22 Apr 2024

Joy and friendships forged at Halberg Games

6:56 am on 22 April 2024
Halberg Games 2024: Lara Johnson (left) Steve Clark (centre) Jakob Openshaw-Clark (right)

Amelie Baynes (centre) - with Mark Baynes (L) and Arian Baynes (R) - warms up in a foil jacket after taking part in the 50-metre freestyle race. Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

Hundreds of young athletes from around New Zealand gathered at King's College in south Auckland on Friday for the annual Halberg Games.

The event, run by the Halberg Foundation, is open to competitors aged 8 to 21 who have a physical disability or visual impairment. It gives athletes the experience of a games village setting, complete with opening and closing ceremonies.

At least 230 competitors from 15 regions came along to take part.

Halberg Games event manager John Sigurdsson makes sure everything runs as planned. When he spoke to RNZ's First Up on Friday he was looking forward to three days of sporting fun and games.

Halberg Games 2024: John Sigurdsson

Halberg Games event manager John Sigurdsson. Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

"We've got a CrossFit running session ... we've got Rowing New Zealand here doing some races on some rowing ergs (rowing machines). Right behind us is the swimming and in the gym beside us we've got powerchair football," he said.

"Outside on the grass, we've got a rock climbing wall set up ... golf, and we've got hungerball coming in."

Sigurdsson said his mother had multiple sclerosis (MS) so he grew up familiar with disability.

"I also always love sport. I didn't think I'd be able to combine the two, but I've been with the Halberg Foundation 16 years, and I can't see myself anywhere else."

He said he had a huge passion for helping kids be in a sport environment and he enjoyed taking in all the moments of joy.

Halberg Games 2024: Zac Shultz (left) Jayden Van Dyk (centre) Spencer Ballard (right)

Zac Schultz (L) with Jayden Van Dyk (C) and Spencer Ballard (R). Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

At the swimming pool, those moments of joy were loud and clear, as 12-year-old Zac Schultz finished a race with a big grin. Zac, who lives with cerebral palsy (CP), set a new personal best and came second.

"I just finished the 25-metre free and I got 20.07, and my previous time was 22 seconds," he said.

"It's really fun. And I get to be with the Waikato. Go Waikato, Waikato's the best!"

Halberg Games 2024: Perry Te Wini

Perry Te Wini describes some of the powerchair football athletes' skills as 'pretty unreal'. Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

In the gymnasium next to the pool, a fierce game of powerchair football was taking place.

Perry Te Wini was watching on, and broke down the action for First Up.

"So these guys are in a rear-wheel-drive powerchair and they have a little frame around them to protect their bodies. And just like soccer, they've got to try and link up with their friends and try and nail it into the goal.

"Some of the skills on them is pretty unreal ... some have cerebral palsy, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries. And they're just giving it a good go."

Halberg Games 2024: Cooper Pulini

New Zealand representative powerchair football player Cooper Pulini at the Halberg Games. Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

Te Wini became a quadriplegic three years ago, and now works as a peer support at Spinal Support NZ.

"To be able to give people the opportunity to understand that there's life beyond your disability, there's work there that needs to be done and it's really about teaching the wider community, especially our able-bodied people, to understand that people with disabilities still give as much as what they had when they didn't have a disability.

"That's what it's about, it's just about giving the opportunity to people less likely to get a chance really."

The game between Bay of Plenty and Waikato wrapped up, highlighted by star player and New Zealand representative Cooper Pulini.

Back out at the pool, Amelie Baynes was replenishing with some Oreos after doing the 50-metre freestyle race.

She was keeping warm, wrapped up in a foil jacket.

"It doesn't look like it keeps you warm, but it actually really does," she said.

Amelie told First Up she had been using a wheelchair since she was about two or three years old.

"I've got CP in my legs. CP is cerebral palsy. So it's like with the muscles - they pull in. They're basically like you're getting messages and your brain is getting the wrong messages to wrong parts of your body, so that's what CP is."

Cheering on from pool-side was Jakob Openshaw-Clark, sporting bright green hair.

His father Steve was in on the action too, rocking a green goatee. Jakob said it was all in support of the mighty Manawatū.

"I've got green hair and it's all thanks to hair chalk. You literally just wet your hair and just run the chalk over it and it leaves behind a really, really great finish. And it seems to grab a lot of attention," he said.

"I've just competed in boccia, which is almost like a pétanque game. You have to roll the ball.

"Then I'm just watching here at swimming and then tomorrow I'm actually doing a wheelchair race and some shot put and discus.

"Then on Sunday, we're doing cricket and badminton, which will be quite cool.

"It's always busy, but it's always worth it."

Halberg Games 2024: Lara Johnson (left) Steve Clark (centre) Jakob Openshaw-Clark (right)

Jakob Openshaw-Clark (right), with his dad Steve Clark (centre) and Lara Johnson (left). Photo: RNZ / Leonard Powell

Jakob told First Up he saw a lot of regulars and familiar faces at the Halberg Games.

"It's quite cool because a lot of these kids might not necessarily have anyone to relate to, so to see these people just having a really fun time, seeing people that they can talk to, and talk about similar stuff [with] is really cool to see.

"The best part about it is just seeing people interacting and just all the friendships that people make. And sometimes those friendships can carry on for life, which is pretty amazing."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs