9 May 2024

Paralympic champion Cameron Leslie headlines swim team for Paris

8:37 pm on 9 May 2024
World para swimming champion Cameron Leslie

Cameron Leslie is back for another Paralympics. Photo: Photosport

Three-time Paralympic champion and world record holder Cameron Leslie leads a formidable team of five swimmers who have been selected for the Paris Paralympics.

Leslie is joined by Jesse Reynolds, with the two Para swimmers having competed at five Paralympics between them. Meanwhile, Lili-Fox Mason, Gabriella Smith and Joshua Willmer will make their Paralympic debuts in the French capital from 28 August - 8 September.

New Zealand's most successful Paralympian, Dame Sophie Pascoe, will not be in Paris after she withdrew her nomination to compete following the birth of her first child.

Based in Whangārei, Leslie achieved gold medals and set world records in Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016, but was unable to participate in Tokyo 2020 due to the imminent birth of his second child.

"It's my fourth Paralympics, but my first in eight years, so it's very exciting.

"My career has looked very different at each of my Games. This time I'll have my wife and kids watching me. Doing them proud has driven my desire for the last four to five years. And if it's enough to be on a podium, that would be epic."

Leslie, who fosters Para swimming talent around the country in his role for Swimming New Zealand, was also thrilled to see new Para swimmers heading to Paris.

"Gaby, Lili-Fox, and Josh have seen a bit over the past two World Championships, but the Paralympic Games are another beast. I'm looking forward to competing alongside them and encouraging them to go hard, be proud, and enjoy the ride without losing focus of their goals and why they're there."

New Zealand swimmer Jesse Reynolds at the Tokyo Paralympics.


Reynolds will compete at his third Paralympic Games in Paris. A versatile swimmer with strong results in several events, Reynolds said he cannot wait to show what he can do. Reynolds lives in Hamilton and competes in the S9 sports class.

For Mason, selection was a victory over injury and testament to the 18-year-old's determination to succeed. An injury to her back which she acquired at the Singapore Para Swimming World Series in 2023 put all her Paralympic dreams in jeopardy. She fought her way back to her earlier trajectory, earning her spot on the team. Mason had childhood leukaemia, leading to partial paralysis in her right leg.

Mason's friend and training buddy 17-year-old Gaby Smith has been swimming since a few months of age. She demonstrated her Paralympic potential at the 2023 Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester, where personal best performances led to 7th and 8th place finishes.

Both S10 swimmers, Smith and Mason were delighted to continue their journey together in Paris.

Joshua Willmer the Men's 100m Breaststroke SB8 Gold Medal Winner
New Zealand Swimming Team Medal celebration, 01/08/2022, New Zealand House at Edgbaston Golf Course, Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
 © Matthew Impey / www.photosport.nz

After success at the Commonwealth Games Joshua Willmer will go to his first Paralympics. Photo: Photosport / Matthew Impey

Willmer shot to fame when he claimed a gold medal in the SB8 100m Breaststroke in the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. His exuberance endeared him to both the New Zealand public and his teammates in Birmingham. Now 19, Willmer holds the national record in the same event following a strong performance at the 2023 Para Swimming World Championships.

Swimming New Zealand chief executive officer Steve Johns said the selected swimmers showed the depth of talent developing across New Zealand.

"We have multiple Paralympians at the peak of their careers, as well as some brilliant young debutants who we hope will have multiple Games ahead of them. When you add these five to the nine swimmers selected for the Olympic Games, New Zealand will truly be showing its greatness in Paris."

The five Para swimmers join six Paralympians and Para athletes already named to the New Zealand team in the sports of Para athletics, Para table tennis and Para equestrian.