 2004 and Paralympian number 196 Stephen Hills who made his Paralympic debut in Rio 2016.”

Theresa Herd (Paralympian #144) talked about the phone call that confirmed her selection to the New Zealand Paralympic Team to compete in the Athens 2004 Paralympics. “When the phone rang, it was still that moment of shock — the ‘wow, this is actually happening, I’ve worked so hard for this,’” she says.

She recalls the atmosphere at the pool as she made her Paralympic debut, “I was a bit shaky on the blocks for my first few races — it was a full stadium, the biggest crowds I’d seen, and the way you enter into an arena like that is quite different from a casual little swim meet sitting on a bench and knowing half the people you’re racing against,” remembers Herd. “In Athens, we were marshalled quite early and you’re sitting next to everyone you’re out to beat for what seems like forever. But once you’re in the water — you feel fine. Everything had led up to that moment, and my nerves got better as the meet went on.”

PNZ has now staged 5 events (Auckland, Whangarei, Hamilton, Tauranga and New Plymouth) and will stage a further 7 community events around the country, within the communities that have so openly supported their Paralympic heroes over the past 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 New Plymouth throughout Friday 27 and Saturday 28 September (10am to 4pm) opening and sharing the Para Sport Pop Up with the public at Te Puke Ariki Landing, opposite the i-Site centre.

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

Paralympians who attended the event included:

Paralympian # 144 Theresa Herd (nee Griffin)

Theresa grew up in Hamilton, swimming since the age of 12 in the little high-performance swimming club that no longer exists, the Te Rapa Rovers.  Theresa was born with a misshapen pelvis and missing left hip socket and she used swimming as highly beneficial rehabilitation therapy for her leg.   She quickly transformed this therapy into a competitive sports career, qualifying for many international events. Theresa made her Paralympic debut at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. She made the 100m butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke and 200m Individual Medley finals in Athens. Swimming Waikato have had her achievements honoured with the display of an honorary plaque at Waterworld in Hamilton, along with 11 other Paralympians and Olympians. She now lives in New Plymouth, still swims recreationally, in between balancing her career as a chartered accountant and family life. A feature story on Theresa can be found here.

Paralympian # 156 Jai Waite

19 years ago, Jai Waite dove into a wave in Greece and hit a sandbar, becoming paralysed from the chest down with limited function in his arms and hands. But as robust boys from Taranaki do, Waite got on with life and over the next four years he threw himself into sport – Wheelchair rugby – and was selected to be part of the Wheel Blacks, New Zealand’s Wheelchair rugby team to compete at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. The team became Paralympic Champions, winning gold after an epic final game against Canada. Four years later, Jai also represented his country in Beijing 2008 where the Wheel Blacks finished fifth. 

Recipient of a Prime Ministers Scholarship after Athens, Waite chose to study a part-time postgraduate course in digital media to add to his undergraduate degree in social sciences. Now, a senior documentary editor at Attitude Pictures, the internationally recognised disability programme, he’s won several prestigious awards for his documentaries. 

Paralympian # 196 Stephen Hills

Stephen Hills has right side hemiplegia, causing muscle weakness and partial paralysis on the right side of his body, which he developed when he was five years old, after he was hit by a motorbike as he crossed the road to catch the bus. Fast forward, Stephen was selected as part of the New Zealand Rio 2016 Paralympic Games Team making his Paralympic debut as New Zealand’s first ever trike Para cyclist. In Rio he savoured the incredible atmosphere of the road racing and went on to produce great results placing 8th in both the Men’s T1-2 Road Time Trial and Men’s T1-2 Road Race. 

Hills is aiming to represent New Zealand again at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. In August, he claimed silver at the UCI Para Cycling Road World Cup in Canada. And just last week he won a Bronze medal in the Men’s T2 Road Race, finishing just 13 seconds off the gold medal spot at the UCI Para Cycling Road World Championships in the Netherlands. Outside of Para cycling, Stephen likes working with his Dad on the family farm.  Stephen enjoys spending time with people with disabilities to help them achieve their goals and aspirations.