John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Paralympian's life celebrated in book

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Jim Savage, Bay of Plenty paralympian and a major force behind the development of the para games movement in New Zealand, with the author of his book Jenny Rutherford. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN
Jim Savage, Bay of Plenty paralympian and a major force behind the development of the para games movement in New Zealand, with the author of his book Jenny Rutherford. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

There's no such word as can't. This simple motto has been turned into the title of a book on Te Puna paralympian Jim Savage who was struck down with polio in the prime of his life.

''Look it up in the dictionary - there's no such word as can't,'' he said, unable to resist a wisecrack that neatly sidestepped an inspirational attitude that has transformed his life and the lives of many other disabled people.

The remarkable life of the 80-year-old who lost both legs to polio has been celebrated in the publication of a book by personal historian Jenny Rutherford of Life Story Books. It coincides with the launch of the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro on September 8.

His old Pongakawa Primary School classmate Marcus Wilkins came up with the idea for the book and even funded it because he felt it was a story that needed to be told. Profits from sales will go to the New Zealand Paralympic team.

Mrs Rutherford sat down with Mr Savage and, using photos to jog his memory, pieced together a life that included receiving an MBE from the Queen for services to paraplegic sport.

''We had a lot of fun writing it,'' she said.

The keen rugby player lost the use of his legs nearly 58 years ago during a hunting trip behind Kawerau when, after a sleepless night of leg pains, he stood up to find his left leg was useless. Hobbling out using his rifle as a crutch he reached home and lost the use of his other leg the next day.

After cursing his luck, Mr Savage single-mindedly decided to get his body working again and shortened a two year hospital rehabilitation to just six months so he could be the best man at his brother's wedding.

Five years later he married Madeleine and a year after that turned another corner in his life when he heard about the Paraplegic Games. It required him to be in a wheelchair.

''I tried it and found it was so much easier than crutches. Getting back into sport helped to rehabilitate me - it gave me the confidence to believe I could still achieve great things.''

And achieve things he did. He trained hard at the shotput, even during his lunch break at the Tasman Mill at Kawerau, and won nine gold medals from 10 events at the first games he entered in Auckland.

Mr Savage realised early on that New Zealand needed to build a better base for disabled athletes and so organised The Friendly Games at Kawerau. The games which ran for 21 years were open to anyone, giving people the chance to try a lot of different sports.
''Because of that, many of them realised they had abilities they weren't aware of. Sadly, I don't feel that sort of opportunity exists today.''

He trained one of New Zealand's most renowned paralympians Eve Rimmer and together they competed at their first overseas games at Tel Aviv in 1968.

Mr Savage become deeply involved as an international competitor and team captain, starting with the Stoke Mandeville Games in England in 1969 and continuing for a further eight paralympics, commonwealth and FESPIC games until 1980.

He achieved a national and international profile when he decided to commemorate the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 by paddling across Cook Strait on a catamaran in which four people in wheel chairs used bicycle mechanisms to drive a propeller. They also tackled lakes around New Zealand, culminating in the construction of a better boat for an international expedition to row across the English Channel. This was followed by further adventures including Lake Titicaca in South America and a 1000km paddle down the Nile - generating two TV documentaries.

His enthusiasm was infectious, with family members also taking prominent administrative roles in the paralympic movement.


Jim Savage's achievements


- 19 international wheelchair sports medals
- Awarded MBE in 1976
- Captained seven Paralympic and Commonwealth Games teams- President Central North Island Paraplegic Association
- Executive member NZ Paraplegic Association
- Life member Parafed New Zealand and Parafed Bay of Plenty

- Bay of Plenty Times

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