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Member Profile Series - Introducing ... Neil Tonkin

Introducing Neil Tonkin

Neil's life changed at 4.30pm on Sunday 6 November 1977 when, as an 18 year old youth, something happened on the way home from work & he woke up in a fence on the side of the Haywards to Porirua road (SH58).  

He had multiple spinal injuries and a major dislocation between T11 & T12.  This meant Neil was a complete paraplegic.  

Neil's accident happened such a long time ago that the now Burwood Spinal Unit was simply called 13B at located at Christchurch Hospital.  Neil recalls hearing the rats running around the ceiling during the night, and13B being so primitive that you “graduated” from having your own room to sleeping in the ward laundry when they ran out of space. Neil is a good storyteller so we're not sure if this is fact or ficton! 

In the 40+ years ago since his accident, the improvements to care, treatment & equipment has been extraordinary. Despite the primitive & now obsolete systems at 13B, most of the patients (or gimps as Neil fondly calls them) have good memories due to a real camaraderie between the patients & the staff.  According to Neil, "Cos, the head physio, was as tough as nails & never took “no” for an answer.  She could be demanding but loved & cared for us all.  Gimps of my vintage all respected & loved her!"

Neil was always active & saw no reason why he wouldn’t stay that way after his accident.  While motor cycling & tramping were no longer possible most other things merely meant modifying how he went about it.  After five months in the spinal unit he came back to Wellington wondering what to do with his life.  

Through Parafed Wellington (now dsport), he got to know a number of other disabled people.  Eve Rimmer published her book “No grass between my toes” around this time & it convinced him that he wanted to be a disabled athlete.  Neil moved with my family to Christchurch. He was lucky to have three things in his favour.  Firstly, he had a supportive extended family that encouraged whatever ambitions he had.  Neil said "I cannot recall my family ever questioning the wisdom of any of my ideas or ventures".  Secondly, he joined Parafed Canterbury & was blessed to come under the wing of Paralympian Graham Condon whose first words are burned into his memory, “you’re a bit scrawny aren’t you.  Have you thought about wheelchair racing".  Neil never looked back.  Thirdly, he was accepted into the first ever degree in Receation Management at Lincoln University graduating in 1981.

Neil's advice is never underestimate the value of supportive mentors.  Without his whanau, without Graham and without the principal course lecturer Alan Taylor, he would not have started what was to become a successful career & life.  

Within a year, Neil was breaking national wheelchair racing records & “running” over 100km per week in his wheelchair, no sports wheelchair for him.  By 1981, he was NZ’s top wheelchair racer at every distance from 200m up to the marathon.  Fortunately, Neil also became involved in competitive wheelchair basketball & pistol shooting as wheelchair racing bcame a bit more challenging when he moved back to Wellington.

Despite the Wellington conditions, Neil built his own specialist racing chair, joined an athletics club and competed in regional athletic races at Newtown Park continually improving my times.  To get around training on dark & dangerous roads, he set up rollers in his garage and enjoyed the opportunity to train out there after a full day at work. 

But it turned out Neil's real passion was wheelchair basketball.  In the late 1980's there were enough players for Wellington to have a competitive league of four teams, played at the Porirua Recreation Centre every Monday night.  The highlight was winning the Nationals Championships in 1988 with the most disabled team in the competition's history.  In 1987, a number of players attended the World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Australia.  According to Neil, that was a revelation.  The chairs those guys used were almost science fiction in comparison with the chairs they played in.  

Two things stood out for Neil.  One was a Dutch player with CP. Despite his hands and arms constantly shaking, it took only one shot from him to see why he was there.  He was the Dutch 3 point shooter!  He was unbelievably accurate while seemingly looking in a different direction.  He was a great example of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”!  The other was the Yugoslav team whose equipment was primitive at best and every one of them seemed to a misfit.  They were brilliant!  They were a great team without any of the resources of the other 11 teams in the tournament yet came painfully close to reaching the semi-finals.  They showed adversity doesn’t mean you can’t succeed.  

Neil did regain his outdoor experiences, not by tramping but through whitewater rafting, including becoming a Grade 3 qualified Guide.  Rafting was a revelation as it gave himaccess to wilderness that was incredibly inaccessible even to able-bodied people.  Always an advocate for his region, Neil believes one of the finest rafting rivers in NZ is the Hutt River from Kaitoki to Te Marua!  While rafting isn't for everyone Neil loved it and it took him places that otherwise were simply unavailable to him.  

He considered myself “lucky” when in 1981, he was appointed as Porirua City Council's first Recreation Officer.  This was the beginning of Neil's professional career is recreation and sport management. After Porirua, I worked for the Hillary Commission (now Sport NZ) from 1989 to 1992, and then the Hutt City Council from 1992 until he retired in 2002.  

Today Neil still keeps active using a stationary hand cycle for exercise with up to five half hour sessions each week, as well as doing a lot of volunteer work using his professional experience & expertise. He also keeps busy propagating vegetable and NZ native seedlings, beekeeping and building horizontal hives for other disabled people to use, and keeping on top of his own gardening on his lifestyle block and managing/killing “pests” and enhancing native fauna.

In his own words, this is what Neil has learnt over his 40+ years:

  • Firstly, it doesn’t matter what you do if it’s enjoyable to you so long as it’s legal.  I loved the endless training when I was competitive despite it seeming to be incredibly boring.  Because I loved it, I did it!  Because I did it I got very good at it.  Find what pushes your buttons & you’ll never look back.  Try everything at least once.  You may be surprised at what does “push your buttons”.   
  • Secondly, don’t let others set your limits.  Set them yourself - just be realistic.  You can achieve way beyond what you may initially have believed possible!  Until I started rafting, it never crossed my mind that I could once again experience true wilderness.  I get frustrated at seeing great potential of so many people not being set free.  
  • Thirdly, a touch of mongrel is always helpful.  I am stubborn & I am opinionated but it works for me and what I’m involved in.  Don’t drift into the grey nothingness of neither victory nor defeat.  Fight for what you want.  Prove it to yourself!  Adversity is not a barrier it is merely a hurdle to overcome.  
  • Disabled people today have access to opportunities that were simply impossible even 20 years ago.  Take advantage of it & it will make you stronger, faster, more able and open doors for you including representing your region or nation if that’s what you want.  Just do it!
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Member Profile Series - Introducing .... The Missing Paralympian and her Medal Muddle

Heneti Morgan - Paralympian

Originally from Paraparaumu, Heneti Morgan had a motor vehicle accident in England resulting in her quadriplegia.

She spent 11 months in the world-acclaimed spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, undergoing rehabilitation, before she was able to fly home to New Zealand accompanied by a nurse.

Heneti took up Para sport 10 years after her accident. She had been a sporty kid – playing tennis, swimming and roller skating at the local rink. She joined the Wellington Paraplegic Association, as it was known back then, and started by tossing a shot put and a discus. It was in the water that she felt most at ease.

Sir Ludwug Guttmann, the German-born English neurosurgeon who founded the Paralympic Games remembered Heneti from her time in the spinal unit and stopped by to see her during a visit to New Zealand in 1971. 

Heneti competed in the Heidelberg 1972 Paralympic Games along with 9 other Kiwi Paralympians. She took part in 6 events in Para athletics and Para swimming .

She won the bronze medal in the 25m Backstroke 1B. She had finished the race in second place and was presented with the silver – only to have to hand it back after an officials’ blunder. Her son still proudly displays her bronze medal in his home.

Late in 1986, Heneti went into hospital for surgery on her crumbling tail bone. She passed away in 1987 at the age of 48, from complications after surgery.

Read more on the great story of Heneti Morgan here.

Heneti was represented by her family who received her ‘numbered’ Paralympic pin as part of The Celebration Project in Wellington in November 2020.

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Member Profile Series - Introducing .... Peter Horne "Hooks"

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Erin Knox interviews Olympic Swimmer Lewis Clareburt

Erin Knox interviews fellow Wellington swimmer Lewis Clareburt

Wellington Para swimmer Erin Knox celebrates Youth Week by interviewing fellow Wellington swimmer Lewis Clareburt.

Lewis was planning on being in Tokyo in July for the Summer Olympics. With Covid-19 causing the Games to be deferred until next year, Erin took the opportunity to find out more about Lewis and how he has been coping without a pool in lockdown.

Join Erin and Lewis chatting about swimming, lockdown, and study.

https://youtu.be/_ZRd_cqk2kA

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2019 Annual Report

2019 Annual Report

2019 Annual Report

2019 saw the launch of our rebrand to dsport. This rebrand was timed to celebrate of our 50th anniversary. Over my years being involved in this organisation I have witnessed the incredible and powerful influence sport has on people’s lives. For me, the rebrand was more than just a name change. It represents an acknowledgement of what we do, who we are, and also signals where we want to be moving forward. Engaging members of our Youth Group in this rebrand was essential as they are in the future out our organisation. I am pleased to see the enthusiasm and commitment in our members who proudly wear their dsport kit. For me, this represents the success of our decision.

Leveraging the rebrand, our Manager Catriona McBean, continued to advocate for us with many key decision-makers including Grant Robertson, Minister of Sport; Carmel Sepuloni, Minister of Disability Issues; local Rongotai MP Paul Eagle; and representatives from Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, ACC and Wellington City Council.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the dsport Committee; our volunteers who assist our athletes; family and whanau who provide invaluable emotional and sometimes financial support; and our talented staff who keep our organisation delivering our wonderful programmes and activities.

