Boccia players Troy Robertson and Manaia Sanerivi with their silver medals from Chile.
When Troy Robertson was younger, he thought his cerebral palsy would stop him from ever being able to play sport.
But now, the 24-year-old is one of the top 40 Boccia players worldwide and is on course to represent New Zealand at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.
To qualify for the prestigious event, Robertson needs to place inside the top eight at two international competitions. A silver-medal finish at the World Boccia Challenger in Santiago, Chile last month means his dream relies on him ousting some of the world’s top players at the Regional Championship in Hong Kong this December.
But that costs money. While Robertson works, he also has a home and bills to pay. He is not eligible for any financial support from Paralympic NZ until he can prove he is an athlete worth backing. He has launched a Givealittle page to hopefully raise enough money to help his aspirations transpire.
Robertson described Boccia as a precision ball sport similar to petanque and bowls. Athletes throw, kick or use a ramp to propel a ball on to the court, trying to get it as close as possible to the target ball.
He said Boccia, which is a Paralympic sport but has no Olympic counterpart, is designed specifically for athletes with a disability affecting locomotor function. Robertson uses his hands and a ramp when he competes. His caregiver Manaia Sanerivi is his official ramp assistant, so adjusts the ramp according to his instructions.
“I aim to have fun on the court or learn something,” Robertson said.
A friend from Waikato introduced Robertson to Boccia back in 2017 via a once-weekly after-school programme. It was here that his natural mastery of the sport caught the attention of an international Boccia referee.
Robertson said the referee was amazed at how well he played despite his “really dodgy equipment” and saw the potential in him – especially with a gear upgrade.
He soon sashayed into Boccia’s competitive realm and was quick to start collecting medals. He won bronze at his first national competition ever, where Robertson said everyone commented on his crappy gear.
Sanerivi said the silver Robertson won in Chile is the second-highest medal ever won in New Zealand Boccia and the highest medal for the BC3 category in New Zealand. BC3 is one of four divisions in the sport and is for the most disabled competitors.
To go global in Boccia is tough, as a player has to be invited to compete internationally. However, Robertson was fast to earn his place among the world’s Boccia elite.
And travel has become one of his favourite aspects of the sport – memorable for him, and it turns out, he is memorable for some of the countries he has visited, as was the case in Taiwan.
Robertson had one more game to go when he ended up in a Taiwanese hospital with a case of chickenpox.
“The thing is, Taiwan hadn’t had chickenpox for 20 years,” Sanerivi said.
The pair were isolated in a room for seven days while a revolving door of trainee doctors stared through the room’s glass walls at Robertson and this rare case of chickenpox.
Although, Robertson and Sanerivi are hoping for smoother sailing in Hong Kong. To donate to Robertson’s sporting efforts, visit: givealittle.co.nz/cause/road-to-paris-paralympics-2024.
Karina Cooper is deputy news director and covers breaking and general news for the Advocate. She also has a special interest in investigating what is behind the headlines and getting to heart of a story.