Jonny’s niece Hannah Wilkinson became a household name when she belted the soccer ball into the back of the net at the opening match of the Fifa Women’s World Cup against Norway. Photo / Getty Images
We’ve all gone sports-mad lately. The All Blacks, the Silver Ferns in the Netball world championships and, of course, the Football Ferns, as football fever has gripped Aotearoa with the Fifa World Cup being co-hosted right here in our own backyard. Women’s sports seem to have superseded men’s in the national consciousness.
I have no sporting skills whatsoever. The nearest I got was in intermediate school. My friends at the time included me in padder tennis and four square by creatively inventing rules that would give me a fair chance. That was when inclusive sports for disabled people was in its infancy. To fill the sporting void in my life ever since I have been basking in my whānau’s radiant glory of sporting prowess.
Recently my niece, Hannah Wilkinson has become a household name. We all collectively roared in adulation as she belted the soccer ball into the back of the net at the opening match of the Fifa Women’s World Cup against Norway.
Hannah’s intensity was contagious throughout the game. Even at the start of the match when the players were lining up in the stadium waiting to come out onto the field, the other players were smiling and laughing. But Hannah’s face wore the expression of ferocious focus and determination. I remember when she played soccer on the beach at Matapouri when she was only 7 years old, she had the same expression.
My father was a competitive athlete. His sport was swimming. He was in the Olympic training squad for England but England’s policy of drafting young men into Army training thwarted that.
Even so his swimming successes elevated his career in the English Civil Service where they had inter-government department sporting competitions. His sporting achievements helped him to secure a job with the Colonial Service as a district officer for education in Fiji. Hence my brothers and I were all born in Suva.
His swimming ability was passed to my brothers. One year at Whangarei Boys’ High School, Simon was the senior champion and Tim was the junior champion in swimming. I never achieved the knack of swimming despite my father giving me swimming lessons for countless hours. I never seemed to get the coordination to gain sufficient momentum in the water.
Whangārei has a good collection of disabled sporting heroes. Cameron Leslie has achieved Paralympic medal-winning fame for swimming. Wally Noble, with his stint in Tahiti as part of NZ’s elite para waka ama team in the International Waka Ama Championships, gained a bronze.
An emerging star in the disabled sporting world is Troy Robertson. Like me, he has cerebral palsy. He is in the top 40 boccia players worldwide. Boccia is an adaptive form of bowls or petanque. He is focused on representing New Zealand at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris. To qualify for Paralympics, he has to be in two international competitions and come in the top eight, which he is busy fundraising for.
Back to my whānau, we have our own emerging sporty star: my granddaughter Isla is excelling in her netball team and this week she is competing in the Ruakākā Primary School cross country where I am sure she will do very well.
I would like to skite that she got her sporting skills from my side of the family, but my son-in-law Sharif puts paid to that theory. He is a talented league player who can probably take credit for Isla’s one-handed goal-shooting technique, which is being flourished each Saturday in Kensington.
For me, I am content to continue to bask in the sporting glory of my whānau from the sidelines or the armchair.
Jonny Wilkinson is the CEO of Tiaho Trust – Disability A Matter of Perception, a Whangarei-based disability advocacy organisation.