I invite you to read this year’s report as we celebrate the successes of our teams, athletes and members, not only on the playing field, but in many other aspects of their lives.

 

Alan Signal

President

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Talent Development Squad announced

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Parenting the next Sophie Pascoe or Liam Malone

Balance is Better

Blasting onto the world stage at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, Liam Malone took New Zealand sport by storm.  A relative unknown, he excelled at the highest level and became a household name. Sophie Pascoe, already a well-known disabled athlete within Paralympian swimming, is now recognised as one of New Zealand’s best known and successful athletes.

So what has set them apart?  The most obvious answer for many is that they are Paralympians, disabled, and therefore different.

However, it’s not that simple.

Read more https://balanceisbetter.org.nz/parenting-the-next-sophie-pascoe-or-liam-malone-disabled-athletes/

 

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Erin Knox wins Disabled Swimmer of the Year

Erin Knox - Disabled Swimmer of the Year for Wellington Swimming

Congratulations to Erin Knox who was named Disabled Swimmer of the Year for Wellington Swimming at last week's awards ceremony.

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Kate Horan Retires from Paralympic Sport

Paralympian Kate Horan Retires

Three-time Paralympian Kate Horan has today announced she will be retiring from the sport of Para cycling and to focus on her family and seek new challenges.

Horan made her Paralympic Games debut at the Athens 2004 Paralympics after only taking up sprinting one year prior to Athens 2004. She set a world record in the Women’s 400m T44 but she missed out on a medal due to the competition format at the time.

Four years later in front of 92,000 spectators at the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing 2008, Horan mounted the Paralympic podium taking silver in the Women’s 200m T44, an achievement she describes as “mind blowing”.

A combination of factors, including giving birth to her third child in late 2011 and a serious tendon tear in her hamstring, ruled her out of selection for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Not long after this Horan was struggling to cope with the demands of Para athletics training after years of wear and tear on her body and Paralympics New Zealand High Performance Team advised her to switch to the lower impact sport of Para cycling. Horan went on to win 4 World Championships medals in the velodrome and place 4th, 6th and 8th at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

Kate Horan said: “I always thought I would be dragged away kicking and screaming from Para sport as it means so much to me. However racing recently in Cambridge I realised as I came off the track that I was done. I always thought it would be my body that would stop me; but it is all about the mental edge and drive that is needed to compete at the highest level. I no longer have this so now is the time to retire.”

She continued: “Para sport has kept me on the straight and narrow and helped me get through so many challenges in life. I have invested 16 years of my life in Para sport but it has given me so much. When I first started I was very uncomfortable with being different as an amputee however Para sport and the amazing people I have meet, raced with and trained with have changed my view of myself in the most positive way. I am looking forward to starting a new journey and competing in the 2021 Coast to Coast. For now I just want to enjoy the festive season and school holidays with my wonderful family.”

Throughout Horan’s 16 year’s as a high performance Para athlete she has had many experiences however when asked what the highlight has been she said: “It was definitely being awarded the MNZM for services to Paralympic sport in 2017. A real honour and celebration of what Para sport means to me.”

Malcolm Humm (High Performance Director, Paralympics New Zealand) said: “Kate has been one of New Zealand Para sport’s stalwarts having competed internationally for close to two decades in two Para sports. Her achievements across 3 Paralympic Games and numerous World Championships have been outstanding. Added to this breaking the Women’s 200m Flying Sprint C4 world record in 2015 and 2016. Throughout this time Kate has been a role model for many young Para athletes as she has constantly delivered a non-compromised approach to training and competition while raising her family. We look forward to working with Kate to continue her involvement with the Paralympic family and wish her all the best for the future.”

Horan was a key member of the New Zealand Paralympic Team that produced performances in Rio making it the country’s most successful Paralympic Games ever. The New Zealand Paralympic Team secured a stunning 21 medals across 12 individual medallists – 9 gold, 5 silver and 7 bronze. Overall, the Team placed 13 out of 159 on the medal table, its highest placing ever, and defended its title of number 1 in the world for medals won per capita during London 2012.

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Gavin Rolton wins Attitude Employee Award

Gavin Rolton - 2019 Attitude Employee Award

Congratulations to dsport wheelchair rugby player and Wheelblack Gavin Rolton who won the 2019 Attitude Employee Award at the ceremony at SkyCity Convention Centre on Friday night.

Gavin works for Drake Medox who provide support services for people with disabilities.  As a tetraplegic himself, Gavin knows the need for professional support staff in helping him retain his independence.

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dsport dispatch

dsport dispatch enewsletters

Welcome to our dsport dispatch enewsletters.

Here we will celebrate our successes and profile our members.
 

Check out what our members have been up to over the last few months.

November

September

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