The Celebration Project moves to the New Plymouth

Thursday 26 September 

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!

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