Tracking Towards Tokyo

Townsville, Australia is home to the 2019 Oceania Champs. This is the last chance for seven Kiwi para-athletes to compete and qualify for the World Champs in Dubai this November. The pressure is on!

New Zealand’s top seven para-athletes recently competed at the 2019 Oceania athletics championships in Townsville Australia, all vying for spots in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic team.

Raylene Bates or ‘Mumma Bear’ as she is fondly known, is the athletics New Zealand high- performance lead coach and she believes the event is important.

“The developmental championship event provides more experience for some and a first international competition for others.”

The youngest athlete in the team, 18-year-old Joshua Lush, is a para long-jumper who represented Australia, before moving to New Zealand to represent his parent’s country, and pursue more athletics opportunities.

Joshua has an intellectual impairment called T20, which is like “a missing chromosome in your brain,” and Scheuermann's disease, a genetic variation causing a curvature of the spine.

Having already qualified for the team to Tokyo, his jumps in Townsville we’re about pushing himself in a competition. Jumping 6.18 metres, he was 20 centimetres off his personal best, but remains confident there’s plenty more in the tank.

Holly Robinson is a seasoned Paralympian, coming away from previous competitions with silver and bronze medals for javelin. She was born without her left arm, and while it used to hold her back, now she takes every opportunity.

“Growing up I was very self-conscious of my arm, there was a lot of underestimation about my ability but I’ve found through sport that I could really thrive.”

“Growing up I was very self-conscious of my arm, there was a lot of underestimation about my ability but I’ve found through sport that I could really thrive.”

In the past year, Holly has broken the world record for her classification at the Australian track and field champs and already qualified for Tokyo but is using the Oceania Championships as an opportunity to practice and focus on technique.

Because all competitors have different levels of ability, end results are calculated based on timings rather than actual placings.

Jess Gillan has been competing for 12 years and has previously won bronze for her seated shot-put. She competes in the F34 class, defined by having two limbs affected.

“I often compete against people who have had strokes.”

For Jess (who is ranked number four in the world), this championship is a good chance for her to get back into the swing of competing against others. She threw 7.68m, her best throw of the season.

A newcomer to the scene, 19-year-old Amy Dunn showed off her skills in shot-put, discus and javelin.

Amy Dunn mid shot-put throw.
Amy Dunn mid shot-put throw.

“In 2016 I met my coach through an open day, and from the following week I started training and haven’t stopped since. I competed through secondary school and hold three world records for shot put, discus and javelin.”

She threw her personal best, 5.42 metres, but is still looking for ways to refine her technique and  gain millimetres.

For shot putter Ben Tuimaseve or ‘Benza’ this is his first time competing internationally. Benza has Hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, which affects the left side of his body,

“It just makes things a little bit harder, but it’s part of you and doesn’t define you.”

Ben winding up a shot-put throw.
Ben is training hard to earn a place for the Paralympics.

For many athletes The Oceania Championships were their first exposure to the set-up of a large-scale competition. They learned to live in the village setting and learning the processes for big competitions.

Lisa Adams, sister to Valerie and Steven has risen quickly to the top of her game in shot-put having broken the world record within her first 18 months of competing. She has mild cerebral palsy, which impacts the entire left side of her body. 

“My brain is telling me to do something and the message doesn’t always get there.”

Raylene is confident in her abilities, “we are expecting big things from her.”

Lisa likens her sport to having a baby, “It’s ten minutes between each throw, like labour.”

She threw 15.2 metres, an unofficial world record for her class.

Lisa Adams ready for shot-put throw.
Although Lisa Adams is a new comer, she is quickly dominating her sport.

Libby Leikis is a sprinter with cerebral palsy, her right side is weak but she says she “just has to deal with it.”

Due to her disability she is prone to erratic spasms while running — although it can depend on the day. Her coach Mike Ritchie has been working with her on strength, posture and placement when striking the ground to improve speed. 

Raylene is positively shining in the wake of the success of the competition.

“Each and every one of the athletes has performed beyond what I expected. Anytime an athlete succeeds you’re really really happy, oh yes mumma bear is very proud.”

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