Para Sport Collective to connect community

Para Athlete Siobhan Terry (L) and Jack Cooper, Paralympics New Zealand, Para Cycling Development Coach (R) pose during the official launch of the Para Sport Collective at the AUT Millennium Institute.

Para Athlete Siobhan Terry (L) and Jack Cooper, Paralympics New Zealand, Para Cycling Development Coach (R) pose during the official launch of the Para Sport Collective at the AUT Millennium Institute.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Being a para athlete or coach can be a lonely existence when the number of athletes in each individual para sport is low and para athletes have a variety of disabilities.

Paralympics New Zealand, with support from ACC, aims to increase opportunities for building connections, trust and knowledge with the launch of the Para Sport Collective.

The three-year initiative is aimed at para-athletes and coaches from various para-sports with the aim of building a like-minded community.

Siobhan Terry from Rotorua is a good example of who the Para Sport Collective could help.

Terry was born with a clubfoot, a condition that didn’t limit the multi-talented athlete’s dreams.

The 22-year-old started competing in para-cycling five months ago and will make her international debut at the Oceania Cycling Championships this week.

But for the intervention of a high school teacher who encouraged her to run a para cross-country race, she might not be where she is now.

“Growing up I didn’t know anything about parasports, I didn’t know what the Paralympics were. I grew up as a ‘fit body’ and was able to win medals against everyone else, but as I got older you started to see those differences more and you start to see that you slowed down a bit but [the cross country run] was proof that there really is hope for me in this area, and that dream that I had is more of a reality now.”

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Terry’s track coach, Jack Cooper, recognizes the need to bridge the gap in the para-athlete path for those who have not yet broken the Paralympic level.

“When you’re in the higher ranks and at peak performance there’s a lot of support there, but underneath that sometimes there’s not the support, so it’s really important that we lay the groundwork for future athletes.”

Terry is also an accomplished swimmer at Te Arawa Swimming Club and is fortunate to have both a swimming coach and a cycling coach to help her plan her sporting future.

“Historically, there’s been a lot of these sports versus this sport, but ultimately when you look at it, you’re all working together, you’re all doing the same thing. So why not share some ideas and get the best result? Athlete and the most fun and bubble around them to support them.”

Fiona Allen, Managing Director of Paralympics New Zealand, agrees that working together is the way forward to support para-athletes and coaches who have the ambition and desire to play at a high level, but not yet at a level are on which they get high performance support.

“It’s about sharing knowledge, sharing expertise, sharing experiences so that people feel supported together and can learn something new from someone else who might already be doing it in another sport code who then bring them into their code and can make them a better athlete and also a better coach and a better informed coach.”

The para sport collective will feature two recordings of up to 30 para athletes and 20 coaches, each with three national in-person camps and regular virtual connection opportunities.

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National sports organizations will nominate the para-athletes and coaches with the first selection starting in May.

ACC executive director Megan Main says they are excited about the Para Sport Collective’s proactive approach.

“We see firsthand the difference exercise can make for people after a life-changing accident. We want to provide opportunities for disabled New Zealanders – including many of our customers – to participate in parasports and compete, and we value the partnership with Paralympics New Zealand to make this happen.”

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